In many of my past presentations, I would include a slide from a commercial stating, “What happens in Las Vegas stays in Las Vegas.” I would then add the line, “And Twitter, Facebook, YouTube.” It was always good for a knowing laugh (or at least a smile). And yet, that simple slide contained an unsettling truth: that increasingly, parts of our lives and activities are on display online or readily available through some simple search.
We live in the era of Big Data. Simply put, Big Data is the accumulation of massive amounts of online information that are — usually — available and collected for data mining and marketing purposes. Three of the largest collectors of Big Data include Google, Microsoft and Facebook. There are many companies that follow closely behind. Perhaps this is why the outcry against our government’s collecting of data has mostly been met with a shrug. We are so immersed with our online activities and the knowledge that this data is already being collected that we merely denote its occurrence and continue on with our activities. Yes, some organizations — most notably the ACLU — and some people have taken action, created hashtags or blog posts or at least reported on some aspect about it but overall, these recent revelations of widespread data access by the government have elicited little reaction. Or maybe, by just fitting everything under the umbrella of national security, that by itself is sufficient for most people.
One of the few points that all three panelists could agree upon in Westfair Communication’s debate involving social media several months ago was that the Internet is managed and controlled by a handful of large companies. The debate itself focused — in part — on whether these social media platforms were beneficial to most businesses when used effectively. I believe they are and in the process have transformed how business is accomplished in today’s world. But, the downside — as argued by one panelist — was at what cost to ourselves and our personal privacy.
A recent article in The New York Times discussed how President Obama’s key team of data analysts were able to analyze the data of millions of people to determine how to get them to support Obama in the 2012 election. They developed a complicated algorithm that ranked every man and woman to a persuasion score (0-10). One aspect of their persuasion method utilized Facebook friends as a means to sway potential supporters. This wasn’t a national security issue, but it did utilize extensive data mining and algorithmic techniques — many of which can be reformulated and utilized for marketing and political purposes.
One of the key areas we focus on when we are creating a marketing campaign is the identification of your target market and the ability to effectively reach it. That is the value platform (on a basic level) of most marketing campaigns. It also forms the basis for content marketing which, when done well, is extremely effective. And yet, this process is dwarfed by the shadow of Big Data and the new data mining techniques that accompany it.
Much of the information relayed online and via the news media has focused on the incredible amount of data that is being collected by both the government and many businesses. According to IBM, 2.5 quintillion bytes of data are created every day. This amount is truly staggering. Yet, what these reports have largely overlooked are the algorithms and analysis required to make sense of all this data. How can you look through all of this data to find the proverbial needle in the haystack? That’s the true challenge. It is what several startup and existing companies are anticipating as the new wave of data mining and what will ultimately determine the success or failure of the government’s Big Data collection endeavor; not that we will hear of it, of course.
Bruce Newman is the president of wwWebevents.com, a division of The Productivity Institute L.L.C., and the creator of The Complete Webinar Training Course, an online course that helps companies create and promote highly successful webinars. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.