Using Big Data to Measure Your Audiences

Two miners transporting cubes of digits
(Clinical Safety Geek, 2013).

There is too much data.

In a world where the rise of multimedia, social media, and the Internet of Things is fueling an exponential growth of data (McKinsey&Company, 2011), “Big Data” has become a key buzzword to describe the availability of data and complex data sets. But for me the most important part of big data is the analysis – all the data in the world is just that, data. Data does not actually help you create value, innovate or make changes until you analyze it and mine it for its gold nuggets of truth.

One of big data’s most useful applications is to help you understand your customers and figure out how to talk to your audience. “Big data allows even narrower segmentation of customers and therefore much more precisely tailored products or services” (McKinsay&Company, 2011). The relationship you have with your stakeholders greatly affects your ability to mitigate or recover from a crisis or even whether your PR initiatives will be successful. However, social media has changed the boundaries between your business and its communities. Communities, as pointed out by Katie Paine, are no longer the individuals or organizations that your business is in close proximity to (Paine, 2011). Communities can now consist of any stakeholder, be they physical or virtual, that can influence your business.

But think of the scope communities now have with the Internet, multiple social media platforms, and multimedia; that is a lot of information to process, analyze and manage in an attempt to understand your audience but regardless it needs to be measured because ignoring certain communities can have dire consequences because by focusing PR on key publics you alienate your other audiences. Therefore, you need to have good metrics in place in order to measure your relationships continuously “so you know where you stand, and what works and what doesn’t” (Paine, 2011, p. 156). In most cases, this means using two-way, synchronous communication between organizations and their publics so that organizations are proactive to audience concerns and are able to not only grow as a business from audience feedback but provide their communities with valuable information. But how can you manage and measure your audiences when there is so many ways for communities to be talking about you, at you or with you?

Image of many different consumer groups with the title "Can You Identify Your Audience?"
(The All Results Journals, 2013).

One way is big data.

The big data – from servers, ISPs, customer databases, social media or Return Path Data (RPD) – can greatly enhance the understanding of audiences (IPA, 2013). All these data sets contribute to the pool of big data that you will need to search in order to identify your business’ communities. From the information you collect from these sources as well as, customer purchase or usage data and social media data from Google, Twitter, Facebook, etc., you can build data driven audience profiles that provide a complete picture of each stakeholder’s lifetime interactions with your business (IBM, 2013). Many of these audience profiles will include the community influencers outlined by Paine in her book Measure What Matters: Online Tools for Understanding Customers, Social Media, Engagement, and Key Relationships.

Chart of different key influencers and their abilities
(Paine, 2013, p. 160).

Gaining a 360-degree view of the customer and your communities helps establish how you can address them as individuals and also how they can affect you in turn. There are a number of reasons why using big data to find out about your communities and customers is a good idea because:

  1. When multiple data sets overlap you get a more complete view of that community and how you can tailor your communications to them, measure the audience and predict customer behaviour.
  2. “Marketers can micro target audiences with messages that are relevant to them in the channels where they want to receive them, reducing the scattershot approach necessary when there was less audience insight and segmentation” (AdAge, 2013).

It is no longer about understanding one channel of communication but about understanding your customer and the communities which your business is a part of and influenced by.

You need big data into order to understand the influence you have on your audience and to figure out what your audience is saying about you. You’re not just looking for your primary audience, you are hoping to identify every audience and influencer that has a stake in your company or power over it. In order to keep your relationships strong and healthy you need to prioritize your relationships but not forget any one of your audiences.

Big data helps you find your communities and work with them to succeed.

“Chris Anderson…wrote in 2008 that the sheer volume of data would obviate the need for theory, and even the scientific method… [T]hese views are badly mistaken. The numbers have no way of speaking for themselves. We speak for them. We imbue them with meaning. Data-driven predictions can succeed-and they can fail. It is when we deny our role in the process that the odds of failure rise.”
– Nate Silver, 2012


AdAge. (2013). Bringing Big Data into Marketing Operations. Retrieved March 10, 2014, from

Clinical Safety Geek. (2013). Safety Signal Detection & Data Mining. Retrieved March 10, 2014, from

IBM. (2013). How Audience Measurement is Changing The Model for Marketers & Advertisers. Retrieved March 10, 2014, from

IPA. (2013). The Big Opportunity: Audience Research Meets Big Data. Retrieved March 10, 2014, from

McKinsey&Company. (2011). Big data: The next frontier for innovation, competition and productivity. Retrieved March 10, 2014, from

Paine, K. (2011). Measure What Matters: Online Tools for Understanding Customers, Social Media, Engagement, and Key Relationships. Hoboken, New Jersey: John Wiley & Sons Inc.

The All Results Journals. (2013). How to Identify your Purpose and Audience. Retrieved March 10, 2014, from


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