2015: The Year Social Data Comes of Age

Fifteen years ago, when the digital world was in its infancy, meaningful data was exceptionally hard to come by. We pored over server logs, trying to decipher their meaning: an inelegant and almost vulgar way to try to understand consumer behavior. As the technology advanced, we exported raw data and spent countless hours trying to infer meaning. Agencies talked excitedly about how many hits their clients’ sites had gotten, as if simply getting users to visit was the end goal—like a major retailer only caring about visitors to the shop, and not sales. The simple fact that data was available was enough; though nobody referred to it this way at the time, this was the social data revolution’s first phase.

As the industry matured and products like Webtrends, Google Analytics and Omniture Site Catalyst gained traction, web behavior data was suddenly everywhere. Welcome to the second phase of the data revolution. It was empowering and exciting: these products gave immediate, actionable info and helped us make better, smarter decisions. Agencies and their clients started to see the value in investing in analytics, creating dedicated teams to handle both the technical/implementation side of the business, and the complex analysis. Those teams excelled. However, it quickly became clear that to be successful, data needed to be integrated throughout the agency: account people and strategists needed to be just as comfortable talking about KPIs as the analysts were. The challenge they faced: to get at the data, you needed the skills of an analyst, which typical agency team members often didn’t have.

Social Right Now

In 2015, we have now entered the third phase: billions of pieces of social data are immediately accessible in real time to anyone and everyone at the agency who needs them. From campaign analysis and competitive research to issues management and pitch prep, today’s agency is able to access an unprecedented amount of information, in the blink of an eye. Getting at that data to get to insights and understand consumer behavior is no longer a “nice to have”—it’s table stakes.

Today’s agency doesn’t just require data to help it be smarter, it requires ubiquitous and unfettered data to help support its decisions at every turn. To be truly effective, media and account planners, strategists, account teams and creatives—all folks that previously would have relied exclusively on their research or analytics teams—need to be empowered to act on their own like never before.

Social Data and the Digital Footprint

In 1965, Gordon E. Moore, one of the founders of Intel, coined what became known as Moore’s law: the observation that with every year that passed, computing power doubled. Fifty years later, in 2015, we are seeing a similar pattern with social data: as social continues to infiltrate every piece of the digital footprint, and as it continues to become an integrated piece of the larger digital landscape, each day that passes gives us access to more data and presents more opportunities for us to make informed, strategic decisions.

Access to what Barry Wacksman of R/GA, 2015 Cannes Agency of The Year, refers to as ‘cultural data’, a new form of data only made possible by social media, is the holy grail for this generation of agency professionals. The ability to instantly research and understand cultural trends, consumer behavior and the competitive landscape is a true game-changer. The volume of data available continues to grow exponentially, as does our ability to effectively analyze and get to actionable insights.

The availability of this cultural data is changing the way we all do business: it’s an incredibly exciting time to be a part of our industry.

Kai MacMahon's picture

Kai MacMahon

Kai is the Vice President of Agency Business Development at Spredfast. He has over a decade of online experience, spanning both sides of the agency divide. Outside of work, he enjoys running and his 2-year-old English Bulldog, Brutus.