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Three Ways Big Data Can Change Your PR Story | @BigDataExpo #BigData

How to Leverage PR Analytics and Big Data in Your Marketing

As more and more of everyday life continues to manifest online, be it on desktop or mobile devices, the process by which users continue to discover new brands, products, or services, interact, and even transact with businesses has evolved tremendously. The online experience, whether it be via apps or online advertising, continues to dictate the relationship between the user and the business. While this might not seem like news, the pervasive nature of the online experience does present some pretty seismic shifts in PR Analytics technology available to PR professionals.

As more and more devices continue to integrate online, tiny snippets of data can offer huge insights into how branding, messaging, and more can contribute to a brand's Public Relations initiatives. While Big Data continues to be a fairly new term in the world of PR, we find ourselves in an era where quantifiable, trackable data helps point to narratives, both big and small, which can be instrumental to the PR professional. Below, we look at the way in which Big Data is being discussed by the PR industry at large. We also investigate three applications of Big Data for PR professionals, and what these can mean for shaping your business's narrative.

How Big Is Big Data?
We're not going to set out and pretend you've never heard the term "Big Data," but for a couple of working definitions, we turn no further than PR Professional Forrest W. Anderson, an Independent Consultant and the founding member of the Institute for Public Relations' Measurement Commission, whose somewhat recent blog got some considerable attention at theInstitute for Public Relations (IPR). The working definition of Big Data tends to revolve around any collection of large and complex data sets that come from several sources, and Anderson is keen to point out that the trouble lay not in collecting this information, but in knowing how to take data sets and apply statistical analysis to spot business trends and so on.

Learning how to analyze Big Data can be a particularly complex task for a business owner, though few will dispute its value. The IPR points out that "nearly 60% of executives believe that Big Data will disrupt their industry within the next three years." Even pulling data from one of our largest knowledge bases of user activity, Google Trends, shows an incredible rise in the awareness about Big Data's value:

Google Interest Over Time for Tech Trends

Judging by the graph above, while the Internet of Things represents a rising source of products to help contribute data, the excitement about increased connectivity seems dwarfed by the desire to understand how to use Big Data and what kind of real ROI these types of analytics can provide.

In an interview with Sally Falkow, CEO and Strategist at Meritus Media, Falkow states that clients have come to her door "precisely because they have mountains of data but don't know what it means or what to do with it. So a successful PR practitioner has to be an equally right brain/left-brain person, as well as 50% strategist and counselor and 50% data specialist."

The call to analytics and analysis can be a little daunting. In fact, this may seem like quite a job description for someone who was drawn to PR because they excelled in communications! While many of the challenges of working with Big Data may require an analytical mind, it's not all number-crunching. Instead, PR professionals need to help identify clear stakeholders in the organization and commit to a process for collecting, organizing, and analyzing data to help see the story that the data may or may not be telling. If this seems too complex, then fear not; below are three concrete examples about how applying Big Data can change the game.

Industry-Wide Trends and Macro-Data Analysis: Google Trends

One clear-cut example to use to show how Big Data can help PR professionals better understand their audience and target market is investigating the way in which people are talking about the product in real-time. With Google Trends, PR pros can access one of the most sizable collections of written language that actively changes with its users. By leveraging Google Search to look at trends, PR pros can unearth some pretty intriguing insights.

As just a simple illustration, let's take a look at two words that are often used synonymously to talk about the same style of music:

The blue line in the image above represents searches for "rap," while the red line represents searches for the term "hip hop." While this may seem obtuse, bear with us: there is a narrative here. And perhaps that's the most important part of understanding the applications of Big Data in a PR world: It's not just capturing the analytics, but unpacking the narrative in a way that provides meaningful insight for your business.

The narrative in this case is two-fold: First of all, as we look at the trend for rap and hip hop, the marked divergence between the two seems to suggest that rap is the more popular word to identify this particular style of music; however, the rate of divergence here also seems to suggest that there are two separate audiences, identifying the music as two very separate entities.

Secondly, as we look into the countries, cities, and regions for these trends, we unpack some important geographic insights: Namely, the United States tends to refer to this music as hip hop, pivoting from the name rap, while countries around the world tend to use the word rap more frequently. This provides some compelling instructions to those writing copy, especially when deciding how to target an audience in a specific geographic region.

Tell Your Customers' Story
Rather than relying on Big Data to tell a broader story, it is also important for communications professionals to realize the value of educating users on their own behavior. Mining your own customers' data, habits, or anomalies can also provide some really compelling, interesting stories that can reinvigorate a brand's narrative or shed light on a product's value.

There are literally hundreds of great examples, but looking at the following study from Jawbone, we see how taking a few data sets of their own customers gave them insights on how a recent earthquake affected their users' sleep in the region. Since the fitness wearable tracks your sleep, they merely looked at datasets for particular cities that were affected by the earthquake, and then took a look at any major disruptions in sleep activity during the time of the quake. The results were pretty illuminating: The data told a story that users in Napa, Sonoma, Vallejo, and Berkeley were those that felt and reacted to the quake the most and actually woke up during the night.

Those with a larger distance from the epicenter were less likely to feel the earthquake or lose any sleep; Modesto and Santa Cruz slept well despite the large size of the earthquake.

Jawbone Graph

Data like this capitalizes on a few things: First, it helps bait the ego of the user and build brand affinity for those who are already using your product. These insights clearly tell a story about their users, and these users will in turn be inspired by how their own personal data can craft a narrative about them. In addition, it shows the practicality of the device to uninitiated, potential users, and then catapults brand awareness by tying the use of the device to a newsworthy event.

Pitch to Your Persona
Lastly, a final way to track Big Data and its impact in the Public Relations sphere is to look at how more data about your users can help refine your messaging. From Google Analytics to Facebook Insights, users' patterns and behavior online continues to be collected and scrutinized from nearly every angle. However, as alluded to prior in this piece, the increased connectivity leads to increased cross-sections of data that land right at our fingertips.

Accessing demographics information in Facebook or Google Analytics allows us to see incredibly clear pictures of who our customers are and how they are interacting with the brand. Google Analytics now uses their connection with the Google Display Ad Network to pull demographics information about visitors to a site. From age and gender to marketplace affinity and interests, webmasters, marketers, and PR professionals can now get clarification on the details of the target audience that they are actually reaching.

In this instance, the message of the brand is reaching a target audience that's a female between the ages of 25-34. However, that's not all; we can drill further down and see that this female in her late twenties is also likely to be a technophile with a love for television, movies, and photography.

These insights help us to create a clear persona to help craft, target, and refine the message that the brand is meant to project. If you are seeing a late twenties female, yet your target audience is a middle-aged male, you've got a lot of revisions to do to reshape the narrative to better fit your target audience.

Developing a competency for working with Big Data as a PR professional can be daunting, but it need not be. Instead, businesses and PR professionals need to rely on process, establishing a technological base, governance framework, and identify key stakeholders and goals to measure both data collection and its effect. "Most importantly, we need to align Big Data projects with specific communications and business goals," says IPR. As more and more data sources continue to offer robust information, it is critical that PR professionals take note, analyze, and tell the story.

More Stories By Richie Lauridsen

I'm a marketer who loves all things tech. I have been featured in Tech Republic, Website Magazine, Career Builder, and many other spots as a contributing writer or expert.

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