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.