According to Wikipedia, Public Relations is the practice of managing the spread of information between an individual or an organization and the public. As all of that information is data, it can be analysed and used to improve the PR activities performed by organizations. Enter the world of big data, and that information can be turned into valuable insights. 

big data and public relationsAs I have mentioned earlier, big data will affect any industry and any department within any organisation. Especially those departments that deal with (potential) customers will be affected because thanks to big data technologies, it becomes possible to get to know each of your customers, suppliers or influencers as if he or she were your best friend. Public Relations is all about getting the stakeholders to maintain a certain point of view about the organisation. With big data it is possible to understand what that point of view was, how it changes over time, what it takes to improve it and what the effects are of the PR activities done.

There are several ways how big data can affect the practice of Public Relations. Big data provides insights about the stakeholders, who they are, what their believes are and where they are from. This information can be used to develop a message that is tailored to the characteristics of the different stakeholders. One of the stakeholders should be the influencer. Who are they, where are they from and how can they be influenced positively? However, in the world of social media any consumer can eventually become an influencer. Use big data to learn the sentiment among your customers and how it changes over time in relation to your activities. Gaining 360-degrees customer view will help profiling your customers correctly and reaching them with the right message to influence sentiment. In addition, big data can provide you with the numbers to develop a PR story that sticks with the stakeholders. Finally, big data can save your organisation in times of crisis. Let’s discuss them one by one:

The influencers

Influencers are those people who have a large network and are able to give a message a lot of spread simply because of their network. The influencers can help your organisation a lot if you know where to find them and how to approach them. As Michael Wu describes in a post, there are six types of data that can be used to find the influencers.

  1. Participation velocity data: how often does someone share information via the social networks: the amount of tweets or blog posts on a certain topic;
  2. Social equity data: the amount of followers someone has on a social network or the amount of unique visitors to a blog;
  3. Reciprocity data: how often do others cite someone in tweets, comments or posts. The more someone is cited, the higher his or her credibility.
  4. Reputation data such as the Klout score. It says something, not everything, about someone’s credibility;
  5. Self-proclaimed data: the data someone posts about him or herself for example on LinkedIn. As the influencer posts it, it is less reliable.
  6. Social graph data: What are the relationships of the influencers and how is the network of the influencer constructed.

With big data technologies the above data can be collected, analysed and visualized to find the top list of influencers for your organisation. Next, understand what your influencers are saying and how you could positively change their message.

Your customers

Knowing the top influencers will help spread a message. Knowing who your customers are, will help you construct the right message for the right target group. With big data it is possible to understand who you customers are. When different sources of data such as loyalty program data, CRM systems, reviews and social data are connected with each other a true 360-degrees customer view will appear. This valuable information will help creating a message that appeals to your customers.

Tailored stories with high stickiness-factor

Of course, knowing what information is best suitable for which (potential) customers or influencers is only one part of the PR story. Great PR campaigns have two things in common: they have a high likeability and stickiness factor and they will go viral on the internet. Although there are many different websites who claim to have the recipe for the perfect PR campaign, creating a viral PR campaign is difficult. Big data however can make that process a bit easier. Using the available public and social data of the people who see the campaign can turn a PR campaign in a very personal, and potentially fun, message that is likely to be shared across social networks. With big data and big data technologies it is possible to find the right persons and use their public and social data in real-time to create a tailored message that sticks.

Visualize the message

Visualizing large data sets or combining data sets into rich graphs or infographics can be used to explain a story in clear and consent manner. This can help spreading the information about your product or service. Especially infographics are great tool to tell a story with data that impacts your organisation. HBR has a great blog post on how to tell a story with data. The tips provided in this blog post by Jim Stikeleather can help you develop that compelling story using big data.

Tweak the message during the campaign

Successful PR campaigns are constantly monitored and tweaked accordingly. Tracking how the campaign develops is important to see and understand what works and what does not work and for whom it works or not. Big data can assist in providing real-time insights from around the world how the campaign is perceived, what the online sentiment is and what people say about it. Receiving the analysed data in real-time will give you the opportunity to adjust if necessary.

Save your organisation in times of crisis

With big data tools it will be possible to know instantly when a crisis is about to hit the company.  With the right predictive algorithms it will even be possible to predict a crisis before happening. Algorithm can analyse all data that flows in and out of the company. It can analyse all relevant internal and external data and tell when negative messages are being spread, where they are spread and about what topic. The objective should be to find those negative messages before they reach the mass public and have to potential to go viral.

In the unpleasant event of a crisis actually hitting your organization, big data can help your PR department and provide you with valuable insights that can limit the effects of the crisis. Not only for organisations but also during disasters such as hurricane Sandy big data can come in handy.

Jim Delaney, gives the example how the app Waze helped during that disaster: “The Federal Emergency Management Association (FEMA) and The White House called upon Waze to determine where to send gasoline trucks in New Jersey.” And furthermore, “Based upon the data they found on Waze, FEMA and the White House informed the public which gas stations had fuel during the gas shortages and power outages.”

Measuring the big data results

Defining KPI’s in the big data era is possible but it depends on what do you want to achieve. Do you want to improve the sentiment, do you want to involve your customers or do you want to increase customer satisfaction? PR in the world of big data is about online reach and sentiment and bringing the right message to the right person at the right time. With the right big data technologies it is possible to analyse your actions in real-time, adjust if necessary and as such improve the results before the PR campaign is over.

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