Can you predict the future with big data?

Whether you’re an old French apothecary basing your premonitions on judicial astrology or simply a hungry German octopus, those who predict the future have always attracted attention, be it from those with glasses half full or glasses half empty.

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Indeed, perhaps the most famous seer of all, Nostradamus, is still widely read today and many believe that his prophecies have successfully predicted a number of major world events.

What a business wouldn’t give to have its very own Nostradamus on staff, predicting future trends and audience behaviours; sounds a little far fetched, doesn’t it? But what if it weren’t completely out of the question? – and no, it doesn’t involve having to install an octopus tank in the office!

The digital age has allowed businesses to engage their audience on a level that they just couldn’t achieve in the past – through methods such as content marketing. And now it seems that the phenomenon of big data is allowing firms to go one step further and, in effect, predict the future.

‘Who Needs Simon Cowell? How Big Data Can Predict Music Superstars‘, an article written by Jam Kotenko, Digital Trends, highlights how EMI is using big data to predict the next popular trend in music. Through the analysis of metrics such as Facebook ‘likes’, which Wikipedia pages were most used and which music formats people were most likely to buy, the firm was able to create a rough image of which kinds of acts would “take off in the near future”.

Of course, your average business will not have access to the same big data facilities that a top record label does, but it does show organisations how some metrics can be used in order to further engage their own audience. Big data is available to anyone, and by learning to read it you could potentially become the next Nostradamus – or at the very least Paul the Octopus.

How to predict the future (without an octopus)

Web analytics are one way of creating your own ‘Nostradamus effect’, especially when it comes to your content marketing strategy.

For a small to medium-sized company, it is important to remember that you do not have to track every single piece of data, just the metrics that are related to your goals. These could be website traffic, branded search, your social media following or social media shares – to name but a few.

There are plenty of great tools available to help you track such data. Google analytics is the obvious first choice, but there are plenty of other helpful tools for tracking your success.

Your analytics tools will help you track your customer or business buyer conversion rate. Things to monitor include: How long are people staying on your site? Which content are they consuming (or downloading)? And which pieces are they disregarding? By monitoring your best-performing content – tracking downloads, views, click-through-rates et cetera – you will get a good idea of the type of material that your audience wants.

So it seems that small businesses can indeed predict the future (at least in terms of content marketing anyway). Google Trends is another tool that allows you to do so. This can be used to track when phrases related to your products and services were most searched, giving you an idea of when it’s best to release content relating to a specific area of your business.

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In the end, the main difference between big data and Nostradamus is science. Predicting the future in this context is based on a simple principle: Gather and analyse the relevant data from the past and present in order to determine what may happen in the future.

 

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