Carpe diem! Time is money and the clock is ticking in the race to acquire, decipher and leverage data. Despite the saturation of coverage over "big data" in recent months, many brands are struggling to figure out when and how, exactly, to ride the data wave.
Data is useful to every aspect of business. However, data is, and will increasingly become, especially powerful to those seeking to leverage search, social, mobile, local, video, marketing and emerging technology, to compete and earn more market share.
Big data is a term often associated with Fortune 500 and 1000 companies. These enterprises may have greater resources to invest into the collection and analysis of data. However, data will be equally important to those seeking to grow the small business or medium enterprise.
Big Data Means Business
Effective use of data will likely determine the winners and losers in every sector of the economy. For example, some analysts predict that big data could increase retail margins by 60 percent.
The retail sector appears to be the most obvious benefactor of big data, given the abundance of information conveyed during commerce transactions. However, every sector of the marketplace stands to benefit from the plethora of data being generated. It simply requires quality data, quality queries and the ability to act on findings.
Value of Data Is In the Eye of the Beholder
Big data analysis, known in its earlier life as data-mining, is most useful when it can be applied to decisions that direct business strategy, operations, relationships, human resources, sales, marketing, tax liability, etc. for greater productivity, effectiveness, and profitability.
Just as each business is slightly unique, the value of data will vary according to what the data will be used to accomplish. Let's hone in on the use of data in the context of e-business, social media, search and digital marketing.
Never Turn Your Back on the Wave
The growth of data is like a tsunami. Like the ocean, a word to the wise is to never turn your back on the ever-growing sea of data.
Image credit: EMC
Big Data Predictions:
- Number of "files" or containers of information within the digital universe is expected to grow 75 percent between 2011 and 2021. Source: EMC
- The volume of data produced is expected to be 44 times greater in 2020 than it was in 2009. Source: Computer Services Corp
The Rise of Unstructured Data (Social Media)
Commonly known to most as photos, videos and social media, "unstructured data", has pushed the creation of non-relational databases. After 40 years of structured data analysis, the rise of unstructured data relies on the data to reveal the relationships inherent to the data, rather than parsing data through pre-determined filters.
Organic search is widely recognized as one of the most effective methods to leverage data to reach new customers. The value of social media and unstructured data has clearly been on the radar of search engines for some time.
For years I have been emphasizing awareness of the social and search community of a statement Google made in 2008 that Google's 'intel inside' was data, rather than search. The emphasis of unstructured data by search engines Google, Bing and Yahoo is reinforced by their emphasis on the relationship of social data to websites and domains.
What does this mean to the average business owner, marketer, or SEO? Brands must proactively participate in the creation of, and interaction with, unstructured data (social, video, photos, etc.). Those who fail to use data to connect with target audiences can expect to face an uphill battle in the competition for visibility in organic search.
The Power of One
Seventy-five percent of data stored is created by individuals. According to Cisco, consumer online traffic (vs. business) accounts for 91 percent of all Internet traffic, 77 percent of mobile data traffic, and 80 percent of managed IP traffic.
That means you, your customers, employees, investors, reviewers, bloggers, reporters are responsible for generating the bulk of this data. Data generated by the activity of individuals will undoubtedly provide valuable insights to those willing to mine it.
Understanding what your customers are seeking, how they are looking for it, talking about it, scoring it, comparing it and sharing it is invaluable to the social, search or digital professional.
Analysis is Key
Data analysis is as much an art as it is a science. The 2011 movie "Moneyball" starring Brad Pitt, tells the story of how Oakland A's manager Billy Beane shuns the mainstream methods to scout and fill a major league baseball team roster, and instead uses data to an algorithm called sabermetrics to qualify players to build a winning team.
The A's have yet to win the World Series since this method was deployed, but have come close. The point is, human interpretation is not exacting, especially when you are analyzing human behavior and performance.
Big data enables the prediction of behavior by allowing patterns in metadata to emerge from the data, rather than placing the data into structured databases. The emergence of unstructured data analysis will likely reveal patterns that may have eluded brands in the past.
Only after you understand who your target audience is, where they spend their time, what resonates with them, and how to craft an offer they can't refuse can you identify and leverage opportunities to encourage behavior proven to yield results.
The quality of analysis can only be as good as the quality data, and the ability to view data through quality filters. You must ask good questions in order to get good answers.
Data Can Be Controversial
The collection of some data has come under scrutiny recently. As the United States debates government use of consumer metadata, a recent Boston Globe post by Farah Stockman illuminates how data can be used to make predictions, citing a joke that the FBI investigates pizza places because "People in hiding tend to have food delivered, and make a lot of calls for pizza." It may be funny. Yet, the correlation may be accurate.
Providing you take into consideration privacy, intellectual property and legal implications, there is much to gain from the collection and application of data from a variety of sources.
Unstructured Data and Search
Unstructured data is expected to explode to epic proportions from all accounts. Coincidentally, Google, Bing and Yahoo are placing greater emphasis on individuals and the unstructured data they create, specifically identifying content and social media. So, what can you do to leverage data sources, today?
5 Ways to Tap Into Data, Today
1. Google Trends
One of the easiest ways to demonstrate a trend is to use Google Trends. Google Trends recently received validation as a predictor in the financial sector.
I'm not suggesting you use Google Trends to begin trading or investing in the market. However, with this validation comes confidence that Google Trends delivers accurate, timely insights on behavior.
Social, search, marketing, PR and advertising professionals seeking ways to better frame content, data and offers can use Google Trends to craft communications and content according what people are talking about, the way they are talking about it. This is a contender for those seeking to identify long-tail SEO keywords.
2. APIs and Mashups
Big data is all about leveraging data around the behavior of individuals. Forty-six percent of Internet users post original photos and/or videos online. This unstructured data has become social currency, organically elevating the visibility of those who are active in publishing such data.
In direct correlation with the anticipated expansion of this data, the opportunities to glean actionable insight will also expand. Add to this the emphasis of Google, Facebook, LinkedIn and other social networks on data shared by individuals, and you have the key to the data kingdom.
APIs and mashups offer access to invaluable data. Many of the most popular social platforms make their data freely available through API's. These include social giants Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, LinkedIn, Pinterest, etc. Visit ProgrammableWeb.com to explore the wealth of data available.
3. Communicate Intelligence With Data Visualization Tools
Data becomes actionable when decision-makers can interpret data and make informed decisions. There are plenty of ways to interpret data without a big budget. Applications like Tableau transform data from various formats like Excel into a visual that can be published online. An application like this can be highly effective in expanding on the limited visualization that Google Analytics offers to communicate website statistical data related to SEO, content marketing, etc.
Computerworld featured a list of free data visualization tools that may help you clean up, analyze and/or visualize the data.
Image Credit: Computerworld
4. Download and Manage Social Connections
In addition to publishing data, brands who embrace the data created by individuals, such as customers, bloggers, reviewers, media, etc. will become organically connected to that topic, as well as the person and those they are connected to, and influence; what I often refer to as "spheres of influence."
To achieve this, you must first master your own list. Whether you maintain them in Excel, Outlook, or within a CRM system, it's imperative to be proactive in exporting, downloading, and managing human relationships. All relationships are important to the sustainable business, including:
- Other relationships related to the brand
Using tools, such as those identified above, to identify trends in interests, geographic location, common affiliations, shared connections, etc. amplify the value of relationships you have worked so hard to establish and cultivate over time.
5. Embrace Data Now!
If you're actively working on any digital aspect of a brand without the benefit of data, you're working in a vacuum. The digital age hasn't eliminated the need to keep an ear to the ground to identify trends and opportunities. Now, more than ever, data will play a vital role in every aspect of business.
Data always has been a goldmine for marketers of all walks (strategy, social, search, SEO, PPC, PR, etc.). However, it's safe to say that the anticipated growth of data and emerging use of unstructured data are game-changers.
Those who recognize and embrace the power of this mountain of data early on stand to reap the rewards while competitors attempt to decipher exactly how they became so successful.