Where am I now? Where should I go next?
two questions quickly embody the difference between two terms that are
often spoken in the same breath in the burgeoning world of branded social media; Data Visualization and Analytics.
in any field is a ripe source for confusion and misunderstanding.
We’ve all entered into an unfamiliar arena and been bombarded with a
series of acronyms that users in the know throw around cavalierly,
leaving the rest of us to make surreptitious Google searches while
nodding along with glazed eyes.
more nefarious problem is the usage of words we think we know to
describe new products. In our field, the term “Analytics” gets used to
describe a lot of things. Entire product suites are built around the
concept, touting an ability to plumb the dark depths of social data and
glean meaningful insights, placed neatly on visually appealing charts
and graphs ready-made for your next presentation.
But are what most of these products offer truly Analytics?
In a sense; sure. If
we, as a collective of brand managers, engineers, social gurus, product
managers and other assorted members of the community decide that is
what we’re calling Analytics, then come hell or high water that is what
Analytics in our area will be.
In a more traditional sense; no.
What most of these products offer is Data Visualization. They take
the data that is available to those who know how to get it and make it
presentation friendly and easier to digest by your average audience
member. Certainly valuable, but it doesn’t provide any inherent
analysis of the data.
an example from outside of the world of social media: maps. Opening
Google Maps to display your current location is a great example of Data
Visualization. Taking a single data point – your current latitude and
longitude – Google can show you a detailed map of where you are
currently standing and your surrounding area. You can see all of the
roads around you, and if you have a destination in mind, you can use
this tool to plot your own path.
Google Maps also has an analytics component, because given a
destination it can do the plotting for you. Drawing from a deeper set
of data that isn’t easily visualized on a simple map, Google can offer
you a suggestion for the best route to your destination.
it always the best possible route? Of course not. You may have some
personal knowledge of your needs that can’t be communicated through a
simple interface. The application will also never be operating on a
complete set of data about the state of every road or every traffic
block. What it does is take the data that it does have available and
make a suggestion for how you can get to where you want to go.
This is the simple difference between data visualization and analytics. Visualization describes your present; analytics drive your future.