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dig into data for actionable insightsPR and marketing teams gather vast amounts of data. They spend vast amounts of time analyzing numbers, tracking metrics and reporting findings. They’ve learned that collecting data and tracking metrics might be easier than finding actionable insights in the jungle of numbers. They’ve learned that data and insights are hardly the same.

“We have no shortage of data,” Lithium Technologies Chief Data Scientist Dr. Michael Wu said in a Huff Post interview. “As big data technologies are commoditized, the accessibility to data will only increase. What we need is smart data analytics to distill petabytes of big data into actionable bits.”

With these tips, PR and marketing can find insights that lead to specific recommendations to prove and improve communications programs for better business results.

First define what you want. Decide what matters to your business and identify metrics that support those goals. Beware of obsessing about metrics that bear no connection to business objectives. Select meaningful metrics and avoid vanity metrics. Narrow your focus to analyze a small number of metrics that matter. Begin with a business problem, Wu suggests. Seeking data to address a current problem can produce immediate value.

Consider the context. No changes in lead generation activities will probably not prompt sudden increases in leads. But if your company just exhibited at a major convention with many prospects, you may be wonder why it didn’t generate more leads. “Having ample supporting details ensures the insight results in action and not unwarranted skepticism and objections,” writes Forbes contributor Brent Dykes, director of data strategy at Domo.

Be specific. The more specific and complete the insight, the more likely it can be acted on, Dykes adds. Sometimes insights based on KPIs and other high-level metrics can highlight interesting anomalies but lack sufficient detail to drive immediate action.

Visualizations. Endless rows and columns on spreadsheets are far too difficult to grasp for normal human beings. Visuals help most everyone understand numbers faster and better. Graphic depictions help viewers grasp insights that were not obvious before. In addition, they help PR and marketing relay their message to corporate leaders, clients and other stakeholders. It’s important to select the right type of chart or graph that’s best suited to your data and purpose.

View a single dashboard. View metrics through a single dashboard that includes news, social media and website analytics rather than trying to track metrics through different sources. An integrated dashboard of results saves time, provides real-time access, displays a comprehensive view of performance, and makes it easier to analyze and interpret data. Most importantly, it provides a complete view and data for all media.

Consider human analysis. Services that include trained human analysts in addition to automated software analysis can provide more accurate judgments and uncover actionable insights that hide within the data.

Ask the reason why. Concentrating less on data and more on content and context will help obtain the full benefit from social media listening. In other words, business managers must “think like an anthropologist.” Focusing more on “why,” or the content meaning and context, will provide better insights than data alone.

Bottom Line: An abundance of data may overwhelm PR professionals and marketers. Translating that raw data into concrete recommendations can be challenging, but the right mindset and tools can reveal actionable insights that improve business results.