The Human Algorithm: Redefining the Value of Data

The onslaught of real-time social, local, mobile (SoLoMo) technology is nothing short of overwhelming. Besides the gadgets, apps, social networks and appliances that continue to emerge, the pace of innovation is only outdone by the volumes of data that each produce. Everything we share, everywhere we go, everything we say and everyone we follow or connect with, generates valuable information that can be used to improve consumer experiences and ultimately improve products and services.

While the amount of personal and ambient information churned out by SoLoMo is often inundating or even perplexing, it is this “big” data that will help businesses evolve and adapt in a new era of connected consumerism. More importantly, the study and understanding of relevant big data will shift organizations from simply reacting to trends to predicting the next disruption and adapting ahead of competition—thus, marking the shift from rigid to adaptive business models

From business to education to government and everything in between, without studying how the undercurrent of behavior is evolving, organizations cannot effectively adapt to new trends and opportunities. Change though, cannot be undertaken simply because of pervasive data.

Without interpretation, insight and the ability to put knowledge to work, any investment in technology and resources is premature. But, by investing in human capital to make sense of would be ominous data, organizations can modernize the role of business intelligence to introduce a human touch. SoLoMo analysis becomes the sustenance that feeds the insights for more informed and inspired innovation. The result is nothing less than relevance and a significant competitive advantage.

From Information Paralysis to Analysis

You’ve heard that old saying, over analysis leads to paralysis. In the face of big data, it’s easy to see the tidal wave that can result from the influx of inputs and sources. Equally, the lack of governance, support and transparency can lead to stalls and or the abandonment of new efforts altogether.

The reality is though that how organizations connected with customers yesterday is not how customers will be served tomorrow. Meaning, the entire infrastructure in how we market, sell, help, and create now requires companies to not only study data and behavior but also change how it thinks about customers. This is a bona fide renaissance and to lead a new era of customer engagement requires knowledge acumen. I refer to the confluence of data and interpretation as the human algorithm—the ability to humanize technology and data to put a face, personality, and voice to the need and chance for change. Data tells a story, it just needs help finding its rhythm and rhyme.

On the surface, social, mobile and other disruptive technologies are valued for the communities of people they bring together. Open a window to look inside and you realize that the undercurrent of transformation is information. To adapt and ultimately lead change requires an official role to not only listen, but study.

Today many businesses use any one of the myriad of social media management systems to monitor conversations, track sentiment and measure share of voice. That’s not intelligence however. Much of what we see today is important, but it’s measuring activity not translating behavior into creativity or strategy. Part of the problem is that social media lives in a silo unto itself. Indeed, organizations employ business intelligence and research teams today. The reality is though that BI too sits in a silo. Either way, information or the lack thereof is either held prisoner within one part of organization or it’s under valued and not in demand among the very teams that can benefit from it.

The Human Side of Information

The human algorithm is part understanding and part communication. The ability to communicate and apply insights internally and externally is the key to unlocking opportunities to earn relevance. Beyond research, beyond intelligence, the human algorithm is a function of extracting insights with intention, humanizing trends ad possibilities and working with strategists to improve and innovate everything from processes to products to overall experiences.

The idea of the human algorithm is to serve as the human counterpart to the abundance of new social intelligence and listening platforms hitting the market every day. Someone has to be on the other side of data to interpret it beyond routine. Someone has to redefine the typical buckets where data is poured. And someone has to redefine the value of data to save important findings from a slow and eventual death by three-ring binders rich with direction and meaning.

One place where the human algorithm can have an immediate impact is in social media listening. In addition to tracking simple data signals such as conversations, sentiment, share of voice and service inquiries, data can present insights into preferences, trends, areas for innovation or refinement, R&D, co-creation, et al. Even though sophisticated tools can help track data points that can lead to these insights, it still takes a human touch to surface them and in turn advocate findings within the organization. It’s the difference between insights, actionable insights, and executed insights.

The truth is that a community or social media manager is not tasked with this type of responsibility therefore, insights largely remain undiscovered. It takes a new role that unites the disciplines of business intelligence and social media with the perseverance of a change agent. Without it, all of the insights capable of leading organizations to the next big thing will meet its long time arch nemeses fear and skepticism.

Big data is just that…it’s big. While the profusion of information today can lead to analysis paralysis, by listening with intent, organizations can tune-in the signals that will direct opportunities to adapt to and lead this new era connected consumerism. This is about innovation—inside and out. Those who don’t plug in and invest in technology’s human counterparts are in turn making an investment toward potential irrelevance. But remember, data is just the beginning. Data must always tell a story and that takes a human touch to extract data, surface trends, and translate them into actionable insights across the entire organization.

Is your organization exploring the role of the human algorithm? How are you making sense of big data?

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The End of Business as Usual is officially here…


Originally published on AT&T’s Networking Exchange

Image Credit: Shutterstock

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  • Gregory Yankelovich

    Another excellent point Brian. We are too often mesmerized by a “size” and velocity of the “big data” to realize that a lot of it is redundant and/or not relevant for any specific, available action.

    • briansolis

      Cheers Gregory. Thank you for the comment.

  • Kelly Jo Horton

    You say, “Part of the problem is that social media lives in a silo unto itself.”

    Not so in my world. I talk to customers every day about how social marketing is just one aspect of your complete marketing strategy, and all aspects across all platforms and mediums should be integrated.

    And as this blog post states, Big Data is just a big pile of ones and zeros until you factor in the human element. And that point is very hard to get across to a lot of my customers.

    • briansolis

      Good to hear that it’s not the case in your world. Unfortunately, it’s not the majority…at least not yet. The hard part of evolving based on human elements is that it’s a journey each business will have to make on its own. But, it’s worth it…

    • Kelly Jo Horton

      The social silo is still very common in the B2B world.

    • Jose Huitron

      Very present and permeating. Lots of room for champions of influence, insight, and relevance.

  • Dave Crenshaw

    Very informative post, Brian. Thank you for sharing!

    • briansolis

      You got it Dave!

  • CRS California

    Great post Brian perfectly put

    • briansolis

      Thank you!

    • briansolis

      Thank you!

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  • Marketing

    This is something great.Thanks and keep sharing posts.

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  • Michele Price

    We have told, shared and explained to businesses for years now “the key is in the listening”, asking better questions, then extracting that data to deliver insights that are “executable.”

    They continue to shake their heads yeah yeah and go on “talking” instead.

    • briansolis

      Ahh…so true. Love hearing from you Michele.

    • Melissa Salas Blair

      I agree with you, numbers only tell ‘part’ of a story. A biz, decision-makers, et cetera have to go beyond the numbers to get the full story and representation. So much to say about this topic!!! :)

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  • K. Warman Kern

    Brian, it is about time the tech world discovered the value of humans making sense of data. I have been arguing this point for a very long time. For example, start with the fundamental garbage in garbage out data problem. The next big trend is to go beyond collecting and aggregating data because it is there and you can. It is to design how to collect and aggregate it. In the days before the marketing world separated from research, there were a lot of ideas that were way ahead of the communications technology of their day.

    • briansolis

      Love this comment. Thank you!

    • Kristin Saling

      Definitely agree with this comment! I’ve seen too many projects where there was little thought put into the strategy for what data to collect, and we ended up with a lot of precise calculations that told us nothing.

    • briansolis

      Thank you Kristin. It’s also about process and empowerment…we often overlook that!

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  • press release writing

    Big data is meaningless unless it has human application that you talk about. The biggest failure of automated monitoring social media conversations is it only measures keyword use and not the sentiment behind the posts. A completely analytical approach to interpreting big data will suffer from the same shortcoming. No matter how good the software gets there will always be the need for a human mind to see into the real meaning behind the statistics that big data will reveal. Whether businesses embrace this and employ specialist big data analysts across the board remains to be seen.

  • Ron Peterson

    Great read and thoroughly enjoyed it. Much agreed. We are increasingly being flooded by information, content, and data. Definitely believe we will continue to see a shift from creating more–>to creating smarter. The brands, organizations, and agencies who can translate this layer of complexity (with that ‘human touch’) into simple, smart, and actionable insights/executions will win. Tools are vital, but simply relying on tools alone is like having a GPS system without the visionary to sail the ship. Many thx Brian!

    • briansolis

      Cheers Ron!

  • John Balla

    Very thought-provoking, Brian. It will be interesting to see how organizational cultures evolve to meet the challenge you’ve called out – harnessing analytical processes to address big data, while retaining or re-introducing the critical human element to ensure appropriate and relevant customer engagements. The kind of leadership organizations need will shift as well – data-driven and with a human touch. It makes me wonder whether there’s a “leadership darwinism” counterpart to your “digital darwinism” concept.

    • briansolis

      Interesting John. Hopefully there is a counterpart. There’s #adaptordie vs #innovateordie and I believe that in the end, we need to shift from management cultures to that of leadership.

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Brian Solis is a digital analyst, anthropologist, and also a futurist. In his work at Altimeter Group, Solis studies the effects of disruptive technology on business and society. More so, he humanizes technology’s causal effect to help people see people differently and understand what to do about it. He is an award-winning author and avid keynote speaker who is globally recognized as one of the most prominent thought leaders in digital transformation and innovation.

Brian has authored several best-selling books including What’s the Future of Business (WTF), Engage! and The End of Business as Usual. His blog,, is ranked as a leading resource for insights into the future of business, new technology and marketing.

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