Data that has been qualified and enters a system with some definition and parameters — AKA structured data — is an easy way to begin a data journey. However, to really get the most bang for the buck when it comes to data, enterprises should also be using its unstructured cousin.

Unstructured data is less understood by companies than structured, but make no mistake: It is as vitally important and useful. In fact, a recent Aberdeen Group report found that businesses using unstructured data are twice as likely to be satisfied with their data quality and usability. For those who use unstructured data frequently, 60% are happy with the ability to share data and 50% are pleased with the accessibility, compared to 18% and 20%, respectively, of companies who rarely use unstructured data.

Understanding unstructured

Experts estimate that 80% of all data is unstructured, too, meaning that companies not taking advantage of it are missing out on a huge chunk of useful information.

While structured data is made up of clearly defined records or created with an existing data model, unstructured data is everything else: It is usually text-driven and comes from digital sources without predefined formats. The following examples are the most commonly mined sources of unstructured data:

  • Social media. When a customer mentions a company or product on social media through a post or comment, that instantly becomes unstructured data that can be mined for important insights.
  • Internal collateral. Data can also come from internal sources including videos, presentations, marketing and sales collateral, reports, and even the casual email thread.
  • Customer-generated content. Social media aside, this comes in the form of online reviews, online comments, emails to a support team, and even phone calls to customer service. Any feedback, inquires, or contact that customers create, regardless of format, becomes siloed, unstructured data.

Unstructured data depends on sifting through digital conversations, and inputting all relevant text to be integrated with structured data, to gain valuable insights about customer habits and preferences.

Why bother with that mess?

Even though unstructured data is where companies can mine important takeaways, its disorganization can be overwhelming. Why would you even try to tackle making sense of it for maybe one or two results?

The answer is that these one or two results could be transformative to your entire business model, the difference between scaling a business and stagnating with mediocre offerings. Since growth and customer satisfaction is usually the goal, companies should use unstructured data to enhance their data usage, improve efficiencies, and enact changes based on results. Specifically, companies can:

  • Listen to customers. Using social media or customer service-sourced data allows companies to really listen to customers. Instead of trying to determine their feelings based on sales and company performance, you can hear them out straight from the source.
  • Improve customer experience. After concluding how customers feel or discovering their needs, companies can implement their feedback to create a better customer experience. Do they want more functionality from your product or more support for your service? They’ll likely make it known within the context of unstructured data.
  • Innovate with new ideas. Companies can also analyze all their data to see any industry gaps where they can innovate with new features. Data enables companies to lead the way in meeting new needs and interests.

With unstructured data on their side, companies will find much more fulfillment in mining data for actionable insights. If creating the optimal customer experience and offering the best products or services available is a company’s goal, there is no better way to reach it than with unstructured data.

To discover even more ways to manage and mine unstructured data, check out the free Aberdeen report: The Horsepower of Hadoop: Fast and Flexible Insight with Results.