The old adage “Information is Power” has never felt as true as it does today in a world hungry for data. For any facet of business, from marketing to sales, it’s important to have excellent analytics capability at your fingertips. Information helps you craft smarter, and more effective efforts to achieve your company’s goals.

Social media is a vast source of information. It’s a natural partner for applying big data principles because the intel it offers impacts so many departments. Just about everybody in a business can find compelling information in social media sources. It’s just a matter of digging it out and interpreting what you find.

Why Data Is Big

As our analytics tools become more advanced, there’s less room for gut feelings as a convincing argument in making business decisions. Just about any topic your company is curious about can be quantified, from how many people watch your viral video to how many people are making purchases based on Pinterest pins.

Attaching an ROI to your social campaigns is now a necessity. However, the calculation of a Facebook ad campaign’s value will look very different from the traditional ROI math. As companies better understand their customers’ actions, the more closely they’ll be able to pinpoint their real worth to the business.

Big data means more certainty in your decisions. That’s music to any executive’s ears, so it’s no surprise that data is the big buzzword going into 2014.

Why Data’s Gone Social

Social networks are aware of the sheer volumes of data they hold, and making sure that they handle it tactfully is important. In some cases, social channels can turn their treasure troves of data into fascinating new features.

The best example of this is Facebook’s Graph Search. The tool has some use for businesses in market research, but it’s also just a cool way for the network’s members to learn more about each other. By creating a service that both appeals to the individuals in its user base and to the companies that put money into the network, Graph Search is a perfect example of how social media is likely to handle data. It is more than a marketing tool, and in fact, businesses have to be quite creative in how they put Graph Search to work.

On the business side, social networks and their data offer a nuanced insight into a company’s audience. Whether you’re tying to determine where to find your target demographic or how to best tailor a strategy for a network’s members, data has the insights to guide your decision making process.

Privacy Protections

The flip side of the data coin is security. Social networks can only make the most of the information they gather if their members feel confident enough to share it. Most platforms have had some privacy issues, whether it was unclear terms of use or a malicious hack.

Companies should be well-versed in privacy concerns, not to better exploit them, but to be an active participant in these ongoing dialogues. The choices social networks make about how to use your data not only impacts your business, but also the personal lives of both your customers and your employees. Down the line, that will influence how people interact with each other and with brands.

Know what information you want to gather and ask whether you really need it. Make smart decisions in how and why you collect intel about your customers. The more transparent and honest you can be with them, the stronger trust you can develop with your audience.

How To Make It Work

In order for your brand to take advantage of the treasure trove awaiting on social media, you need tools to help make sense of the raw data. Think about the type of information that you might want in your arsenal. What does your team need to know about your audience? How are you going to monitor mentions of your company? Are your customers going to be comfortable with your actions?

Take the time to answer these questions and have conversations about your short- and long-term goals. Make sure all the necessary departments are represented: marketing, sales, customer service, and any other major players in your social strategy as you consider how to leverage data. Once you understand what your company wants to accomplish, you can make savvy decisions about how data can help.

[Image credits: Anssi Koskinen, Nick Carter, Michael, Luke Hayfield, Andrew]