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News & Insights

News & Insights

The Rise of Data Literacy

On November 20th, 2013, Ian Greenleigh, social media and content strategist and author of The Social Media Side Door, addressed an audience of Austin businesspeople, students, and academics at the UT iSchool for the inaugural SIIA INFO Local: Austin event.

IEI’s Matt Manning chatting with Ian Greenleigh before the presentation.

According to Greenleigh, data literacy is “the awareness of data’s presence and potential value, and the ability to identify, retrieve, evaluate and use information to both ask and answer meaningful questions.”

“Data is everywhere, obviously,” he explained. “There’s more of it every day, and we get value from it only when we analyze it, otherwise it’s really just digits. In the same way that being able to read and write empowers individuals in society, being data literate empowers us to take advantage of this abundant resource, data, and convert it into value for ourselves and society. That’s why I think data is the new written word.”

Greenleigh said that the understanding “that data exists in the wild, as it were, that we emit it” is affecting business, government, medicine, and education equally. For businesses, particularly B2Cs but also B2Bs that collect a lot of data, it’s more and more necessary to be transparent about what type of data they’re collecting, and, even more importantly, to provide a clear return on the data they gather. “Businesses should not fear data literacy because it brings to the table a whole new array of opportunities,” he added. Businesses, Greenleigh pointed out, can start thinking about how to offer return on data for their customers, who will increasingly expect a better ROI on their data as they become more data literate.

According to Greenleigh, companies should expect consumers to ask:

  • Which companies want my data?
  • What data are we talking about?
  • Do I consider it private?
  • Is it easy for me to supply?
  • What are the risks involved?
  • What’s the return on that data?

He added that the list will become more specific and more individually tailored as data literacy increases. Beyond that, data literate consumers will want more data from businesses to inform their choices. They’ll prefer to have data, regardless of whether it’s flattering to the company in question, over marketing. “Consumers don’t trust five-star ratings,” explained Greenleigh. “If all your ratings are five-star, you look like Astroturf.” According to Greenleigh, a mix of positive and negative reviews and comments encourages trust, since people expect flaws.

Greenleigh also emphasized that earned data—data given in exchange for improved value or service— is more valuable because it’s “more predictive, more actionable, you can extract more value from it as a business, it gives a holistic portrait of the consumer that provides it, and it’s more timely and relevant. That’s the kind of data that data literate consumers will provide if you find the right balance with them.”

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