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Social Media and Big Data

Every day there are huge volumes of information that are being created and consumed on the internet. On Facebook alone there are 172 million unique visitors who make 532 million status updates1 and IBM estimates that there are 2.5 quintillion bytes of new data being added to the internet daily. In fact, we are now generating so much new data, that 90% of data in cyberspace today has been created in the last two years2. These huge amounts of data have been named ‘Big Data’ and offer new and useful information about how we use the internet and how we can use it more efficiently in the future.

Big data is generally defined as data sets that are so large that they are awkward to handle using current database management tools. To put this into perspective, big data is currently being measured in exabytes, or blocks of 1,000,000,000 gigabytes, and with the amount of data that is accessible online doubling every three years there would be close to 1 zettabyte (1 billion terabytes) of data currently on the internet. Because of the rapid growth of these data sets there are a number of difficulties in collecting and analyzing it, but the benefits that examining big data offers makes it an area of IT that offers great potential.

While a lot of the applications of big data are concerned with scientific research, especially in the fields of astronomy and physics, they also have many industrial applications and provide marketers with some very interesting statistics that they can use to improve their promotional efforts. One of the main sources of big data on the internet is the social media sites with their huge daily flow of information, much of which is valuable. The use of big data sets to examine how people are connected on social media sites, and what sort of information that they are commonly sharing therein, reveals a lot about how to structure social media marketing. Big data allows the stream of information to be analyzed to show emerging trends, gauge the general sentiment about an issue or product, and understand what conversations stand out statistically and have more weight in social cyberspace in ways that statistics based on smaller, less contemporary samples don’t.

Big data is a study that is still in the earliest stages of development, but even so, it has already made significant contributions to our understanding of how we are using the internet. The real value of social marketing was being questioned by traditional analysts, but big data has since revealed the importance of its influence on raising brand awareness and has shifted internet marketers’ focus from last click to first click models for attributing conversions to their online marketing. As big data analysis continues to develop, it will certainly show other trends and patterns that will make online marketing techniques even more efficient and cost effective.

Facebook looks set to amass 1 billion users in the near future and other social media sites, while still far behind these sorts of numbers, are also contributing a huge amount of data to the information already online. This means that the data sets are only going to get larger, and will continue to give a more holistic view of how the internet is evolving and the ways that our use of the web is shifting to take advantage of that development. To stay ahead of this rapidly changing environment, it is going to be increasingly important to understand what big data is telling us about cyberspace in order to be someone that is starting the conversation, and not just another one that is joining it.


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