It would be understandable for PR pros to keep their distance from the hubbub about big data. In all likelihood, it is words and images that make you tick. You have an instinct for people and pathos. And big data, with its numbers and graphs and birds eye view, would seem to invite a different skill set. Something for the left-brained analytics among us to decipher and report back on. But if it hasn’t already, it is likely that your communications career will intersect with big data and you must understand, appreciate and harness the knowledge that this volume of information provides. What are you doing to prepare yourself?
Ask the right questions.
To prevent being overwhelmed by the amount of information available, let specific questions guide your search. You might be looking for a better sense of your audience; what kinds of people are seeing and responding to your digital efforts. Perhaps you need to know who else is talking about you and you might use big data to conduct an intensive media analysis. If you’re forecasting, you might use this technology to predict crises as well as trends. Big data provides a lot of answers, so be sure you know which ones you’re after.
Evaluate the tools.
You may not be able to decipher the data yourself, but you should familiarize with the platforms that can. Get to know Google Analytics, Vocus, and SurveyMonkey to start. Use your questions above as a guide to assess which new data management tools will best serve your needs. Do you need answers in real time? Do you need the technology to be scalable? Hiring managers will expect you to have opinions about these platforms, so do your research now.
All the information in the world is only as useful as the action you take as a result. How do you use this knowledge during the social media planning process, for example? Are you commenting back on negative reviews that turn up? Tweeting out articles that mention your organization? For Obama’s reelection campaign, his team absorbed large amounts of information. And then they built off of it. The door-to-door field team recorded issues that were most important to voters and the digital team followed up with email blasts that corresponded to each individuals’ favorite topics. How are you leveraging the data to do public relations more effectively?
Perhaps most importantly, big data provides a means for public relations professionals to substantiate their claims. John Roderick, president of NY PR agency J. Roderick, suggests, “One of the central challenges of PR is translating company claims and brand attributes into the kinds of facts that warrant press coverage. Big Data can help that process by providing a multidimensional perspective that is rooted in empirical fact. That’s a powerful PR tool. It’s up to us to unlock its incredible potential.”
Chaloner, founded in 1979 as Chaloner Associates, is a national executive search firm that focuses on recruiting mid- to senior-level communications, public relations, marketing and investor relations professionals.