Can Big Data Set A Content Marketing Agenda?

How powerful is it in showing a company what to write?


If you search 'content marketing big data' on Google, you will get some 283 million results. Although the huge majority of these will have little to no relevance to what you are looking for, it shows that it is something being written about, but is it really something that exists?

The use of data in content creation is something that is not under suspicion, it is the basis of considerable amounts, if not the majority of news today. This could be from the use of web traffic data to determine which stories gain the most traction on a site and get the most visitors, through to how the headline changes the click rate. It is even used to track how content is being perceived on other sites to help create effective content on your own.

But is any of this really big data?

Big data is now a term thrown around so frequently that it has lost almost all of its original meaning. What was dictated by the four v's (Volume, Variety, Velocity and Veracity) is now taken to be anything that involves data. Looking at how many people visit a site every day is not big data, neither is finding out how many liked a particular headline, instead this is just regular data. You do not need complex algorithms to work it out, in the same way that the people who stand by the road and count how many cars go past aren't normally highly paid data scientists.

You will find a huge number of articles that wax lyrical about how big data is dictating how organizations are creating content, but it is certainly not in the way that many people think.

Big data has a huge part to play in content creation in that it creates arguably the most compelling stories. Think about the financial health of a company. Being able to use big data to determine this and look at all of the links within the findings gives a far more thorough and engaging story. We have seen this with stocks and shares after recent difficulties in global markets, and the BBC have used it extensively, opening up datasets like the amount being paid to public sector workers and the number of deaths on the road. They also used big data to work out the reality of government cuts in the UK, winning a Royal Statistical Society award in the process.

It has been used for some of the most important stories of the past decade and is even giving further depth to existing stories. Brainspace, for instance, used their Discovery 4 analytical engine to analyze internal Enron documents before the company went under. It has helped to identify several people who were involved in the fraud that occurred at the company, and they are working on other projects which are likely to have similar impacts.

This kind of analytical platform means that, while the use of big data in content may be in the creation of the content itself rather than specifically setting the content agenda, it will allow journalists and content creators to find interesting and thought provoking stories. We have already seen the need for this, and similar platforms, in journalism. A prime example being how the Guardian newspaper needed to enlist its readers to go through the thousands of documents from Edward Snowden. By using data mining techniques, it would become considerably quicker and easier to do this via text and image analysis. As these kinds of platforms and approaches become more widely available and understood, the number of stories that come from them will grow, meaning that data driven content will become far more common.

A key to the understanding of these will be the use of data visualization and infographics. Their use in society has increased dramatically over the past decade, and with this level of understanding growing, the complexity of the visualizations can be increased to show even more data. The BBC, The Guardian and The New York Times have all won awards in recent years from their use of data visualization, and the shift to more interactive approaches makes it possible for readers to look at data in a different way, creating further interest.

So, although it is true that data certainly sets the content marketing agenda for many companies, it would be wrong to think that big data does this. Rather, big data has, arguably, a larger role to play in creating the interesting, thought provoking and shocking original stories that will draw readers to the content in the first place. 

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