By Erin Robbins O'Brien It’s also the plural of “datum” if you want to get specific about it.  So what’s causing the increasing discussions about data (big, small, or any other size you want to reference) and how it applies to the world of communications? (Note, I’m using communications as a term to describe the often colliding worlds of PR, social media, marketing, content, and a slew of other job titles that exist.) [caption id="attachment_1794" align="alignright" width="168"]Erin Robbins O'Brien Erin Robbins O'Brien[/caption] I’m not going to lie, it’s hard for me to talk to people who have no facts or even an attempt at some evidence to back up their decisions, let alone business decisions that affect the lives of a lot of people. The reason it’s hard for me is because you don’t need a spreadsheet to make informed decisions. Data - it’s everywhere, comes in lots of formats, and can be utilized in multiple ways. Data is, afterall, just a single piece of information. Beyond the traditional numerical tabulations of sales goals, Facebook Like numbers, email open rates, etc. - data can also be what I’ll call, “soft data.” Soft data is often contextual, typically qualitative in nature, and may not re-formatted alongside additional data. Some examples of soft data might be:
  • A conversation with a friend about a bad experience with a restaurant
  • An article you read that rated the best coffee shops in the area
  • A traffic report on the morning news
None of these things come in the form of charts and graphs, most likely, but they are all pieces of information you may use, alongside others, to make a decision. And they are likely not the only data that you’ll use in your decision making process. Let’s use the examples above again.
  • A conversation with a friend about a bad experience with a restaurant. If your friend has a habit of complaining about everything, or you’ve heard glowing reviews from other patrons of the restaurant - maybe you’ll check the place out anyway.
  • An article you read that rated the best coffee shops in the area. If you’re in desperate need of a caffeine fix and only the 8th best coffee shop is nearby, you’re likely to head there instead of driving to No. 1. Also, if the top-rated shops are more expensive or heavily trafficked with long lines, you likely won’t drop by there on a busy lunch hour.
  • A traffic report on the morning news. Maybe the route you take just always has traffic, and you’ve already allocated time to cover it. Possibly the alternate routes are also backed up and not going to get you there any faster. Maybe you decide to take public transit or call in sick… So many options! 
So how do these soft data examples play into brands? All day, everyday, people are giving us these bits of information via social media conversations, blog comments, customer support emails, in-store comment cards, etc. Taking this information and turning it into viable business data is where the money is at. Understanding how your brand is found and why people choose it is a key to continued use and growth.  Monitoring communications (social media, emails, blog comments, etc.), tracking conversations, and making sure to understand their change over time can be done in a variety of ways. Since there are tons of ways to do this, I’ll leave you with my primary recommendation in picking a method to measure findability (the sum of all the ways your brand is found) - use whatever you’ll use most often.  What this means is if a tool is difficult to input your data, setup, get reporting, etc., then you probably won’t use it much. One of the best things you can do is build a lot of data points over time, so skimping on adding more information if your tool is cumbersome is only hurting you in the long run. Most good tools (this includes spreadsheets, analytics vendors, and your brain) are equipped to recognize patterns, sort based on similarities, and view things in contextual ways. You may recognize that the same topics discussed on Twitter in your industry are coming up in your customer support emails and are also the most highly visited feature section on your site. This means people are looking for content around this and you may even be able to give some valuable input back to the product team. Erin Robbins O'Brien is chief operating officer at GinzaMetrics. She can be found on on Twitter @TexasGirlErin.