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One of the questions most commonly asked of me (because I work at an analytics company) is what tools we use to manage all the data we have access to and how we make sense of all the that information.

Perhaps counterintuitively, I often suggest that thinking about purchasing sophisticated data tools may not be necessary, at least not at first.

With a few simple steps, data can work for you even if you don't have fancy tools. Here are three steps that can make the most impact.

1. Get to know the data

Take a look around your organization and see what is being measured.

Start with your own department, noting that what is reported is typically a culled down version of a larger set of data. See whether there are things being measured that can help paint a larger picture of customer behavior, or can be used across functions.

For example, a community manager who is looking at how many retweets one company author gets versus another may also help email marketing by determining the most effective "from" address for open rates.

For many organizations, there is a "brand account," such as Acme Corp. Within that brand there is at least one "evangelist" account (whether it's the CEO or a passionate employee) such as Wile E. Coyote. Knowing whose message is most likely to resonate with a particular audience increases the chance for conversion to take place.

Next, check out what other departments are measuring and see whether relevant information is already being aggregated; you'd be surprised at the metrics that may not be shared across departments. For example, the customer support team might receive multiple questions about one particular aspect of the product. That information could be an opportunity for the marketing department to expand its materials to provide relevant explanations, walking the user through the product differently, or working with product development to increase usability in future releases.

2. Measure everything

If you're not already measuring everything that you have control over, start now. Doing so can be as simple as creating a spreadsheet and using a naming system that gives everything you do a marketing type, campaign name, target audience, and date. Then, any information you collect, from Facebook posts to product announcements, can go into the spreadsheet for measurement.

Those measurements will help set a baseline for future marketing initiatives as well as a starting point for powerful insights about your campaigns. You'll easily be able to pull, compare, analyze, and make sense of tons of data that would normally be a headache to crunch.

Here are some examples of how this naming convention can be used across various marketing mediums:

(Marketing Type_Campaign_Target Audience_Date)

Ex. Product announcement:

Email_Widget Release_Existing Users_9.22.12
Facebook Post_Widget Release_Fans_9.22.12

Creating a naming convention can also be valuable if you move to a larger data tool or add new systems (such as Salesforce, Marketo, Zendesk, etc.), as it will make importing data into a new tool easier.

3. Measure often

Once you've started measuring everything, make sure you set regular times to do a full metrics check. For our marketing team, we do a weekly pull of data from across the department every Thursday afternoon. The team fills out a simple spreadsheet with information such as this:

  • Number of Twitter mentions/retweets/followers added
  • YouTube video views
  • Emails sent/opened/clicked
  • Website views/visitors/etc.

And a lot more...

That process allows us to easily conduct week-over-week comparisons as well as neatly roll them up into monthly and quarterly comparisons over time.

We also conduct metrics at the middle and end of campaigns and product launches, comparing them with our weekly baseline stats to get the big-picture view of our marketing efforts. That allows us to make adjustments to campaigns while in market, to increase ROI and conversions for specific channels, with extreme precision.

* * *

Using those three steps can help you gain greater control over your organization's marketing efforts and it can lead to better and more rapid decision making. Over time, you should be able to uncover valuable insight into campaign performance, product adoption, social media channel effectiveness, marketing messaging optimization, and a lot more.

Don't forget to share these insights once you've uncovered them with other team members and business units so they can benefit and contribute their information as well.

Continue reading "Three Steps for Making (Big or Small) Data Work for Marketers" ... Read the full article

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Raj Kadam is co-founder and CEO of Viralheat, which provides real-time social and Web analytics to businesses of all sizes. He has extensive experience in creating new ways to identify influencers for brands, including Viralheat's patented Human Intent technology, which identifies social leads.