What Exactly IS “Big Data?”


The term “big data” has been a buzzword for small business owners and technology experts. However, it is not necessary to have an in-depth understanding of statistical analysis to use big data for continual improvement. The general concept behind the idea of looking at big data is analogous to looking at the big picture. Instead of focusing on limited anecdotal evidence or intuition, big data can be collected and used to see how well things work and how they can be improved.

The Definition of Big Data

Technology research firm Gartner defined big data in 2001 with three Vs:

  • Variety
  • Velocity
  • Volume

The data has to be complex and have variety. Typically, variety is defined by the format of the data. Big data includes a variety of measurements from a variety of sources. Additionally, velocity is used to describe the dynamic nature of big data. Big data is used to measure trends that are constantly changing, and the data naturally changes with the trends. Finally, volume is used to describe the amount of data, as the name suggests. Small amounts of data can be processed using traditional or manual methods, however big data often requires a more advanced approach for proper analysis, which does not necessarily have to be difficult.

Social Media: Putting Big Data in Perspective for Business Owners

Big data analysis can be as easy as looking at Insight on a Facebook for Business page or a Twitter dashboard. The main idea is to make sure actions work. It is important to be able to answer a few basic questions for almost any successful social media marketing campaign:

  • How many followers view posts?
  • How many followers retweet?
  • How many followers hide posts or unsubscribe?
  • How many followers share?
  • How many likes does a social media site have?
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Basically, the point of big data is to get an idea of how a social media marketing campaign is doing and how it could be better. Obviously, a Facebook or Twitter page with almost no indications of user engagement (shares, likes, retweets), is not going in the right direction. However, a page with some indications of user engagement could be better with the use of big data. Big data can help answer questions that can be used in real life, and many are easy.

  • Does content need to be posted at a different time of day or week?
  • What types of posts are most effective?
  • Do images work better than text?
  • Do hyperlinks increase engagement rates?
  • Are there seasonal trends in engagement?
  • What posts result in increased visits to a website?

How to Get Value From Big Data

Big data can be used in a variety of settings. However, it is especially easy to access big data on social media platforms. Additionally, it is important to know for sure what works and what does not work. Instead of guessing what followers like and what works, people that look at big data can know for sure.

Pitfalls of Ignoring Big Data for Local and Small Businesses

Often, business owners get stuck in a rut. It can be easy to read customer comment cards, but the feedback (data) might not be accurate. This type of data is not big data. Small comments can be read, and satisfaction scales can easily be averaged. However, self-report data is notoriously unreliable. Often, customers do not purposefully lie to harm business owners. Instead, customers frequently cannot think of anything especially meaningful to comment on when put on the spot, or customers do not want to hurt someone else’s feelings.

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Additionally, customers might be influenced by something completely unrelated to the overall operations of a business when filling out simple comment cards or surveys. A restaurant owner might not want to rely on feedback from customers who have consumed a few adult beverages. Similarly, a one-time sale at a retail store might make customers feel like they have gotten a great value. However, the sale only happens once, which could mean that everyday customers might or might not feel that the retail business actually has great value.

An Example of How a Local Small Business Owner Can Use Big Data

Business owners do not have to be technology gurus to leverage the power of big data. A small brick-and-mortar storefront can use big data to boost business and figure out how to attract more customers. It is important to get online. A social media page or website does not have to be perfect. Instead, it has to attract enough followers to get the volume of data needed. A few hundred likes from personal friends probably does not mean a whole lot about how well customers like a brand, what they like about it, and what could be better.

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In a simple example, a local store could create a Facebook page for Business. The store owner could post different types of content at different times. For one first month, he or she could post similar content daily at 10:00 in the morning and 8:00 in the evenings. After the month ends, the business owner could figure out if customers prefer to read posts and respond to posts in the mornings or the evenings by looking at Insight.

It is important to give big data experiments a chance. Small businesses need to know if a current social media marketing strategy should be tweaked or scrapped altogether. However, it is important to include velocity, or account for change over time. Something that did not work the first week of the month should be given a little more time. If it works the following three weeks, the data can suggest something significant. Similarly, all four weeks might be a flop, and that will tell business owners something equally valuable.

Three Simple Steps to Using Big Data on Social Media for Business

Leveraging the power of big data can be very simple. There are a few basic steps:

  1. Identify what should be measured (timing, type of content, frequency, etc.).
  2. Try it a few different ways.
  3. Repeat regularly to see if things have changed.

Yes, using big data to improve business can be as easy as following three steps.

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