Big data analysis is one of the most powerful strategies today’s corporations have in their repertoire. Gathering and analyzing relevant information to better understand trends and glean other insights can offer a nearly endless number of benefits for companies as they look to offer better customer services and enhance their own internal processes.

Before that analysis can result in impactful insights, though, a company must first collect the information they’ll leverage as part of the initiative. Different datasets will provide different results, and there are a range of sources where these details can come from.

In the first part of this series, we examined a few of the top internal sources of data, including transactional information, CRM details, business applications and other company-owned assets. These sources are already under the business’s control, and are therefore some of the first places data scientists look as part of their information gathering efforts.

Sometimes, however, this data isn’t enough. Whether the organization is seeking to answer broader questions about the industry, or better understand potential customers, these initiatives may require the analytics team to look outside the company’s own data sources.

When this takes place, it’s critical that the enterprise understands the most valuable places to gather data that will best benefit its current processes. Today, we’ll take a look at the top sources of external data, including public information that isn’t owned by the company.

Social media: Connecting with your customers

One of the most robust external big data sources is social media channels, including Facebook, Instagram and Twitter. These sites have become incredibly popular – not only for individual customers, but for corporations as well. Through social media profiles, businesses can put an ear to the ground, so to speak, and get a better understanding of their current and potential customers.

And with so many users flocking to these platforms, the potential for big data is significant:

  • Facebook had more than 1.5 billion active users as of April, 2016.
  • Twitter had 320 million active users in the first quarter of this year.
  • Instagram had 400 million active users in early 2016.
  • Other platforms aren’t far behind: Snapchat boasts more than 200 million users, Pinterest and LinkedIn were tied at 100 million active users.

In addition, helpful sources like Facebook Graph help companies make the best use of this information, aggregating a range of details that users share on the platform each day.

“Social media data can be incredibly telling.”

Overall, social media data can be incredibly telling, offering insights into both positive and negative brand feedback, as well as trends, activity patterns and customer preferences. For instance, if a company notices that a large number of social media users are seeking a specific type of product, the business can move to corner the market and address these needs – all thanks to social media big data insights.

Public government data

While social media information is no doubt powerful, this isn’t the only external data source companies should pay attention to. The federal government also provides several helpful informational sources that help today’s enterprises get a better picture of the public. According to SmartData Collective, few of the best places to look here include:

  • This site was recently set up by federal authorities as part of the U.S. government’s promise to make as much data as possible available. Best of all, these details are free, and accessible online. Here, companies will find a wealth of data, including information related to consumers, agriculture, education, manufacturing, public safety and much more.
  • Businesses looking for a more global picture can look to this site, where the U.K. government has amassed an incredible amount of metadata dating back to 1950.
  • The U.S. Census Bureau: The Census Bureau has also made a range of data available online, covering areas such as overall population, geographical information and details related to regional education.
  • CIA World Factbook: The Central Intelligence Agency no doubt has huge repositories of information at its disposal, and has made select information available via its online Factbook. This resource provides data on global population, government, military, infrastructure, economy and history. Best of all, it covers not only the U.S., but 266 other countries as well.
  • Health care information can also be incredibly powerful for companies in that industry, as well as those operation in other sectors. This site provides more than 100 years of U.S. health care information, including datasets about Medicare, population statistics and epidemiology.

Google: The data king

Google has also provided a few key, publicly available data sources. As one of the biggest search engines in the world, Google has a wealth of information about search terms, trends and other online activity. Google Trends is one of the best sources here, providing statistical information on search volumes for nearly any term – and these datasets stretch back to nearly the dawn of the internet.

Other powerful sources provided by Google including Google Finance, which includes 40 years of stock market data that is continually updated in real time. In addition, Google Books Ngrams allows companies to search and analyze the text of millions of books Google has in its repository.

The right data: Answering the big questions

Overall, in order for businesses to answer the big questions guiding their initiatives, they must have access to the right data. Public, external sources can help significantly, as can a partnership with an expert in the big data field.

Aunalytics can not only help today’s enterprises gather and analyze their available information, but can also help fill any gaps that might hold back the success of an initiative. Our scalable big data solutions ensure that your organization has everything it needs to reach the valuable insights that will make all the difference.