The digital frontier is not only vast, but sometimes extremely confusing. By gathering and analyzing data, marketers can start to make sense of the digital landscape and their place within it.

“Big data’ is a hot and trendy term, but all it really means is that there is a large collection of information available for use in making decisions about your business and its customers. Making sense of the data is where the complexity comes. Downloading all the data available to you into a spreadsheet and then sorting it to find answers, is not usually the best route to take. Wading through a ton of data is where having marketing automation, or statistical analysis tools, and a good analyst becomes essential. But the raw results are not all that you should focus your attention on. In many cases “metadata” is where the action is.

Metadata is the ‘data about data’, or the data that can be taken from an individual piece of content. It is used to take a closer look at large data sets and to extract understandable and manageable information. This article from AllThingsD does a great job of explaining metadata using the example of a single tweet from Twitter. According to the article, there are 150 separate points of metadata in a singe tweet.

AllThingsD goes on to describe how metadata might work in email. In their description, the body of an email is considered a piece of content. The sender, receiver and time stamp are all considered metadata, or information about the email. One does not need to know what the content of the email is to gain some insight about the sender and recipient.

So, how can marketers use metadata?  Take the example of a group of tweets. A marketer can look at tweets sent by their target audience and see that the majority of the tweets have times stamped after 5:00 pm. The marketer can then conclude that the best time to reach their target audience on Twitter may be after 5:00 pm.

Now take that Twitter example and apply it to emails, website visits, Facebook likes, etcetera and you get the picture of just how much data can be generated over a short period of time. The sheer amount of data and information available to marketers is mind-blowing and growing quickly.  The term “big” simply does not capture the enormity of data available to us. Maybe they should call it “mega data”. But, that might create confusion with “metadata”.

How do you use data and metadata to sharpen your marketing effectiveness?