Many public relations and marketing professionals may not be familiar with “Big Data.” For some, it might as well be “Big Daddy.” Others have probably seen the term, but don’t really understand it.
Even if we don’t realize it yet, Big Data stands to significantly change how communicators work. Last week I attended the Defrag 2011 conference in Colorado and had a chance to see and hear a lot of the ideas that are currently being explored in this arena, and it struck me just how much they stand to impact our industry.
What is Big Data?
Wikipedia offers up the following definition: “Big data is a term applied to data sets whose size is beyond the ability of commonly used software tools to capture, manage, and process the data within a tolerable elapsed time. Big data sizes are a constantly moving target currently ranging from a few dozen terabytes to many petabytes of data in a single data set.”
Now that your eyes have glazed over, let me simplify it: Big Data is Big Amounts of Data. Not “big” like how your email inbox gets while you’re on vacation, but “big” as in it would take you years to skim through even if you were a master at the Evelyn Wood speedreading methods.
But Big Data is for Scientists Not Communicators, Right?
Big Data plays an important role for physicists, astronomers, chemists, medical researchers, and more. But it also matters for communicators.
Let’s take a look at some of the types of Big Data that exist in the public relations and marketing sphere:
- News Stories. Your daily newspaper isn’t Big Data. But take all the stories in that newspaper. And all the other ones around the world. And all of the news websites. And magazines. And so on. When you add it all up, it turns out to be a massive amount of data. CustomScoop indexes about half a billion news stories ever year.
- Twitter. There’s lots of news, but there’s a lot more in the social media space. Twitter generates more than 200 million status updates per day. That’s more than 73 billion updates per year.
- Facebook. Users of the most popular social network engage in more content activity than Twitter. As a frame of reference, Facebook users upload an average of 250 million new photos every day.
- Website Analytics. Many of you probably use a service like Google Analytics to track your website visitors. Although you don’t see the raw data, every time a visitor looks at a single page on your site, a significant volume of data gets stored: the URL of the page requested, the IP address of the visitor, the name and version of the user’s browser and operating system, the time and date of the the request, the size of the web page, the list of all of the images and graphics on the page, and more. This data adds up very quickly.
You get the idea. There’s a lot of data out there and the ones I note here are just the tip of the iceberg.
How Can Big Data Help Me Be a Better Communicator?
All of this information can be just confusing — or it can provide valuable insights that make you more effective.
- Media Measurement. All of this data floating around provides vendors with the ability to provide you powerful analysis tools that help you understand where you and your competitors are getting coverage and what trends might be transpiring.
- Influence Tracking. The explosion of vendors offering up measures of individual influence — whether in some absolute number like Klout or more nuanced data like what SpotInfluence is preparing to provide — relies heavily on the tools and techniques of Big Data to be successful.
- Merging Online and Offline Data. Services like PeekYou seek to marry up information about individuals in the online world with data about their activities offline, including interests and demographic data. It is this intersection of data sets that astronomically increases the amount of information being analyzed but offers some of the greatest promise for communicators to take advantage of the Big Data movement.