William Terdoslavich has spent a career in and out of tech journalism, having written for InformationWeek, The Hubbs.com, Computer Reseller News, Computer Systems News and Mobile Computing and Communications. Technology will always change. Human nature remains the same, usually crazy.
Big Data is no longer novel. Companies are sifting through their terabytes with greater ease and expertise. Many of these power users have focused on a particular component of Big Data: social media.
Whether Twitter, YouTube, Facebook or Instragram, people are using these platforms to talk about their experiences, leaving behind tons of data in the process. But all that data is unstructured, and you will need Big Data skills to exploit it to best advantage.
“Not only is data being created at warp speed these days, we have access to more external data—like social and open—than we know what to do with,” said Tamara Dull, director of emerging technologies for SAS Best Practices, a branch of SAS.
Responding via e-mail, Dull offered some basic starting points to anyone seeking to analyze data from social channels: “Think big. Start small. Look at your business. What pressing issues are you facing that can be addressed with data? Figure out your most important questions, then decide which data sources—internally and externally—are best suited to answer those questions.”
“We’re at a point where it’s not simply about pulling a lot of data, but really understanding why something performed well and how to replicate that,” added Heidi Besik, group product marketing manager at Adobe Social, also responding via e-mail. “This requires a comprehensive approach to the metrics that are considered, going beyond what we traditionally see with ‘likes’ and ‘comments’ and looking at things like time-of-day engaged, audience profiles and time-spent-viewing for a medium like video. “
Who has access to the data has also changed. “Historically, it was enterprise IT. It was their job [to put] together the relevant information and put it in an environment that was clean and trusted,” said Darren Cunningham, VP marketing at Snaplogic. Once the data had been cleaned, the analysts went to work.
Now the marketers want that cleaned, analyzed data—and they want it now. “All have a social media strategy in place. The question is: is it working?” Cunningham said. “Marketers don’t want to wait for IT to do it for them.”
So how does a company actually use social media? Does it work like radar, giving you insight into your market? Or can it be used as a diagnostic, allowing you to figure out problems with initiatives and programs?
“You can get some basic radar from basic channels, ” Cunningham said. When you mix channels, though, you need a more sophisticated diagnostic tool. “Integration is the forgotten component.”
All social sites have APIs that IT can use to write code and get data. Meanwhile companies are building platform strategies, using the integration pre-built into the sites they want to track, Cunningham said. They want to tie the data back to their enterprise’s existing IT system, linking those customer signals to the company’s database of record.