Data is the new oil. Apparently.

While this may be a slightly strange and annoying cliché by now, data is vitally important for enabling businesses to learn more about their customers and their audience.

I went to a talk this morning titled ‘The importance of growth and the data economy’. There were a number of speakers at the event, but with data at the heart of each of their presentations, there were some key questions answered:

1. Where is all this data about us coming from?

In short, cookies. Cookies are small, often encrypted text files, located in browser directories. They are created when a user’s browser loads a particular website. Cookies can track your surfing habits, that over time build up a profile of your interests.

2. What is being done with this data?

This data is used to target you and show adverts that are meant to be the most relevant to you. For example, on its website, HP is transparent and answers the question about how it uses automatic data collection tools

“HP or its service providers send cookies when you surf our site or sites where our ads appear, make purchases, request or personalize information, or register yourself for certain services. Accepting the cookies used on our site, sites that are “powered by” another company on HP’s behalf, or sites where our ads appear may give us access to information about your browsing behavior, which we may use to personalize your experience.”

This implies that as soon as you enter the HP site that they will be harvesting all of your personal data.

3. So should I be concerned?

What is most important to note about cookies is that you provide the information to them. If you fill out a form on a website and provide sensitive information such as your name, address, email, credit card etc, then this data can be stored in a cookie. If you are concerned about a certain site, you can of course choose not to accept a cookie. In this instance however, I doubt you would want to enter your information into that site anyway.

Ultimately, cookies provide personalisation for each user and the ads that you see are targeted so that they are most relevant for you. After all, an advertiser selling life insurance for over 40′s will not want you to see the ad if you are a healthy 25-year-old.

4. What is the role of data in social media?

Ensuring that there is a joined up approach across the organisation is key. When running a campaign, it is essential that the target audience is the same for the various activities, be it ATL or social media.

Targeting these people can then be done with social advertising on networks like Facebook. However, beyond this it’s important that personalised conversations are happening within your target audience and this is the key place where social activity can differentiate itself.

Establishing relationships with people in of social networks and online communities will help create a more engaged audience and increase the likelihood of these people becoming customers and, in turn, brand ambassadors or influencers, thereby spreading the word in the communities they are active among your key audience.

5. How can I engage with my target audience?

In order to engage with your target audience, you first need to identify them. This can be done by carrying out social media monitoring or using the various listening tools that are avaliable on the market place.

This is only the first step, though. While automated solutions are a great way to keep your costs to a minimum, the real work is then in reviewing the information and then refining it.