Big Data is Big

Yes, analytics is a game-changer. The problem with “big data” is it is literally too BIG. It’s almost comedic to listen to people talk about and appreciate what type of scale we are talking about: “Big Data is BIG. You just won’t believe how vastly, hugely, mind-bogglingly big it is.”

Big Data has been blown up by business media and analysts into this giant monstrously powerful force. Let’s for a second, take a step back from this sensationalism; let’s look at what Big Data really is. In its purest form, all Big Data does is take huge amounts of data and cross-reference it (imagine being able to add more and more columns to your excel sheet) against itself in a reasonable amount of time. Really, that’s it.

What makes Big Data sound wonderful in practice is that, just like an Excel pivot table, when put in the right hands; amazing analysis can be done, leading to more efficient business decision, and amazingly effective marketing. If it backfires horribly, we simply get some good case studies, no? Have you seen anyone do this right, yet?

We are approaching the zenith of the Information Age, so hold onto your butts.


Potential reach isn’t influence. Keep your calculator handy.

Potential Twitter Reach – [a count of the unique Twitter accounts that received a tweet about your topic]

I’ve been thinking a lot about the unpolished social media metrics available today that allow us to ‘potentially’ prove success. When running a “social influencer outreach” campaign, you tend to see a high demand for what’s called your brand reach, or potential viewers. Any client who runs a social campaign isn’t typically in it for fun, they are most likely looking for results and typically request a number-of-eyes metric. This feel good number on twitter is the modern version of what the PR world calls “hits” and can leave a sour taste when asked to evaluate the link between a campaign and its brand awareness.

In order to preempt this conversation, and keep those with googly eyes over large numbers at bay, you have to put potential reach into context. Take action metrics like clicks, retweets, or replies and build an equation to normalize for other metrics. If reach is the size of your potential audience, how many people actually acted on a tweet? Depending on your specific goals, that action number could be anything from retweets to clicks to purchases on your website. With reach as the denominator, you can use this number across campaigns and time periods to start to really understand campaign effectiveness.

Many services will give you the potential reach your monitored subject. This gives you the potential reach as I described before. You can, alternatively, create a formula or steps that reduce this number to the actual percentage engagement you received based on the reach your campaign had. This can be then used to benchmark future campaigns and outreach to successfully measure performance.

What formulas or calculations have you taken to best compute this metric accurately? Are your clients asking for a raw reach number? If so, why?

My 30-day Personal Revolution

I’m a procrastinator. Not in my fast-paced professional life (where I work hard), but in my quiet, personal life (where I suck). I have a cyclical pattern now of putting off as many things as possible at home. So much so, that nothing seems important or urgent…until it is. Like this Nike ad, if I started doing these things back when I thought about it I’d be done by now. I need structure. I need fulfillment.  I need a finish line paid for in sweat, courage, and determination.

Lately, I’ve had an opportunity to immerse myself in some stellar experiences with the most unbelievable people. I’ve participated in some (confidential) mind blowing work in the office. I’ve been fortunate to hang with the cool kids at industry events and after-hour drinks. These gatherings influence and inspire me to make my life – and my world – a better place.

For me, that begins with making a 30-day bucket list to attack and maintain over the next month. My hope is to create a personal habit and a building block from which to shape success. I know I have built in a group of personal supports, so the virtual love is not going to be a problem, its how I behave when I am alone…without anyone watching. I desire to make a change and close the gap between my personal and professional lives – and that’s what’s going to happen. So, here goes…

10 commitments:

  1. Consistently eat a balanced daily breakfast – fruit, oatmeal, bran, yogurt
  2. Call someone different each week to discuss work & personal life aspirations & goals
  3. Write 2 handwritten cards a week and mail them
  4. Cycle and/or run at least 25 miles per week
  5. Look for opportunities to network inside and out of my company, industry, and comfort zone
  6. Spend 30 minutes a day on social networking sites
  7. Volunteer for 1 hour of community service each month
  8. Plan at least 4 active workouts per week in the gym
  9. Read a new blog weekly; drop one that isn’t working
  10. Be the change I want to see in the world

These may not be big ticket items to some, but for me, they will help keep me on track. Some of these I may change after 30 days, while others will become a part of my routine. I’m looking forward to seeing which one’s stick – knowing some will be a real challenge. Every moment of every day gives you an opportunity, an opportunity to make a small shift. What are some of the shifts you would like to make? Please share in the comments

Sloan Sports Analytics Conference 2012

2,200 sports nerds gathered in Boston this weekend to talk about sports analytics at the annual MIT Sloan Sports Analytics Conference. Here, a bunch of “wicked smaht” people talk about a number of things that would likely bore you to tears if you’re not a fan of sports geekery. It’s the people that work in front offices and behind the scenes discussing regression analysis, paradigms of alternative thought, and correlation (not so much causation).

Rather than give you the play-by-play, I go over general highlights and observations from the perspective of a sports fan and digital analyst.

Bill James is the godfather of baseball analytics, Scott Boras is the puppeteer. Bill James is the clear MVP of the event; in fact, no part of this conference would exist if it weren’t for his devotion to studying the analytics of baseball since 1975. His one-on-one BS report with Bill Simmons covered his rise from part-time stats geek to saint of sports nerds. For his readers at the time, James’ work was a revelation, providing the statistical tools that let fans grasp baseball better than some of the sports executives did. By 2002, James even became a baseball insider himself, as an adviser to the Boston Red Sox. During the hour long interview with Simmons, James reflected on the difference between superstition and religion. –“A superstition is narrow and focused. You believe that if I do this, something bad will happen to my team. On the other hand, a religion is elaborate and intricate. It fills in all of the boxes, with philosophy, with the wisdom of previous generations and it’s complicated and it heals itself. The way that people think about baseball is much more a religion than a superstition and for that reason it’s much harder to change the way people think”. With that cleared up you know where to find me now, at the church of the absolute, all-powerful, mighty, omnipotent, Red Sox Nation.

Super-agent Scott Boras didn’t go unnoticed either and clearly swept the baseball analytics panel. When asked how he evaluates players, he claimed, “it’s like baking a cake where the ingredients are unknown.” Take that, pie lovers. Since his discussion I’ve grown a new found respect for Boras. This man is able to move his chess-piece clients around the MLB because of the potential future that statistical evidence can show. No, it’s not smoke and mirrors, but it sometimes seems that way. Because of his ability to use advanced statistics and scout the highest of clientele, he’s created a monopoly in business representing baseball players. No emotion involved.

Jeff Van Gundy dominated. Everything he touched was comedic gold. He talked about the role stats could play in getting a message across to a player. “Stats can be used as evidence that both the coach is right and that he’s not just picking on a player for no reason.” Van Gundy explained that when he didn’t have a statistic readily available to enforce his point, he would just make one up. “There are no absolutes in analytics. So stop asking. Enjoy the beautiful, beautiful gray area.” Jeff Van Gundy unlike many fans of basketball is not a Jeremy Lin fan. He went on to discuss how Lin has been in the NBA for a good portion of last season, how other NBA players have taken longer, harder paths to the big time than he has. Michael Wilbon provided his 2 cents saying Lin is “making people look at basketball in a different way.” Meaning Lin’s story has illustrated how international the game has become. Um, Lin was raised in Palo Alto, guys. Not China. Not even Taiwan.

Drew Carey is a smart shopper, but doesn’t give out any Price is Right tips. Drew managed to be both entertaining and enlightening. He acknowledged the soccer structure in the USA isn’t good for MLS. Among many changes he has championed, he revealed that his GM is under contract for 4-years. At each interval fans will get to vote based on their performance if they feel they have done a good job. So, remember that next time you read the sports section and complain about a trade or why someone was sent down to the minor league. If you are a Seattle Sounders season ticket holder, you the fan have a say in the future of that GM. I was thoroughly impressed with the ability for a veteran celebrity to take over an organization and focus his power and money on setting a culture that sets your management team up for success. Normally Drew lives by the mantra that, “everything’s made up and the points don’t matter,” but he’s clearly changed that here.

ESPN is by far the best thing going for sports statistics today, and also the worst. The bottom line is that analytics are expensive. They take time and resources to compute and are far from exact science. It’s not an incredibly profitable topic for ESPN but it’s something that needs to be completed, in part because it is good for the fans. Without ESPN’s influence, this conference could have never grown at its current near-exponential rate (roughly 150 students 5 years ago, to 2,200 and a waiting list this year). Every nerd should appreciate what ESPN has done. However, there were a few inescapable panels promoting new ESPN measures like Total QBR and some new college Basketball Performance index (BPI). I trust the approaches to these measures are sound, but the delivery was so forceful, so absolute that it turned me off fairly quickly. When you have your name on everything in the room you can get away with this, but it is not always accepted with great regard. Overall, their influence on this conference was almost certainly a net positive.

Amusing observations:

Simmons is much nerdier in person than I expected. He’s super skinny and awkward when he walks around. He has a complete smart ass sense of humor and loved making fun of the Van Gundy/Morey history. Also, Mark Cuban missed Friday’s events and was running late Saturday. Don’t know that has any relevance to any impending trade activity but just found it interesting. By the way, this conference is a super well-run event. You lost track of all the sports celebrities from ESPN that you see walking around. I encourage all of you to check it out if you get the opportunity.

I didn’t leave a stone unturned in my 48 hours in Boston this weekend. Truly met some great people and caught some insight from the juggernauts of the business. #SSAC delivered immense knowledge and I’ve gained loads of respect for those spending exponentially more time running statistical models than my job demands. One of the major takeaways for me is that there seems to be a lot of crossover between digital analytics and sports analytics. Maybe the tools and product are a little bit different, but the principles and challenges remain the same. You still have to figure stuff out. Statistics allow you to communicate everything into words that coaches (or in my case, executives) could easily understand. An apparent problem in sports analytics is the lack of historical clean data. Most colleges and some high schools will collect and report out on players, but the challenge lies within how to adjust for the different levels of play. In digital advertising we are on a constant journey searching for more relevant, and historical data as well as how to common size for changing trends. Sports nerds: we hear your problems loud and clear.

Enterprise 2.0 Boston

For those unaware, Enterprise 2.0 is the term used to describe technologies that liberate our working lives from constraints such as email and other overly complex communication tools. It has been a rising subject in an ever changing social world, so this week I attended the Enterprise 2.0 conference in Boston to learn more. For me, it was great to meet the minds behind this new technology, the software being developed and learn the strategic perspective to bring the conversation within businesses.

My journey started with a tweet. YES, imagine that, a tweet. Paul Greenberg (@pgreenbe), known to most as the “godfather of social CRM,” let his twitter followers know that he had an extra #e2conf ticket, and to DM him with our request. Not only did I request, but I told him why he needed to pick me (unemployed and seeking to network!) and just crossed my fingers from there. In the end, he offered me the ticket and I was grateful for the gesture. This experience helped open up my network and allowed me to meet the most influential people in an industry that I’m heading towards.

As a recent graduate and interested in social technology, my key take away from the event was that social is here to stay. Years ago, businesses were introduced to the paradigm shift then called “e-business.” Businesses that wanted to support all areas where customers were interacting needed to consider an internet presence. Electronic commerce focused on the exchange of products and services between businesses, groups and individuals, and today it can be seen as one of the essential activities of any company. Social CRM is going through this shift now, but this technology is emerging at a rate much faster than e-business ever did. Companies seeking a reputable association with consumers need to stop brushing social technology off as a “fad” and start focusing on this emerging discipline. The techniques and technology of social enable organizations to engage with their customers, seek relevant mentions of their product and brand, then react accordingly. This is not a PR strategy, it is customer focused on providing individualized attention and customer services, essentially making customers feel special and unique. At the end of the day, the social customer is here to stay.

My understanding of social technology in business is still bigger than imagined, and some of the topics discussed didn’t directly apply to my social efforts. The conference went a step further than making customers smile, to focus on the social employee, and interactions within the workplace. As my generation leaves academia and seeks employment, we demand tools that allow us to stay as well connected to our work just as we do our personal lives. Companies demand more transparency within the organization to remain flexible and adaptive to market trends. Using platforms built with similar formats to those like Facebook and Twitter allow for ease of collaboration internally. Presentations and documents can be updated in real time, commented on, shared and downloaded without so much as an email, phone call, or walk across the office. These e2.0 software packages create an environment that allows collaboration within all areas of the organization and makes them often anticipate problems and difficult decisions earlier than past practices.

What is your organization doing to prepare? How do you currently interact with consumers/employees in the social space?

Thanks to all whom I was able to meet. You have truly inspired me and helped along my journey so far!

WSJ – “How I Built It” Boston series

On Thursday April 14, I had the opportunity to attend “How I Built It,” a speaker series sponsored by The Wall Street Journal. A professor of mine at Boston University provided interested students with some free passes to the event. This was a quick breakfast event with moderator Colleen Debaise, small business editor from WSJ and four panelists, Barbara Corcoran, Ben Fischman, Cynthia Good, and Mark Rampolla.

This series was geared to those entrepreneur minded individuals who have a passion and dream to create their own successful companies. I feel the key theme within this panel was simply to inspire. All four panelists had a unique story to tell with lessons they learned and took time to voice the challenges they still faced today. Ben, Founder & CEO of (and BU alum!) spoke about the experience his firm creates. To become a RueLaLa customer you must be invited by someone who is already a member. The perception here is that you will only receive an invite if the person previous to you had a great shopping experience. This creates a unique customer base, those who are the most loyal customers.

Barbara Corcoran Founder of Corcoran Group, a real-estate firm, as well as investor on ABC’s reality hit Shark Tank stood out amongst the panel. She definitely brought her humor with her this morning. Her infectious energy seemed to fill the room at 8:30am, which is good because I was still just waking up. She began her real-estate firm from a $1,000 loan off of her boyfriend, which she has since parleyed into a five billion dollar business that sold in 2007 for $66 million. Her words of encouragement were to find someone who you can partner with who is your polar opposite. Someone who you will get along with and help grow your business, but will challenge your every move.  Her tell-it-like-it-is attitude helped me to understand what is most important when starting off on your own.

What were your thoughts of the event? Were there any key takeaways that you can apply to your entrepreneurial quest?

More info can be found here. 

Social2011 @ Radian6

2011 will go down as the year I begin to let Twitter drive my social life. It seems fitting that I would find out about Radian6 and the #Social2011 conference via a friends tweet. What was unexpected was while attending the event that night, the absolute inspiration shown from the staff at Radian6 towards our group of Boston University students. Geoff Anderson (@geoffsdesk) was so engrossed in how we arrived that we got an invite to the second day of events. In turn for the free-ride, we were offered a chance to guest blog on their site. Free conference, an education, chance to gain exposure and permission to play hookey? Something I couldn’t pass up!

The #Social2011 experience, for me, started off last Thursday night when we were put into awkward situations (some call in networking) in which we were introducing ourselves to others and talking (or bragging) about what we do. That night I saw the power of social media. Meeting with other students and chatting with people I followed on twitter, but never met, was an eye opening experience. Eager to forge on with my newly discovered super awesome networking skills I was halted by the man of the hour, Isaiah Mustafa. His presence in the room that night could be felt instantly, everywhere. I patiently waited in line to shake his hand and ask him how he was doing. Let’s be real though, I just wanted some tips for the gym. How does he do it?! P90X? Hours in the gym? He wouldn’t budge.

The real education began early the next morning with the opening keynote. The topic of Paul Greenberg’s (@pgreenbe) speech was “Is social CRM for real?” He laid the framework for conversation by showing how we are going through a communications revolution. Mobile business has become critical to the environment we are in. He emphasized that businesses need to start paying attention to this and create content that is “mobile friendly.” Paul then discussed the Trust Barometer, which is a product of a global PR firm called Edelman. This Edelman Trust Barometer listens, questions, and evaluates the consumers trust in various businesses based on certain metrics. By using credible sources along with relevant experiences, Edelman can measure the depth of relationships that help brands build credibility. The Edelman 2011 conclusion: “you trust your peers far more than you trust a company.” It was important to understand how important influential consumers are compared to the reputation of a company. This new trust architecture is heavy on transparency and engagement, which hopefully sets new expectations for corporate leadership. Paul left us with some encouraging words before concluding; “the fear of what might happen, is the power of the social consumer.” –Start listening.

Next, I had a chance to sit in on some of the breakout sessions. Define the ROI of Social & What’s the value of influence? were the two I chose. The discussion on ROI left me with a sour taste, apparently “it depends” is the answer used a lot in how to measure in certain situations. I understand that you may have to create different standards from business to business, but some factors must be consistent, right? Lauren Vargas (@vargasl) did a great job moderating and not letting the social media “smack down” get out of control. The key takeaway for me was from Joe Thornley (@thornley) “It’s easy to have a score, but better to know what needs to be improved upon.” I understand we can come up with metrics to represent what we are trying to measure, but what happens when it boils down to making a hard decision? We are left with your understanding and experience of what those numbers mean that lead you to making smarter decisions.

My final breakout session on the value of influence was a huge hit for me. It helped me to be aware of the notion that we need to study and analyze human behavior in order to maximize value. Chuck Hemann (@chuckhemann) mentioned “Influence does not equal reach, but when you combine relevance AND reach, you’ve got a powerful equation.” What I learned most from Chuck was that we have many influencers on various social sites as well as in our daily encounters. Being able to identify these influencers and understand what kind of communications platforms they get most excited about will turn into a big win. In closing the session, Philip Sheldrak (@sheldrake) encouraged us to, “focus on the people who are already influenced, they will ultimately do the influencing for you.

My experience over these quick 24 hours truly heightened my excitement for the future of social media programs in business. As a soon-to-be college graduate, the education gained will help give me a leg up on competition.

Overall, what was your favorite part of #Social2011? Your key takeaways? Are you more prepared to defend your ROI numbers?