Asking the RIGHT questions

Carla Gentry
Data Scientist Each time I talk to someone about analytics, I ask the same question: “What is your ultimate goal with this project?” Often it is to increase sales or reduce turnover. Of course, this isn’t usually what’s said; initially all I get is a panicked look that says “we can’t get what we want out of our database—it isn’t working right…how do we fix it??”Typically, there is nothing wrong with the database: the master and all its clones are just as they were designed to be, the variables are entered correctly and the reporting functions are pulling exactly what they were coded and designed to pull.So what’s the issue?

Example HR data — Every HRIS or ATS database contains different information (employee addresses, phone numbers, salaries, benefits, and the like), but how much of that information is connected? What I mean is: is there a unique quantifier that connects each table or database together? If I want to select all the people who might retire in the next 5 years out of a database, complete with demographic, sales and personal information, in order to create an organizational plan for this, can I accomplish this with my current database? By design relational databases are just that: “relational.” Therefore, everything should flow, if set up correctly in the very beginning.

Which brings us back to asking the right questions—which might look a bit like these:

  • What is it really that I want to be able to answer with my data collection?
  • Structured vs unstructured data, am I asking the right questions and giving them choices or offering a space to add comments (be careful of this)? Example a) agree b) disagree c( unsure —– Can I work with unstructured data?
  • Are you offering incentives to employees or candidates to “complete additional info” as to glean a more complete pictures of your customer? (5 dollar iTunes or Starbucks card)
  • Do I want to link social data to what I collect from employees? (3rd party sign in via Facebook, Twitter, Google+, etc)
  • Are you including IT in your business meetings?

A gap analysis usually reports on what is missing, but it doesn’t have to be this way (reactive and not proactive). If you ask the right questions initially, your design and results will reflect this. Know what you are trying to accomplish.

If you say “my database is broken,” but what you really mean is “I need to be able to sustain sales throughout the next five years; I’m concerned with increasing what we have in the pipeline,” well, ask for help. Make sure you have the correct data to indicate your sales reps selling habits, including seasonality. What data does your sales department have that can help you answer these and many other questions?

Do you have store performance, or other line of business performance data to help form a more three dimensional view of your candidates or employees? A data-centric view is so valuable, but unless you ask the right questions when collecting your data and setting up your database, you may end up trying to build a predictive model using only name, address and phone number! As Chief Engineer Scotty Montgomery of the USS Enterprise might say, “I can’t do it captain!”

Go well armed on your journey towards predictive analytics and remember to always ask the right questions!

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I am not a Social Media expert but I play one on TV

I love that one liner from movies so I thought it appropriate for what I wanted to write this morning. There are lots of people out there playing Social Media experts, they promise followers, 1,000’s of them but how are they attaining them? Are they mining for followers from your niche or are they just searching for “follow-back” or others on Twitter who automatically accepts followers? What promises “on paper” did they make you? Did they guarantee your results? Did they guarantee to increase your ROI? NO? Well then, you are just wasting your money and you also stand the chance of these “Experts” or “Guru’s” damaging your brand or your name.

When I first branched off on my own, I envisioned I would be using analytics to increase market share, increase ROI, introduce new products to the market just, as I have been doing for the last 15 years for companies like Firestone, Kraft, Hershey…etc. I never dreamed that my best avenue for introducing and spreading the world of analytics would be Social Media. I had been using social media for years as a “tool” to help keep in touch so why not branch out and use it now.

Some Businesses “get analytics”, they see its importance not only in advertising and marketing but in social media as well. They use my service and others like me, to find their “target audience” or their niche. They depend on the research we provide to get the “Big” picture of what is really going on with their business or product. They know that by using statistics and data mining, they can make a change in their social media efforts. Unfortunately, a majority of the social media marketing community has decided to stick their heads in the sand and pretend analytics isn’t important or “can’t” be done (Oh yes, it can). We have made it easy entry into social media, placing in-experienced and un-professional GURU’s in as valid Marketers. We have been invaded with back seat driving experts who, because they have a Twitter account, think they can be “your” social media guru. Thanks to people like them we now have more spam than ever, you see the same “unique” page post from different URLs (hijacking ENTIRE websites) so the true author may see his or her post from multiple sites. The latest is promises of analysis as well, I’ve seen firms profess that they can handle your data and analysis as well but don’t have the first trained expert on site to achieve this. Gurus or experts focus on quantity over quality, and those results don’t get businesses anywhere. Websites offering 1000 Facebook or other social media fans with a low price are spam that are trying to enforce the already present notion that we need to have a significant social media following to get any kind of ROI.

In conclusion, be careful out there, social media is no different than any other aspect of life, there are good and bad people out there. Research the firm you plan on hiring and ask for references, protect your brand, your company and your reputation by only using professionals (ask for a Business License). If you need analytics assistance, make sure they have a scientific or mathematical background. If you need a social media expert get a “real” one and not just someone who plays one on TV. It’s your money, spend it wisely. If you need assistance in identifying best practices on how to use analysis in Social Media give me a call at 423-552-2062