Big data, small insights

Last Thursday I attended the third and final day of Internet World at the ExCel, where CIPR Social Media Panel members Andrew Smith, Richard Bagnall, Adam Parker and Elayne Phillips led an engaging and informative discussion on the impact of big data.

What is big data?

According to SAS data management “Big data is a popular term used to describe the exponential growth and availability of data, both structured and unstructured”

Implications for Communicators

With the increasing availability of measurement and analytical software, communications professionals now find mass amounts of data at their disposal. But as Adam Parker identified in his presentation, quantifying these vast metrics in real terms can prove challenging to say the least.

As an example, following the recent success of the 2014 CIPR Excellence Awards, we were ‘reliably’ informed by our measurement tools that the hashtag #CIPRExcel generated over 4 million ‘opportunities to see’. As much as we’d like to get excited about that, most industry professionals will appreciate the futility of such estimations.


During his presentation, Adam justifiably questioned the concept of ‘reach’ and ‘opportunities to see’. “What constitutes an opportunity to see?” No technology in the world can determine whether an end user has read and processed a specific message. Similarly, software is also unable to measure whether the message reached the intended audience.

“We got 150 retweets” – so what?!

All four speakers strongly emphasised the importance of measuring what matters. Social media engagement is only worth measuring if it relates to the audience for whom the message is intended.

If Floyd Mayweather Jr found himself scrolling through the CIPR Twitter feed and decided to share a #CIPREXCEL tweet with his 5.1M followers, our ‘reach’ would skyrocket but how many, predominantly US based, boxing fans are likely to be interested in a UK PR Awards night?


Richard Bagnall introduced AMEC’s recently published Social Media Measurement Framework – a must read for anyone with a remote interest in demonstrating the value of social media. With regards to creating a social media strategy, Richard stressed the importance of prioritising the overall business objectives and aligning a social media strategy with an organisation’s ambitions. Richard also reminded the audience of the importance of reflecting on the value of outcomes, rather than outputs when measuring social media activity.

That was a sentiment echoed by Elayne Phillips who offered an intriguing insight into how the UK Government measure and report on social media activity. She gave the example of DEFRA’s successful Chip My Dog campaign, an initiative that was conducted solely via social media and encouraged a spike in the number of microchip fittings in the UK.

Contemporary PR


In the past PR professionals may have dined out on media relations but the convergence of earned, owned and paid media has created an environment that demands a far greater skillset. The ‘Big Data, Small Insights’ session was held at Internet World – perhaps not where you’d expect to find a crowd of communications professionals. Yet following an early audience poll conducted by Andrew Smith, around half of those in attendance indicated they worked in communications or marketing.

Needless to say, communicators are recognising the value of developing contemporary PR skills. The ability to process and interpret big data is certainly one of these skills and one that practitioners will need to develop in order to meet the challenges presented by a rapidly evolving industry.


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