understanding big dataGuest post by Jim Delaney

The sheer volume of social intelligence on the Internet is exploding. Public relations professionals must sift through the millions of status updates, photos, videos, check-ins and other digital breadcrumbs to uncover meaningful, valuable insights and then decipher the best ways to act upon that data.

Image: The IBM Curiosity Shop via Flickr, CC 2.0

This year, PR professionals need to learn how to harness the power of big data to listen and engage, or face being left behind. It is surely becoming part of your daily PR research function.

So, what is big data?

It refers to the ability to collect large sets of complex data that are normally difficult to filter.

How can PR professionals harness the power of big data to support customer service, PR and marketing efforts?

There is no silver bullet, but we can provide some examples, based on recent experiences.

Leveraging real-time data during a crisis

Take Waze for example. Waze is the community-driven app that learns from users’ driving mannerisms to provide routing and real-time traffic updates. With more than 18.5 million users, marketers and PR professionals can use Waze to obtain valuable information, especially during a crisis.

That is exactly what happened in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy. The Federal Emergency Management Association (FEMA) and The White House called upon Waze to determine where to send gasoline trucks in New Jersey.

Since many stations were unable to open, the challenge was to understand where to send the fuel and who needed it most.

Based upon the data they found on Waze, FEMA and the White House informed the public which gas stations had fuel during the gas shortages and power outages.

This data helped the government quickly handle the crisis, and is a great example of how real-time data interpretation can be used for a fast solution.

Attribute/drive creative social PR campaigns

Late last year, Kingsford Charcoal sought to identify “The Nicest Person in Social Media.” Kingsford worked with Marketwire’s engineering team to develop a script that identified people who tweeted the words “please,” thank you” and “thanks” most frequently in 2012.

But being “nice” isn’t just about please and thank you. The algorithm also accounted for people with positive sentiment scores and those who avoided “foul” language.

After analyzing more than 100 billion tweets on the Sysomos platform, Kingsford Charcoal and Marketwire deemed Waukesha, Wisconsin resident, IT professional, and part-time wine blogger, Clifford Brown, as 2012’s “Nicest Person in Social Media.”

Clifford’s “nice score” was exceptional, thanks in part to tweeting the words “please,” “thanks” and “thank you” 1,574 times during the year – an average of 4+ times a day!

Ultimately, this clever contest enabled Kingsford to promote their product during a time when many people weren’t grilling, and it provided them a way to meaningful engage with the online community in a way they’d never done before.

“Lighting up” your PR stunt

Stunts are a standard tool in the public relations arsenal, but with the help of social media analytics, we’re starting to see brands take them a step further.

For example, a tree at Union Station in Toronto, Ont. was “powered” by Canada’s Christmas spirit. Using positive Christmas chatter in social media, the data lit up 30,000 LED lights. Each light color represented the sentiment coming from a different social channel.

And the more social media spirit that came in at one time, the brighter the tree shined. Words like “Santa,” “snowflake,” and “magic” triggered various patters in the tree’s lights. Big data can “enlighten” stunts – providing the brand with more meaning, longevity, and, ultimately, value.

As 2013 progresses, the success or failure of a PR program will become increasingly dependent on deeper analytics and insights.  It’s important that you are as prepared as possible. If you are willing to adapt and embrace big data, you can innovate your programs and add value now and in the future.

Jim DelaneyAs COO Marketwire, Jim Delaney steers the day-to-day operations of the company, including all client-facing aspects of Marketwire‘s business: sales, marketing, media relations, business solutions, editorial and international divisions. Jim has a reputation for delivering exceptional results for prominent international companies, such as Dun & Bradstreet and JPMorgan Chase & Co. He is a graduate of the U.S. Naval Academy, and received his MBA from the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania.