Why More Information is Not More Knowledge

Eric Koefoot, President & CEO, PublicRelay

Businesses love information, data, and statistics.  Show me a successful CEO, and I will put money on the fact that they rely on stats to plan, react, focus, and strategize smartly.  And compared with 20 or even 10 years ago, the wide availability of vast troves of information has changed the face of business.

Data for Communications

Those of us in the communications field are caught up in the same tidal wave.  We are expected to collect media intelligence to support our decisions and prove our impact to the CEO and the Board.

The days of thick binders of media clips and clip counts are long gone.  And even the old standby “Ad Value Equivalent” is under increasing scrutiny by skeptical CEOs, who find its almost arbitrary assignment of the value of a story hard to justify in the days of internet distribution, mobile consumption, and social media sound bites.

So what have we done?

  • We’ve changed with the times and turned to technology and data analytics to achieve those important goals.
  • We’ve begun analyzing stories by the thousands – even by the millions in the case of social media monitoring – to extract trends and patterns in the coverage.
  • We’ve captured sentiment through complex algorithms that look for descriptive and emotional words and tie them to subjects gleaned through entity extraction.
  • And we’ve collected all these data into vast databases that are then crunched to create impressive-looking charts and graphs that tell us what is happening in the media as it relates to us and our brand.

More Data vs. More Information

But let’s take a step back and ask an important question:

Do we have more information, or do we really have just more data?  Is this vast database – at its core – based on solid analytics that are structured on how we, as communications professionals, do our jobs?

Frequently the answer is no, and therein lies the rub.

Just because you can analyze everything with a computer does not mean that you should.  As more and more people become publishers through blogs and social media, they talk about anything that comes to mind.  Brand names are tossed about in casual conversations that have nothing to do with the product themselves.  Sarcasm and double-meanings are commonplace, so often what you read is not literally what was written.

Why More Information is Not More KnowledgeLess Knowledge

What increasingly is happening is this: as you expand your data set to pick up every single mention of a topic, issue, brand, executive, or company, by the nature of your terms you will always be casting a very wide net.  The data set becomes huge, though software can handle the volumes easily.

But what software continues to struggle with is the increasingly poor signal-to-noise ratio.  The wider you cast the net, the more likely you are to ingest, process, and analyze irrelevant coverage.  And what corporate communications or product strategy is ever driven by an unknown, low-influence blogger?  It is important not to dilute information and insight from the authors and outlets that really matter with volumes of what amounts essentially to just noise.

What you have is more and more information – but actually less and less knowledge. 

And so while we are enjoying the pretty charts and statistics, we are actually not looking at more insight.

For communications to be part of the data revolution, we need solutions and approaches that leverage data, but do so based on quality data from the start.  Only then will we be able to participate in the C-Level executive discussions as a respected peer and prove our impact.

How confident are you in your communications data? 72% of PR leaders say they have good data only ‘sometimes.’ Download the PR News Report, The State of Data-Driven Communications Strategies to learn more.

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