A Beautiful Friendship: Big Data and Social Media

If you’re a social media “expert” and can’t explain the connection between Big Data and Social Media, you might be in big trouble in the near future. On the flipside, if you’re a big data analyst and don’t understand the value of social media, your “status” could be negatively affected.

Big Data and Social Media converge in the world of what happens after content is produced and collected. Marketers post questions and create conversations in the social media space to generate informal market research and allow an open forum for feedback. Due to the behaviors and uses of effective social media marketers, the use of social media creates and generates mountains of data, therefore producing big data and generating the need for big data analysis to synthesize the information and determine actions. According to some late 2011 statistics published by IBM, the massive adoption of use of Google, Facebook, Twitter and other services has resulted in the generation of some 2.5 quintillion bytes each day, which is probably even larger at this point.

So with this overload of data, we must understand how it can be analyzed…and do it. We must keep in mind the difference between just “data” and the “right data” – that is, data that drives actions. With social media, it can be confusing as to which data is “right,” but again, focus on data that drives action – either a change in business processes (customer service, product offerings, etc.) or a change in behaviors. The key to fostering the growth of this beautiful friendship of social media and big data is understanding how to make each work individually – one to generate the “right data,” and the other to process and analyze the data. It is possible and necessary to harness the power of Big Data and Social Media to provide strategic insights for social media marketing campaign planning, execution and measurement, and CRM solutions.

Examples of those currently collecting and analyzing big data from generated social content includes the Obama campaign, which employs rows of people manning computers that monitor Twitter sentiment about the candidates in key states. There are also the Google scientists who are working with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to track the spread of flu by analyzing what user searches, and the United Nations focusing on measuring inflation by analyzing the price point of bread as advertised at online supermarkets.

So what do we do with this big social media data? It’s exciting, but complicated. Right now, we are able to watch real-time trends and understand them quicker through the platforms and processing services. Through the power of programs processing this big social media data, it is possible to determine:

  • Specific patterns in conversation topics
  • Consumer purchasing behaviors
  • Overall trends
  • Language use
  • Key influencers

By using specific social media monitoring platforms such as Radian6, Buddy Media (which was just acquired by Salesfoce), we are half way there and can take this data and use the specific results to drive campaigns. We can appeal to the masses by tracking trends, address consumer concerns through their feedback, and identify key influencers who can become brand advocates. These are all excellent ways of using the power of big social media data analysis.

Now, the challenge comes when social media marketers must learn to expand their technology competency and understand the limitations of data that can be collected through these tools. Although most tools are providing some form of automation, the tools can only provide information with limitations, and still do not have the “human” factor needed for full analysis. This does not mean the data isn’t important or useful, it just means that social media marketers should learn additional technological capabilities that can assist with these issues, and that the convergence of social media and big data processing platforms will continue to evolve and become more complicated, but useful.

Although the Big Data and Social Media friendship have a long road ahead, the friendship is getting stronger and harnessing the relationship now will lead to greater success as the technology continues to advance.