Letting Data Speak… But Who is Listening?


Cartoon Credit: Mark Anderson for eQuest

According to Viktor Mayer-Schonberger and Kenneth Cukier, Big Data is all about “seeing and understanding the relations within and among pieces of information that until very recently, we have struggled to fully grasp.” They point to IBM’s big-data expert, Jeff Jonas, who maintains that you need to let data “speak to you.”

But the question is: who is listening?

Data scientists and IT teams are the people who most often manage big data analytics. As noted in this HBR article, the technical function and drive of these professionals is reductionist: “bringing complex data down to the simple level of numbers — zeros and ones.” They forward parsed data on to marketing departments who further sift the data for information.

In their drive to manage the brand, marketing managers, the authors contend, seem to “forget an important aspect of the internet: it was made for people, not for companies and brands.” It offers insights that teams have never had — social listening, a way to eavesdrop on consumers’ social-media chatter, “peering” inside people’s lives without the introduction of bias inherent in direct interaction like surveys, focus groups, forms, or call centers. However, rather than using these insights to drive corporate strategy and innovation, they argue, social media customer insights are “more likely trapped inside the marketing and service departments that ‘own’ them.”

To get more out of social media, the authors suggest managers think more like anthropologists, culturally sensitive analysts who specialize in meaning management rather than strict data management. They point out that in “managing meaning, context is everything while in managing information context is error and noise.” The raw potential of social listening is the ability to extract contextual meaning that provides relevant insight for managers and their brands, something that an algorithm may not do.

Companies need to move beyond the “science of data management to the art of interpretation,” embracing the context offered in qualitative commentaries. To get the most out of social media data, operations have to “go beyond data scientists and the marketing departments that house them. Every executive has to be a listener.”

The bottom line: everyone who manages the product or service should be listening, actively and often, not just through “sanitized” summary reports.

For more context, check out these articles:

Harvard Business Review: To Get More Out of Social Media, Think Like an Anthropologist

Berkeley School of Information Book Review: Big Data: A Revolution That Will Transform How We Live, Work, and Think


This entry was posted in Big Data, Social Media, Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink.

1 Response to Letting Data Speak… But Who is Listening?

  1. sydhavely says:

    Great post, Betsy. Please talk a little more about Big Data and listening.

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