Unlocking marketing's dark data: The Year of Big Data

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Do you remember the early days of social media (not too long ago) when people likely came to you for answers to anything and everything that had to do with social media? You were a default social fountain of knowledge and you likely grew into and then out of the social media "guru" role. Soon thereafter, social started to scale, and many others in the organization started proudly wearing the social media badge. Collectively, more than a billion of us are participating in social media today, creating an unfathomable digital social footprint.

Fast forward a few years and now, it may be that people are coming to you again for answers to anything and everything, but dangling a new badge—"Big Data". You are being asked to extract intelligence out of the terabytes of unstructured social conversations about your brand or industry. You are being asked to bring light to valuable insight that is otherwise dark and locked away.

If this sounds familiar, or if you're picking up a vibe that Big Data is going to soon be a new friend, brace yourself, and examine some considerations for unlocking the value of big data in 2013.

The big picture: Start here. A July 2012 McKinsey Global Institute Study is an excellent reference for understanding the value marketers can bring to the business by extracting business value from social technologies.

Business Value: From competitive intelligence to lead generation to customer loyalty to co-creation of value, big data insights can add tremendous value when unlocked. Determine which area in your business is ripe for focus and attack.

Tools and Skills: Analytical skills don't always come naturally to marketers. "Big Data" is a career opportunity for those who can bridge skills traditionally found in IT and marketing. It requires new tools, new skills and new ways of visualizing information. Take a look at Entrepreneur's list of business intelligence tools (with over 100 of them, we need big data tools just to manage this huge list): There is indeed an opportunity ahead of us as marketers to learn how to leverage the myriad tools, including those for taking advantage of predictive analysis as mentioned by Rich Vancil in his post about the next big thing for B2B marketers.

Processing power: All this data needs to be crunched, and quickly. We live in an age where massive scale processing is a possibility and on almost a real-time basis. I was recently in a conversation with my team regarding the timeframe for an analysis and I was thinking that viewing trends by hours would be miraculous. The team politely told me that they actually wanted to know if milliseconds would be fast enough! As marketers, we can take advantage of large pipes of fast-moving data, APIs and RSS feeds to nourish our data requirements, and we will need the IT processing power and partnership to make that happen.

Risks and Security: Big Data and Big Brother may be of the same family, the latter as the black sheep. As marketers, we'll need to understand and define our parameters to bring value to the business while respecting confidentiality and privacy needs of the social participants.

Wherever you are on the Big Data trend line—from newbie badge to expert, these considerations should help you begin to see the light and learn to unlock insight out of the mounds of unstructured and relevant social conversations.

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