Monday, November 12, 2012

The Era of Big Data

Five days ago, TIME had an article about inside the secret world of the datacrunchers who helped Obama win. Inspired by the article, I started to think about the interdependent relationship between data and social media.

Data is nuclear code. It’s the root of Obama campaign strategy.

How can data be used?

First, raise donation. How to find supporters, get their attention and eventually open their wallet? With all the data collected, stored and analyzed in the two-year drive for reelection, Obama’s campaign aides discovered important characteristics about some of their supporters,  i.e., what/who has appeal to them, through data-mining. After discovering that their affection for contests, small dinners and celebrity, the campaign group used the strategy Dinner with Barack contest again and again.

Second, creating a single data massive system is crucial to increasing effectiveness of phone calls, door knocks, mailing, and social media, everything. Too many databases and no communication between each other can be a big waste of time and data. This wisdom is a legacy from the reflection of 2008 campaign, the group “analyzed very early that the problem in Democratic politics was you had databases all over the place and none of them talked to each other”.

Third, data can be used for modeling and running tests predicting the effective appeals to certain kinds of people, people who donate through mail, volunteers, etc.  And the results can be used to make ad plan, for example, instead of relying on external commercial ad consultant, they made the decision of where to run ads based on their massive data processing. The result is their TV ads were 14% more efficient than last time and made sure they were talking to the most persuadable voters.

But what’s social media’s role in the battle of data? Social media is a tool, first it can be used to collect data, and data can in turn make the most of the power of social media through the most scientific strategy. This year, the get-out-the-vote effort continued with a first-ever attempt at using Facebook, data showed that one in five people acted on the request to vote early or to take actions when they received the message from their Facebook friends through a Facebook app.

With more and more social media platforms coming out, the interdependence between the data and social media is increasing. For example, the numbers can also convince candidate to choose unusual platforms. For example, in August, Obama decided to answer questions on the social news website Reddit just because the data showed that a lot of turnout targets were on Reddit. Without the data to escort, it's hard to make the unusual decisions which proved to be successful

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