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Business Intelligence Shouldn’t be Just for Businesses

Guest Post:  Mitch Hurst and Suzana Grego

Online communications has never been more ubiquitous or fundamental to every aspect of our lives. The richer and more voluminous data that’s come from an ever-growing number of online channels/networks and the crowdsourcing revolution that it has spawned has completely changed the way we work, play, and live.

Before choosing a restaurant, many of us check out the reviews on Yelp, Chowhound, or OpenTable. We go to Angie’s List to find a reputable contractor. And we go to Amazon not only to buy products but also to get the best cross-section of reviews on those products. Employers conduct much the same due diligence when hiring. And many businesses—at least the successful ones—know their customers and markets inside and out before they even conceive of a product or service, let alone start developing it.

All of this is made possible through the enormous volume and richness of data we have at our fingertips. It used to be that at a bare minimum you had to buy a Zagat’s restaurant book to get access to reviews, or for businesses to buy expensive and massive marketing lists or pay for costly surveys to get data on potential customers

Now much of that data is easily accessible. This has its huge advantages but also some challenges. Because of the amount of variegated, rich data, it’s critical that it be gathered, assembled, and compared in a comprehensive and systematic way (read professionally). Good business intelligence has never been better or more necessary than it is today for any company or organization providing goods or services that wants to stay alive and ahead of the curve. And it’s not only for businesses looking to positively impact strategy and gain customer and market share.

A couple of weeks ago the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation announced a $3 million investment in Internet startup Umbel through its new Knight Enterprise Fund.

Umbel’s success at generating interest from Knight and other funding sources is another indicator of the evolving importance of business intelligence to companies in highly competitive sectors. The ability to utilize public online data to measure audience engagement offers immense opportunities for businesses to better hone their product development and delivery strategies.Umbel, based in Austin, Texas, provides business intelligence to news corporations, advertisers, and other businesses that intersect with the world of journalism. The investment itself represents an innovative approach to helping Knight achieve its goals of preserving and strengthening the field of journalism.

What is striking about the Knight announcement are the advantages that business intelligence tools that companies like Umbel can offer private foundations willing to make investments in learning more about how the social issues they are invested in are playing out in the online space.

While foundations might not think about such business or “market” intelligence in the context of squashing the competition, the fact is that there are multiple dimensions to just about any issue a foundation decides to support.What if foundations could see a map of opinions and perspectives on their issues and be able to decide whether and how to adjust their strategies accordingly? Business intelligence could be particularly critical for foundations whose grantmaking is becoming more responsive and participatory. It could also help establish a baseline for grantmakers inclined to invest program dollars in communications strategies that are aligned with their investments in grantees.

But that doesn’t mean that foundations shouldn’t leverage the latest tools, technologies, and market intelligence to target their grantmaking to produce even greater results (or to produce even greater social impact). We all work, live, and operate in different markets, on a daily basis. In the charitable social change world, we’ve gladly taken on the big mission of making this world a better place in which to live. Shouldn’t it also be our responsibility to think creatively and boldly about leveraging the tools and practices that would only have an even greater positive impact on people’s lives?As more and more people live their personal and professional lives online and create a broader range of networks, they generate more rich market data that organizations in any sector can use to develop smarter core business and communications strategies.

Communications Network members Mitch Hurst and Suzana Grego are partners in MH Communications. Hurst is also a board member of the Network.


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