PR and Big Data: Using Smart Data to Communicate [National Conference]

Photo by Hannah Giles, University of Memphis
Photo by Hannah Giles, University of Memphis

Editor’s Note: The PRSSA 2013 National Conference was in Philadelphia from October 25-29. All National Conference posts can be found here.

Data, data and more data. With so much data out there, how are we as public relations professionals supposed to sift through it all and find the stuff — the golden nuggets if you will — that truly matters? The session, “PR and Big Data: Using Smart Data to Communicate,” addressed that very topic. The panelists were:

When attending a session on big data, it is important to first understand what it is. Adam Singer encouraged us to take away the “big” from big data and simply think of it as nothing more than digital analytics. At the very beginning, Singer answered the question, “How are PR professionals using data?” His response was:
1)    To measure campaigns.
2)    To tell a story.

The most useful tools for public relations professionals that his company offers are Google Analytics, Google Trends, and Google Databoard. For those of you who don’t have any experience with Google Analytics, or just want more practice, Singer recommended that you create your own website and use it as a sandbox to practice with Analytics.

Shonali Burke and Deidre Breakenridge then shared with us several examples of how to use big data to tell a story. Burke shared the example of one her clients, Oxfam America, and their International Women’s Day 2012 campaign. After it was over (thanks to Analytics), Burke and her team were able to view and assess the effectiveness of their efforts. One of the examples that Breakenridge shared was how an organization called HEROIC is using online channels and the data produced from them to respond to extreme events. Breakenridge, regarding HEROIC, said, “When you filter this data down, you save lives.”

The other main takeaway from this session, and possibly from the Conference in general, is this idea that we are all continual learners. Singer encouraged us to check out Google’s newly launched Analytic Academy to learn the ins and outs of Google Analytics. Breakenridge suggested that we go beyond our normal school classes and involve ourselves in online learning sites, such as Coursera. Burke reminded us that our time is valuable and that we should spend it educating ourselves.

How do you interact with big data in your internships and jobs? Are there any tools that you use to help you find what is truly important? 

Ethan Parry (@ethanparry3 or LinkedIn) is an undergraduate student in public relations at Brigham Young University (BYU). He is a member of BYU’s PRSSA Chapter ( and @byuprssa) and is both an editor for The Pitch, an award-winning newsletter, and a member of the Chapter’s public relations committee. Aside from being involved in PRSSA, Parry also writes monthly articles about social media topics for Social Media Club

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