Big data isn’t just the marketing buzzword of the moment. Thanks to New York Times columnist Nate Silver and his stunningly accurate prediction of the results of the last presidential election, big data has its moment in the sun. Now, it seems as if everyone is talking about collecting more data and finding out how they can apply it. However, there’s much more to data analysis than just predicting the winner of the Super Bowl or sounding like a statistics PhD.

How can you leverage raw information into better results for your business? Some forward-thinking companies are applying the power of data to surprising facets of their operations, including social media. Here are some examples of what data can do, as well as how you can start using it to power-up your social media strategy.

Companies Putting Data to Work

With the right data, a company can creatively apply that information to make the business better. For starters, a smart brand will want to analyze information about its internal workings, its customers, and its performance.

Google is a great example of this. The company conducts an intensive employee survey called the Googlegeist to find new ways to improve day-to-day working conditions for its employees. Google’s human resources team also tracks seemingly minute details, from how raises are given to lunch table shapes, in order to create the work environment it wants to offer its team members. This attention to every facet of the employment experience has improved Google’s employee happiness and kept the company at the top of Fortune magazine’s “Best Places to Work” list.

For an example of a company that applies the power of data specifically to its social media presence, take a look at the Red Cross. The organization launched a social media command center to monitor networks during natural disasters. By gathering related posts across Facebook, Twitter, and more, the Red Cross can reach out to people in need of aid.

The Digital Operations Center was put to work before its official start date last March when tornadoes struck a huge region of the Midwest. It was also a big component of the Red Cross efforts in the wake of Hurricane Sandy last October. The command center served as a way to tell on-the-ground aid workers where there were people seeking help, as well as a way to mobilize support among people looking to volunteer.

How Your Business Can Take Data to Social

As you can see, data can be applied to any element of your business, including how you run your social media programs. There are a number of variables that your brand could track about your social accounts, from how well people engage with your posts to what kind of people make up your audience.

Access to information is one of the key features of a Sprout Social account. The tool offers several different types of reports to help you analyze your company’s Facebook stats and Twitter metrics. These different data sets can show you a detailed picture of how your accounts — either your official brand presence or the professional profiles of your team members — are performing on those two networks.

So once you’re staring at spreadsheets upon spreadsheets of information, what do you do with all that data? You look for patterns, and keep an eye out for trends showing where your strategy works and where it doesn’t. For example, observing what days and times you have the biggest response to updates means you’ll be able to decide when it’s best to make big announcements on your social media channels.

Data can also help you track the spread of your content. Observe what type of content performs the best in terms of shares or retweets. Do photos or text updates get a larger reaction? Are you results consistent across Twitter and Facebook? You can use data to hone your strategy and get the most out of your social media campaigns.

Data provides a tangible motivation for taking action. It takes the guesswork out of your social practices and replaces it with hard numbers. Whether you want to identify a weakness in your strategy or are looking for solutions to a problem, having a clearer picture of your company’s data will make your most important decisions easier.

Does your brand collect data about your social media performance? Let us know in the comments!

This article discusses Sprout Social, our social media management tool for businesses. To learn about our editorial ethics and our commitment to objective coverage of the social media space, visit our About page.

[Image credits: Will Merydith, Andrew, Victor1558]