When you last read an article about big data, it most likely kicked off with a startling figure or case study - the millions of conversations and terabytes of data we create, or an example of a company drowning in and unable to cope with the ever increasing volumes of data they are confronted with. Yet, that's actually the least interesting part of big data.
Most organisations are not drowning in data - they have completely manageable volumes to contend with. If you are from a company that's not the size of Amazon or the BBC, you might feel like the big data conversation is not about you, but you would be wrong. In fact, some of my startup clients are the best at getting value out of big data. They know that size doesn't matter; the real value of big data is in being able to connect the dots.
Once you stop worrying about the volumes, you can focus on the more interesting bit: bringing all the different types of data together. In some instances, this is already happening and companies are tracking the customer journey by joining up web traffic, advertising, and promotional codes with sales or referrals stats. By joining those data sets together, they see what their customers do before they make a purchase. More importantly, they have insights they can act on and measure.
But for many, big data extends beyond the customer journey. Rather than tracking a customer from the time of a first search or visit to a website, we can start looking at and influencing the decision process much earlier. When today's customer walks into your digital store or visits your website, they've probably already made their decision, talked to their friends, read recommendations on social networks, and read reviews online. In other words, they've done their research.
Big data can uncover, influence and measure the decision process early on. Once you overlay web traffic data, search analysis, Facebook Insights, media coverage analysis, and competitor research on top of sales data, leads, referrals and other internal statistics, you will be able to uncover the patterns and start influencing them.
Here are five simple and practical ways you can get started:
1. Get access to Google Analytics and overlay that data with your media coverage timeline to discover which media had the most impact.
2. Most URLs shared on social media are shortened via services like Bit.ly. Did you know that if you take any Bit.ly link and add a plus (+) sign to it, you'll get statistics on how many people clicked on it, as well learning about shares and likes? Use it to track how your competitors are doing and measure your own progress.
3. Run an SEO analysis to discover which links are having the most impact for you, but also what is impacting the organic search of your competitors. Use the insights to target the most influential websites.
4. Why are people leaving your website without a sale? Analyse the search terms they use to find you and the pages they visit to uncover why conversion rates are low. You can then address these issues in a timely and effective manner.
5. Reverse engineer your competitors' strategies by analysing their coverage, click throughs, search campaigns and social presence. Once you have these insights, you can learn from their successes and mistakes, but also find a space that you can own.
For most, the challenge is not managing the volume, but deciding which of the data matters. Nick Halstead, founder and CTO at DataSift, likes to say that the original purpose of big data was to integrate varied data sets and derive a new meaning, so stop thinking about the size - start connecting the dots and discover how big data insights can change your business.
Vojtech Horna (@vojtech) is a public relations consultant with seven years of experience in the technology sector. He currently works as an account director at Atomic, a firm that pioneered the use of analytics in PR.