Why is big data so BIG?

Since the launch of Facebook, Twitter and of course the boom of internet search engine sites like Google, our world as we know it has been constantly changing and persistently becoming more interconnected. As Ali Fisher points out in her article, “Everybody’s Getting Hooked Up: Building Innovative Strategies in the era of big data” the of social media platforms to hit millions of users across the world. Because of this, social media platforms play a critical role in public diplomacy and as a result so does big data. In her article, Dr. Fisher quotes the definition from a UN white paper defining big data as “an umbrella term for the explosion in the quantity and diversity of high frequency digital data”. The reason why big data is important to a public diplomacy practitioner is threefold, social media is an ever growing popular phenomenon and social media platforms can be used to reach millions of people all over the world – and by tracking and evaluating the progress on these platforms, decision makers are able to track success of campaigns, better understand the needs of future strategies and develop gaps in programs that may currently not exist and possess traction. As Dr. Fisher discusses in her article, measuring and evaluating big data is key for public diplomacy efforts when trying to develop strategies that bridge the last three feet and provide platforms for different stakeholders based on their preferences and their needs. Big data is key in not only identifying audiences but helping public diplomacy organizations develop more innovative and actually strategic communications.

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2 thoughts on “Why is big data so BIG?

  1. Public Diplomacy Challenges of “Big Data”
    A. Scott
    I agree that “big data” should be an increasingly integral part of Public Diplomacy (PD) efforts and I recognize the potential benefits of “big data” but I think it is also important to emphasize that “big data” presents many challenges. Without recognizing such challenges the capacities of “big data” will be limited and its efficiency poor. In “Everybody’s getting hooked up,” Ali Fisher indicates two challenges to the potential of “big data”: people who receive insight from big data must have the appropriate skills and authority to act on that data and the need to recognize the technology has to be used for an appropriate purpose (Fisher, 2012). Not recognizing either or both of these challenges greatly reduces the potential of “big data” and therefore both should be addressed by PD practitioners with the utmost importance. Another PD challenge of “big data”, also mentioned by Fisher, is integrating “big data” into the PD framework; this means that the potential of “big data” is limited to its ability to work as part of the overall PD strategy rather than as the strategy itself.

  2. You both have hit on the very interesting points that Fisher makes on Big Data. However, I think the biggest role that Big Data will play in public diplomacy evaluation will be in giving policy makers and publics at large a better understanding of the effects and effectiveness of PD programs. As Fisher rightly pointed out, nearly three-fourths of the world use mobile devices, and over a quarter subscribe to the Internet. The means by which the world is generally communicating has shifted somewhat to a different medium, which means that pre-, post-, and active PD initiatives can and often do find themselves shifting to or from the online world. Speaking from personal experience, if it was not for my email accounts, I would not be able to continue the international friendships I made in person during public diplomacy exchanges.

    This shift in where/how public diplomacy is being conducted calls for a shift in the data gathering methods of the effects and effectiveness of public diplomacy. When measuring “ripple effects”, it is no longer just a question of to whom you have shared your experience in person, but how many people have read your blog, seen your Facebook photos of the trip, and tracked your tweets for updates. Big Data will allow this whole new component to international communication flows to be integrated and utilized effectively in evaluating the successes (and failures) of PD. Yes, there are some challenges to such implementation, but overall, the role of Big Data is as Fisher says untapped. It could only help PD to take advantage of Big Data to better understand how effective its initiatives are, especially as more diplomacy and interaction is taken out of the “real” world and into the digital community.

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