Big Data: Five Essential Skills for Public Relations to Master

By: Guest | March 27, 2012 | 

Cartoon: Big Data

Today’s guest post is written by Kami Huyse

Let’s face it, most people who go into public relations do it because our skill sets run in a certain direction. We are great writers, we love strategy, we think broadly about issues, we are connectors, and we “love people” (that is a little PR joke).

But math and analytics? Most of us would say, “Not really.”

However, we can’t let an aversion to our less developed skills intimidate us.

The era of Big Data has arrived, and social media big data will be a huge trend this year. This means public relations professionals have to step it up to keep up.

The monitoring tools we currently use are crude at best and provide only a glimpse into the mirror. There are mountains of data and we don’t really have the skills to see what they all mean and really connect the dots.


Up until now, we have used free tools such as Google alerts to monitor mentions or paid tools such as Radian6, Lithium, Custom Scoop, Cision and many others that give us ideas about what is being said and by whom.

If we are really sophisticated, we will use sentiment scoring, influence measurement tools, or text analytics which allow us to mine more information.

Five Essential Skills to Master Big Data

There is a whole new skill set we have to master to understand and be ready for the insights and opportunities Big Data brings to public relations.

Following are five essential skills to master Big Data you can undertake right away.

  1. Become an Analyst. Don’t be intimidated by data and analytics. Use your brain and look for the ways in which different insights might help you to make better business decisions.
  2. Learn Excel. One of the best gifts you can give yourself is to take an advanced Excel course to learn how to manipulate data in spreadsheets. We need to move beyond the basics. Take a course locally, or the one linked to above. It is the still that will pay back in spades.
  3. Collect Data. Consider collecting your own data to supplement what you get from any tools you use. With services such as 80legs and Gnip, you can also gather your own data and analyze it. You can even pull an RSS feed or feeds into a Google Doc and go from there. The key is, don’t be intimidated.
  4. Evaluate Tools. By all means keep an eye out for new tools. There are some new generation tools Big Data bring that can turn data into amazing visualizations. Appinions is one of these new generation services and Tellagence, another fledgling service I saw at SxSW. These tools look at how communities share information and will map the lynchpin influencers in those communities.
  5. Ask Questions. Lots of them. With all of these big data tools, understanding the methodology new tools use to analyze data will be critical. You may not know or even understand the formulas, but you can ask critical questions. Don’t base business strategy on tools unless you understand their strengths and weaknesses.

What do you think about this trend of Big Data and how do you think it will affect public relations and social media professionals? Are there other skills you think we will need to master?

Cartoon by Space & Light

Kami Huyse is the CEO of Zoetica, an agency that connects brands and nonprofits with their communities for social good. She blogs at Communication Overtones. You can also find her on Twitter @kamichat or subscribe to her updates on Facebook.

  • I really, really like this post. I just finished a training in Google Analytics to help me make sense of all the data we get from the site — and how to find it for that matter. These tips will help me build on that data analysis and measurement I have already learned.
    P.S. I bet this is a post that ginidietrich really got excited about when you sent it to her.

    • kamichat

       @Anthony_Rodriguez I hope she got excited, but she is in London, so she might be sleeping right now 🙂 Good for you in getting that GA course under your belt! We need to make sure we don’t say that we are just “not good” at these things and write them off. It is time to do the work and get good at them.

      •  @kamichat @Anthony_Rodriguez I’m sure she geeked out somewhere over the Atlantic!

  • DoTime_WX

    @belllindsay @SpinSucks @ginidietrich I have to agree Lindsay, Spin Sucks always has great info!

  • What a terrific post, Kami – and I would expect no less from a measurement maven!
    I particularly like that you say, “Ask questions.” That’s the key, isn’t it? “Why” is ___ happening? “Why” should we do ___ ? “What” do we change to achieve ___ ? 

    • kamichat

       @Shonali Critical thinking skills are at the core of what we need to be teaching new PRs. 

  • kdpaine

    One other tip: You don’t  have to be a data geek, or marry one, you just need to make friends with one. Include them in your meetings, and on your emails. Ask for their help, and buy them a margarita or three.  I’ve had two meetings lately that defined measurement success in half the time because the data geeks were in the room!

    • kamichat

       @kdpaine Too late, I married one. But you make a great point. If you don’t know how to do something, find someone who can and follow them.

      •  @kamichat @kdpaine HAHAHA. I’d rather marry one, but since I did not… I’ll have to resort to having one on the team!

        • kamichat

           @Lisa Gerber  @kdpaine It’s actually more fun to marry one, from experience.

  • Yes!! Numbers aren’t something to be afraid of. This is brilliant Kami, thanks! There’s no reason PR people can’t make data work for themselves and these are some fabulous starting points.

    • kamichat

       @LucretiaPruitt Exactly!

  • LaurenVargas

    You know I love this post, Kami! All of these steps are critical in our industry, but I would suggest taking a statistics course, so you can ask better questions, understand data you need to obtain and how to glean insights. A place to start…Khan Academy! Start each day with a statistics refresher from Khan.

    • kamichat

       @LaurenVargas Great idea, here is the link

  • Such an excellent post, Kami. Part of me is so excited by the potential of big data, and the other part of me is sitting in the corner with my fingers in my ears saying “Lalalalala” because I am one of the ones who fears the math.  You’ve given me a confidence boost and laid out great ideas for embracing it rather than ignoring it (or simply going through the motions of collecting the data and not using it wisely or effectively).  Thank you. 

    • kamichat

       @mickeygomez It is challenging for sure, but you can do it.

  • kamichat

    @stenkula Re: Learn excel. Love it in a good way or bad way? 😉

    • Stenkula

      @kamichat back to basics, in a good way. It’s still fundamental to know if you want answers to “what I wish I knew”

  • Very good points all. it takes some of us with the more creative mindsets to Get into our analytical sides – I used to hate poring over data. But then I noticed how some of my more creative friends interpret data into usable information. And I realize — both perspectives are valuable. And now I think of it as building stories out of data. Which is to say playing. Which is fun.

    • kamichat

       @Tinu Exactly, this is exactly how I think of it. How did you get into my brain Tinu?

  • Analyzing and collecting data? Learning Excel? Understanding the methodology of data tools? Being a PR person sounds like fun! *trying but failing to keep a straight face* 
    Nicely written, I guess 😉

    • kamichat

       @danperezfilms What, you don’t want to bend the tools to your will? LOL. Let me take you back to school, Perez!

  • matthixson

    Great post Kami – There is a ton of data that people can get their heads around and gain valuable insights with a few simple tools.  Learning excel is a great example of DIY analytics.  You can gain a ton of insights from doing that.  Where it gets complex is when you get to relationships and groups of relationships around specific subjects that form communities.  We have tons of data points today but most of us end up putting a mental model of how it all fits together in our head.  I think over the coming months people will see new accessible applications that allow them to visualize and understand what they have only pieced together in the past. 

    • kamichat

       @matthixson As you know, I am super excited about what you and others are putting together.

  • I love how we just keep learning and adding to our skill sets. This post highlights the need for both. I tend to come at things from GenJones perspective: that is, someone who has come up without many of these skills and is feverishly learning any and all things to improve what I do. You make a compelling case and I appreciate the information. But then I think you rock (can’t help it. Truth.).

    • kamichat

       @allenmireles In truth, the constant change is what I love about PR. I like learning new things.

  • KellyeCrane

    Thanks for sharing some of the tools available to accomplish each of your points, Kami (a couple are new to me)! I got on the data bandwagon a couple years ago

  • KellyeCrane

    Thanks for sharing some of the tools available to accomplish each of your points, @kamichat  (a couple are new to me)! I got on the data bandwagon a couple years ago when Katie Paine told me the top PR university programs are requiring statistics. As @allenmireles notes, it’s part of our required skillset now, and it’s time the veterans (ahem) in our field hop on the bandwagon — it’s actually a great opportunity!

    • kamichat

       @KellyeCrane  @allenmireles Yes, our skill set is shifting and sometimes it seems overwhelming to keep up, but I believe this is an area that is non negotiable.

  • Great points, Kami.  Understanding how to query, read, map and manipulate data — not what the typical PR or marketing person signed up for, but so critical.  I look at it the same way I look at programming:  I don’t need to know exactly how to do it, but I need to understand enough about it so I can ask the right questions and use the tools that are built by the programmers. Does that make sense?

    • kamichat

       @tonia_ries It’s true Tonia. You have to know enough to be able to pass teh smell test. With more data tools cropping up, this will be more important than ever. It’s the same reason many are asking lots of questions about Klout and its methodology for calculating influence. 

  • Aww @Shonali will love that you mentioned Excel. She was the one that opened my eyes to how awesome and useful it is and now I will never go back! 

    • kamichat

       @rachaelseda  @Shonali Yes, she and I are both geeks like that, glad you are, too!

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  • Great post, @kamichat – I’m a huge Excel/spreadsheet geek and always surprise people with the gusto with which I dive into statistics and charts. It’s often given me a leg up, whether as a consultant or a journalist, because people don’t expect it. You can speak a LOT more intelligently if you have even a basic knowledge – and people are a lot more willing to answer questions if they see that you’ll understand the answer.
    Love this!

    • kamichat

       @AmyVernon Really good point here, Amy! Knowledge is power.

  • MarkStory

    I remember going to grad school in the mid 1990s and trying to figure out stats on the DOS version of SPSS. Excel? Meh I am not by nature a numbers person, but back in my agency daysI would sometimes play with client data to see what it told me. And then figure out a way to try to tell the story to the client.

  • MarkStory

    Oh – and I used @kdpaine’s first measurement book when I taught at Georgetown. A must read.

  • fransteps

    I DO think I need to brush up on my Excel skills and might do just that this spring. But the key to surviving this transition to Big Data is to be open-minded and willing to learn. It’s so refreshing that we don’t have to rely on some of those crazy equivalent advertising value formulas from the Wizard of Oz days. We gain more respect when we are data driven.

  • dunnpr

    @dorylanenter Thankyou so much for the RT!

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  • VAinParadise

    @roncallari Thanks Ron for the RT

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  • Excellent tips and skills for any PR pro (and marketer) to learn and master. I heart Excel and the power that it holds, so by my nature, I guess I’m a geek. 🙂 However, there is ALWAYS more to learn. To sit idly and watch it go by while we think we “have it” or that we know enough to do what we have to do will leave us sitting in park and not moving forward. 
    Thanks also for the tools you brought to the post – quite a few are not on my radar and should be!

  • btrounson

    Good tips RT @Easyleads: PR people becoming #analytics cracks? Five Essential Skills for #Public elations to Master

    • Easyleads

      @btrounson Nice RT!

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  • MercuryLabs

    @stampedecon Our pleasure. Love the cartoon!

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