Thursday, October 10, 2013

Sarah Eva Monroe Post on Social Media Week Panel - Big Data

Posted by Sarah Eva Monroe on 10.8.2013

A few weeks ago, I sat on a panel with some of Chicago’s data science luminaries: Harper Reed (OFA & Lunar Technology Corporation), Howard Tullman (Tribeca Flashpoint), Charlie Festa (Leo Burnett), and Phil Gomes (Edelman). In front of a sold out crowd of Social Media Week attendees, we discussed big data and its potential for the disruption of marketing and customer service communication channels.

From the audience’s questions, it was clear that many marketers are impressed by what can be learned from large data sets, but the hardest part seems to be getting started. In higher education, many campuses are sitting on a wealth of data about their students’ experiences, success rates, and usage of campus resources. Putting that data to work remains a challenge. If you’re a campus leader thinking about how to use data to improve the student experience, start here:
  • Treat data research like a science experiment. Email marketing statistics are a great place to try on your data scientist hat because all recipients’ actions are automatically tracked by nearly every mass email system. It’s as simple as developing a hypothesis and starting to crunch your existing data. The next step is to begin designing tests for future emails.
    Some sample hypotheses:
    • More photos in an email increases the open rate.
    • Open rates increase nearer to admission deadlines.
    • Low-commitment links like Click here if you wish you could be at Homecoming this year garner more clicks than more traditional links like Learn more about Homecoming.
    • Developing a mobile-specific email layout increases click-throughs from mobile devices.
Coming up with hypotheses is fun work that drives actionable improvement in your communications.

  • Allow users to view and impact their own dataset. Paul Smith’s College uses residence hall energy usage data to compel students to be better stewards of the college’s resources. In semester-long competitions, students are made aware of data related to their dorm’s energy consumption, then challenged to out-conserve rival dorms. Students got very creative: they piled into one room to catch up on Duck Dynasty rather than each streaming to an individual laptop, combined laundry loads, and used drying racks rather than the dryer. Residents of the winning residence hall scored first pick in the next housing lottery. By giving students the data they needed to change their behavior, the institution, the Earth, and the students benefited.
  • Watch how retailers use data. The title of our panel was “Amazon Knows You Better Than Your Spouse.” You may have had the experience of a retailer suggesting a product or service to you that seemed uncannily well-timed and tailored to your preferences. This is due to the fact that those marketers are using sophisticated data modeling techniques to predict when you may be most susceptible to their offers. Essentially, this is just a large-scale way for them to put themselves in your shoes and take an educated guess about your motivations and behaviors. Leveraging big data in higher education means doing just that. Perhaps there’s always an increase in financial aid emails right before a critical deadline. After assessing the most frequently asked questions from the last few years of communications, it’s not a heavy lift to then send out a proactive FAQ email right before that deadline. By anticipating your students’ needs and reaching out, you’re providing a much higher level of service than simply waiting for queries to come in. When students get that email, odds are that it will be so well-timed and relevant that they open it, click through, make the deadline, and then tell their parents and friends at other schools how great their financial aid office is.
Big data doesn’t have to be scary. By digging into your existing data sources using these bite-sized strategies, you’ll start to see patterns and insights emerge from even your most intimidating databases. Challenging and testing your own instincts about the types of communications that work for your audiences will help you understand the realities of their motivations and improve your ability to develop effective communications.

Happy hypothesizing!

Total Pageviews


Blog Archive