Earlier this year, I was a guest on the #DigitalPR Twitter chat in a conversation focused on the use of Big Data by public relations professionals for content success. The first question chat host Sally Falkow asked was whether or not the participants believe Big Data is the future of PR.
Being a PR Engineer, I strongly believe that thoughtful use of data is indeed the future of PR. But in order to avoid data intimidation and data fatigue, PR pros must know how to best leverage this information. Knowledge of how to collect, analyze, and interpret data allows for the identification of key performance indicators based on past successes and failures, rather than subjective suggestions for how to determine success.
So how do you begin using data to ensure content success and make sure you’re working toward the outcomes you want? Here, I share three tips inspired by Nate Silver.
1. Make sure you’re identifying the correct signals.
Many marketers measure results against the KPIs they and their colleagues are used to — such as impressions — and not necessarily against the metrics that truly show successful performance. We get it. Changing your measurement and reporting structures is scary. But making sure you’re tracking the right signals is basically the difference between doing what’s asked of you and doing what works.
AirPR Data Shows: You are likely missing between 75 to 80 percent of the data that shows the result of PR efforts in terms of how potential customers engage on your website after reading press. How? Often articles do not link back to any of your web properties, and if they do, people will still visit your site via search or typing your domain into the address bar half of the time.
2. Separate the signals from the noise.
Once you are measuring the right data, review the results on an ongoing basis, not just at the end of the month or quarter. Adam Singer advises, “…think critically about your measurement plan and remember to consider success for clients, campaigns, and programs up front. And then don’t just measure, have goals and predictions before you begin.” Set benchmarks so that you have a barometer by which to gauge success during ongoing review.
AirPR Data Shows: After working with our customers to identify benchmarks, we consistently see that about 10 to 20 percent of their PR output is responsible for 80 to 90 percent of their business outcomes. The 10 to 20 percent are the signals to look and listen for.
3. Follow the signals to success.
After proving or disproving your predictions of what’s really driving the results you’re seeking, use those performance indicators to inform your strategies and tactics. Too often we inhibit this process from becoming circular by failing to make the final connection that closes the loop. Don’t just separate out the signals so that you can see them clearly, use them as a guide for the evolution of your efforts and embrace the way PR has evolved in recent years so you’re focusing on “…the speedy distribution of content and driving leads to digital real estate.”
AirPR Data Shows: When reviewing a visualization of a subset of our own content marketing strategy, we realized how powerful a connected web of influence can be. Aim for ubiquity in your niche market.
To ensure content success, answer this question posed by Seth Godin on his widely-read blog: “What does it mean to ‘win’? Is maximizing the convenient number actually going to produce the impact and the outcome you wanted?”
Last week, Director of PR Engineering & Ops Leta Soza kicked off our Optimizing PR Fundamentals series with tips for writing press releases that don’t get deleted. Next week, PR Engineer Rachel Kirschen will share how to write emails that your customers will (actually) give a crap about.
We know, we know…sequels so rarely live up to the hype of originals, but I can assure you this part duex is guaranteed to deliver as much punch and pizzazz as what came before.
A few weeks ago my colleague and engineering partner-in-crime, Frank Jing, knocked it out of the park with his succinct and astute overview of Big Data and its role in PR (Part 1).
Not only did he touch on what Big Data is and why PR peeps should care about it, he also provided insights into how to think about this phenomenon and three reasons to embrace Big Data now.
As someone who lives and breathes Big Data on a daily basis (no seriously, I’m currently surrounded), I want to take one step further and provide some actionable ways you can harness the power of Big Data.
Once you are fixed on the Big Data idea and nailed all the basics, it’s time to identify the challenges or problems you wish to solve and how best to solve them.
Here are 7 of my suggestions:
1. List all your current frustrations plaguing your work. There’s a good chance Big Data can solve quite a few!
2. Get familiar with the most common terminologies of Big Data. Look up things like predictive modeling, natural language processing, data mining, databases, etc. Treat these words like medical jargons. You don’t have to know them inside and out, but it’s better to know *of* them when your doctor err…engineer…starts using them.
3. Make it a point to regularly talk with your tech people, but be patient. The language barrier may be high at first, and the same word can (and often does) mean different things in different circumstances, but good data people will be able to translate. Use their expertise to your advantage!
4. Decide if your Big Data strategy will be DIY or if outside help is required. Big Data means big decisions. The expenses of buying equipment, managing databases, integrating with existing systems, and doing automated analysis can be significant up front. Luckily, there are more and more companies providing customized solutions for Big Data, but it’s worth considering if you have the resources in house to get you up and running in the interim.
5. Start collecting data NOW! This is an “act first, ask questions later” kind of mindset. Yes, yes, it is crucial to develop a robust strategy for collecting, structuring, and storing data. But big data is an iterative process that begins with collecting data. It’ll be much easier to refine your collection and storage strategy as you go. Besides, storage is cheap and you can always discard what you don’t need.
6. Figure out what your data is telling you. Obviously, having the data is only half the story. Deriving insights and weaving those into your storytelling is also paramount. I suggest sitting with a data-minded individual and talking through your hypotheses. Starting with postulations can often be the easiest jumping off point to affirm or debunk your subjective hunches.
7. Keep up with what’s happening in the advancement of technology. The tides change fast, so be sure you know how to surf ‘em. Pick 1-2 tech focused publications and make it a point to do a monthly or bi-weekly deep dive into their coverage so you stay in the know.
Perhaps most importantly, believe in the power of data-driven decisions. It won’t replace experience and it’s no substitute for human capital or emotional intelligence, but like a great sequel, it can deliver unique insights and give you a fresh new perspective.
I’m not sure when it began, but it seems that “Big Data” is becoming THE catch phrase in every business meeting. The emphasis of each Big Data conversation may be different: it may be making sure no data is lost, or the privacy and security concerns of using the cloud, or the automation of analytical reporting. But everybody seems to acknowledge that the era of Big Data is upon us.
So, what is Big Data? And why should we care?
In a nutshell, Big Data involves capturing, integrating, organizing, analyzing and acting on as much information as possible. It provides the foundation for descriptive information via monitoring and reporting and it enables predictive analysis using statistical tools.
To get a quick understanding, we don’t have to go any further than looking our daily life.
Simply put, Data is the information all around us. We check our smartphones for news and social updates, we read and write emails, we buy products from online stores, we research good restaurants for dinner, we track our health and diet, we search for random tidbits online. The list is infinitely long, but you get my point: we are consuming information all the time, and in the process, also transmitting information about ourselves. It has never been easier to access information (thanks to the Internet), and to create information whether we intend to or not (thanks to, again, Internet).
So what about the Big part?
What makes it Big as opposed to Wide or Robust or Infinite? Well, this is a little more complex…but we will start with the “Four V’s”: Volume, Velocity, Variety, and Veracity.
Information is exploding. Our poor brain is simply not trained to comprehend the extremely large Volume of data, the extremely high Velocity of data generation, the extremely wide Variety of data, and, to add salt to wound, the extremely uncertain Veracity of data we obtain.
Google is estimated to be storing 15,000 Petabytes of data, and processing 100 Petabytes more every day. That’s 15,000,000,000,000 Gigabytes in Volume, and 100,000,000,000 Gigabytes per day in Velocity. To put it in perspective, the largest storage option on an iPhone is 128 Gigabytes.
Variety is easy to understand, because you can pretty much “Google” everything. As for Veracity, just do a quick search for “is coffee good for you”, read all the opinions of self-proclaimed experts, and enjoy the confusion. It is hopeless to try to make sense of everything all by ourselves, and that’s why we rely on services and apps to create order out of chaos.
How is Big Data affecting (PR) business as usual?
PR, perhaps more than any other industry, needs to embrace Big Data wholeheartedly in order to defend its place as a key business driver. Because information (aka data) is at the core of any good PR strategy or campaign, PR pros are generally experts in monitoring and influencing public opinion. But the job is getting harder every day. We can no longer hope to assess public opinion in the traditional way because everybody has at least fifty things to say and they are posting all of them online. And whether we want to accept it or not, this swath of information affects audiences’ perception about a company in addition to buying decisions.
There is also no guarantee that a carefully crafted magazine article will be more impactful than a random customer’s tweet gone viral. PR pros not equipped with Big Data are asked to manage the relationship with a fast changing public, but the traditional way of processing information is failing them.
And they are not alone in facing the Big Data challenge. Everybody is struggling. There is an unfortunate gap between amazing technological innovation and everyday usage by us mere mortals. Tech insiders tend to throw out jargon like “distributed database”, “neural network” and “object oriented programing”, but all the jargon in the world won’t answer the question “which channel is the best to reach the broadest audience about a specific branding message?”
But why should PR pros embrace Big Data? Well, there are plenty of reasons but let’s start here:
#1 – Building a quantitative foundation
Big Data can help PR, a primarily qualitative industry, to lay a quantitative foundation. In other words: it empowers PR pros to make more informed decisions about what’s working, what’s not working, and ultimately shows how PR is connected to business goals.
We can now utilize devices to monitor the Internet and capture every single piece of content published online. While at first glance, it seems like a humongous, messy pile, we can also be confident that we are collecting more than doing it by hand. Then, we can filter data by the topics we are interested in. Services such as Google Analytics and Omniture help us track how many people read each piece; then solutions like ours (AirPR Analyst) tell who are the most influential authors in a particular field, or what messages are resonating during a particular time frame. Imagine a world in which you use data to enhance storytelling, hence reaching more relevant audiences; in turn, this will get you closer to reaching your business goals.
#2 – Connecting to your audience
Big Data provides a detailed picture of the audience. Everyone who engages in online activity leaves a digital footprint. We can look at the collection of footprints to find out what our target audience likes or doesn’t like. Fortunately, the marketing industry has already made significant progress in this field, and PR (aka PRTech) can build on this technology.
There is also a surprising amount of insight that can be culled from taking a closer look at existing customers’ info. Imagine how easy it would be to choose your angle of messaging when you know your most valuable customers are senior business people in the Pacific Northwest who tend to listen to public radio on their way into work.
#3 – Estimating the actual versus perceived impact
Big Data helps to estimate the impact of actions. Correlation between an action and an outcome can be calculated when enough data is collected. This is where we actually like the BIG part of Big Data. Basic statistics principles tell us the more data we collect, the more accurate our estimation. And the more variety we have in our data collection, the more aspects we can use to measure the impact.
Gone are the days when number of placements is the only thing PR pros can confidently quantify regarding their contribution. If Big Data analysis tells you that 5% of this quarter’s revenue growth can be attributed to a series of PR efforts you partnered with a specific publication, yet it could have been 6% had you chosen another partner, everybody will be more excited about next quarter.
Big Data and its role in the future of PR
Of course, Big Data is no crystal ball. It uses historical data to provide you with useful information. The underlying assumption is the world will pretty much behave the same in the near future. It is a quite reasonable assumption, but not always correct (think housing prices in 2008). Big Data gives the best quantification of all the ingredients; the art is how to use the newfound knowledge to create the tastiest and healthiest meal. This is where the real genius in every PR pro shines.
Obviously, the prediction won’t be 100% accurate, but it will systematically provide you a competitive information edge because you can see one step further. Furthermore, once you see the analysis (results), you can plan and optimize your efforts to take the best actions and maximize the benefit.
Yes, we can finally put a number behind our gut feelings!