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3 Ways SMBs Can Leverage Big Data

ClickFuel CEO and former executive Steve Pogorzelski shares his advice on big data and small business.

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The term "big data" is often associated with very large organizations, each equipped with a highly paid team of data scientists working their analytical magic on terabytes of information. And while that image is often accurate, it doesn't apply to the small and midsize business (SMB) market, where lower budgets and smaller staffs require more creative and affordable approaches to big data management.

SMBs can leverage big data effectively, however, if they follow a few basic guidelines before embarking on an ambitious data project. In a phone interview with InformationWeek, ClickFuel CEO and former executive VP Steve Pogorzelski said that smaller companies must avoid feeling overwhelmed by big data, even if managers/owners have to administer their own data management endeavors.

"We know that small business owners in general are time-starved and task-focused," said Pogorzelski, adding that SMBs must understand their objectives and try to keep it as simple as possible.

[ Is your website secure? See Tumblr Hack: 4 Security Reminders For SMBs. ]

ClickFuel was founded in 2008 as Jet Pack and delivers online marketing services to business service and media companies. The company changed its name to ClickFuel in 2009. Its Fuel Station product is a software-as-a-service (SaaS) based campaign performance dashboard that provides SMBs with real-time marketing data, ROI metrics and other insights.

SMBs should consider three key factors before leveraging big data, Pogorzelski said.

1. Understand that every device used by your business impacts how many "customer touch points" -- business email, company websites, social media sites, electronic directories and so on -- you can leverage as data sources.

"Every device you have now, whether it's a cash register, iPad or all your touch points ... they're all good sources of data," said Pogorzelski.

Social media sites -- particularly Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook, Foursquare and Yelp -- are also effective touch points for SMBs, he said.

2. Know how and when to leverage the insights of social media to suit your products and/or services.

"They should really understand where their leads are coming from. They should have the ability to track their leads from Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook or company blogs," Pogorzelski said.

One way to do this: invest in a social media listening or tracking platform to find out what customers are saying about your business. Because sometimes the online chatter might turn negative.

A Forrester report published last month points out the business risks of social media, which can backfire when employees post embarrassing or offensive comments.

"And with new social media gaffes coming up all the time, like KitchenAid's offensive tweet during one of the U.S. presidential debates, American Apparel's Hurricane Sandy Sale, and news of Twitter user accounts getting hacked recently (as well as LinkedIn accounts earlier this year), companies have good reason to worry about their workforce having free, unrestricted access to social networks," wrote Forrester analyst Nick Hayes in a November 29 blog post.

3. Know how to apply "big data's real value," such as transforming data into insights, and how to act upon it, noted Pogorzelski.

SMBs must know which metrics drive their business, and focus on the data streams that matter most to them. In addition, data can't remain cloistered at the management level.

"Successful people make sure the data and tools get in the right hands," Pogorzelski said.

People on the sales floor, in a customer's living room or in the SMB's marketing department (if the company is large enough to have one) need the insights the data provides, he said.

Of course, a big data strategy must bolster the bottom line as well.

"It's a heroic, courageous thing to open up your own business, and you need to know every dime that goes out of that door," said Pogorzelski.

Cybercriminals are not only exploiting small and midsize businesses -- they're targeting them. While thefts of hundreds of thousands or even millions of credit card numbers and personal information records make headlines, many small companies' accounts have been cleaned out. In the SMBs In The Crosshairs report, we identify how SMBs are exploited, where their security fails and how they can shore up their defenses. (Free registration required.)

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