After large investments, many PR pros have discovered that the benefits of big data are limited by the relevancy of the content, the accuracy of the data and the degree to which actionable insights can be harvested and integrated within the practice and throughout the organization. Now, many early adopters realize that data itself is not particularly valuable without the expertise required to interpret the information, and to identify and select from a variety of scenarios to achieve the optimal outcome.
And yet, when one marries the dynamism of traditional and social media with the accelerated pace of business, public relations is poised for profound and positive change if only we can recognize and harness the opportunity.
Whether you are immersed in big data or just beginning the journey, we offer four guidelines to keep in mind as you move toward realizing the full potential of the data-enhanced future for public relations.
▶ An algorithm is different from an insight. Computers enable people to manage routine tasks with speed and consistency but they are absolutely literal: Technology does what we tell it to do exactly. And this precision offers positives and negatives since relationship building can be a messy business.
So while algorithms generate data quickly and inexpensively, they offer no understanding, intuition and context. Technology feeds big data but humans drive understanding, interpretive analysis and strategy.
▶ “Inquiry-based” research is different from “response-driven” research. Just as one-way “push” communication must evolve, so must the research we use for planning and evaluation.
Some traditional modes of market research are threatened in the big data environment: Focus groups provide excellent directional views on customer opinion but they lack the predictive insight of quantitative approaches.
Quantitative approaches may be projectable, but they are limited by the rigidity of the survey instrument, which can inhibit spontaneous remarks.
Companies like MasterCard apply social media listening as a surrogate for focus groups and surveys. Listening to millions of relevant social media interactions, they then process and correlate harvested data to computer visualization to help expert analysts to clarify what customers want and predict where the market is heading.
▶ “Real time” is different from “right time.” Real-time is essential for call centers and customer help desks where the process (and the response) is more formulaic. However, complex reputational issues require more than just speed.
Instead, it may be more helpful to move at the speed of the decision-making within your organization. The “best decision” is not necessarily the “fastest decision.” Public relations people must weigh the value of each in a given situation. One size does not fit all.
▶ Your daily public relations activity may be your best research. Smart PR people use data analysis to conduct controlled experiments, which drive narrower segmentation and tailored messaging.
The key is to have just-in-time capabilities to respond in a timely and meaningful way.
This means that for critical success a business must use essential information derived from big data tools and analysts to identify winners, align with the business and execute in real-time. A technology company we know accesses real-time traditional and social monitoring during earnings and analyst meetings. As attendees begin to disseminate what they’re learning at the event, PR monitors the conversation, offers guidance to subsequent presenters throughout the day and thereby manages the outflow of information.
In PR’s rush to embrace the huge upside of big data, we minimize the obstacles that big data presents—including how people interpret the statistics, manage the politics of data and develop the skills required to make sense of the cascade of new information.
There’s a greater potential for premature decision-making by mistaking noise for true insight, and a greater risk of spending lots of money and time chasing poorly defined problems or opportunities.
Until we comprehend and conquer these challenges, we risk turning a wealth of data from high-potential insights with the power to enhance our organizations into a distraction, an illusion or a debilitating turf battle.
Mark Weiner is CEO of PRIME Research. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
This article originally appeared in the July 14, 2014 issue of PR News. Read more subscriber-only content by becoming a PR News subscriber today.