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Crossing Big Data With 'Thick Data' Can Make The Difference

Big data can provide firms with real-time information on consumer and social trends, but only if combined with the human factor.

Crunching the data
Crunching the data
Diego Fuentes

SANTIAGO — Big data has been making headlines in Chile in recent days, with differing analyses of its real scope and purpose as a reliable source of information. To understand that, we need to first put in context the meaning of generating more than 2.5 trillion bytes globally amid our ongoing digital transformation, and how this has changed the way we relate to one another — and thus how our society behaves.

We are in an "infoxicated" world, with its overdose of information, wherein big data and its algorithms affect our decisions and perceptions of our surroundings, organizations and leaders of opinion. The reputation of a company or organization is thus built to a great extent on the basis of this mountain of information that has now crossed the boundaries of personal use and is applied quite efficiently to politics, business and other areas.

Big data has become another input to supply nearly infinite information in real time.

If we used to rely on qualitative tools to measure and manage reputations, today big data has become another input whose particular trait is to supply nearly infinite information in real-time. This allows us to better detect trends, analyze patterns of behavior and know the nature of organizations and opinion leaders. But to attain more complex pictures like social analyses, big data must be crossed with so-called "thick data," or information derived from the human factor. That information helps one understand emotions and intentions when combined with disciplines like sociology, anthropology and even journalism that provide smaller information samples, but with greater depth into the reasons behind phenomena.

If we can see that big data is merely storing and managing great volumes of data, we can create realistic expectations of its potential and avoid isolated analyses with uncertain results conducive to errors, like a mistaken identification of behavioral patterns or causes behind highly complex, typically social scenarios.

This brings us to the question of intelligence: the ability to cross various quantitative and qualitative sources and methodologies to turn data into knowledge to serve an objective. To this end, big data is a rich source that allows one to draw from social forums, certain demographic and psychographic characteristics on a target public, market or skill or on your own products and services. Yet these are not derived autonomously from AI software but from a multi-factor and multidisciplinary analysis in which you compare the perceptions of interest groups with other information sources. The resulting findings can help meet overall and sustainable reputation goals and expectations.

Intelligent reputation management has become more relevant at this particular social moment, amid changing social standards and expectations. Leaders in Chile's public and private sector must understand this as a strategic challenge, but also see the potential of such tools if used well, as a crucial means of connecting with citizens when reputations are at a critical low in this country. For those corporations that lack good reputations will, alongside their leaders, simply cease to exist.

*Diego Fuentes is head of the public relations firm INC Comunicaciones.

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