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R You Ready for DIY Statistics and
Social Media Marketing Analytics?

By Dr. Steve White
Professor at the University of Massachusetts at Dartmouth

For many current and former students, just the sound of the word statistics evokes nightmares. However, once you learn to master some basic tasks using statistical analysis software, the world becomes your data playground.

I'd like to introduce you to one of the most powerful statistical analysis software packages (open source) and provide examples of how it can be used to build your social media marketing analytics capabilities.

R is one of the most popular statistical analysis software programs available. It's used by statisticians, financial analysts, marketing researchers, and social media researchers. To download and install R, go to the Comprehensive R Archive Network (CRAN) site. You'll find versions of R built for Linux, MacOS X, and Windows (the Linux and Windows versions work best). Issues for Mac users related to installing and updating additional statistical analysis packages (3,311 are available, and like R, all for free) are known to exist. Mac users who experience problems are encouraged to consider installing Virtual Box in order to install and run the Linux version of the R statistical program. After selecting, downloading, and installing the base program, visit the Quick-R site for examples of how to use R for statistical analysis.

Two recent additional (or add-on) social media statistical packages are available to be installed in R: RGoogleTrends and twitteR. The former is one of the most difficult R add-ons to install in R (it took me a couple of hours to make it work), and the latter performs many of the same functions as one of the earlier software packages recommended in this column, NodeXL.

RGoogleTrends is not available for download within the R "install packages" option. To install RGoogleTrends, one must visit this site to download the .tar.gz file (I use 7-Zip for Windows to unzip the file). Hyunyoung Choi and Hal Varian provide a unique perspective of the power of RGoogleTrends in their 2009 white paper "Predicting the Present with Google Trends." Joe Rothermich developed an interesting presentation (2011) that illustrates the power of using RGoogleTrends to measure market sentiment and events. Download and read both to get an idea of the power of R from a social media marketing perspective.

The easier of the two R add-on packages to download and install (can be done within the install packages option included in the R base package), twitteR provides users with access to the networks of businesses or people who are on Twitter. Using twitteR, one can perform network analysis tasks that include basic statistics. Jeffrey Breen recently presented (2011) an incredible example of how to use R and twitteR to mine Twitter for consumer attitudes. His presentation includes advanced R code for how to replicate/duplicate his research.

Admittedly, none of this is easy. But spending the time to master R, RGoogleTrends, and twitteR will make you a better social media marketing researcher. R you up to the challenge?

Steve White

Dr. D. Steven (Steve) White is a Professor of Marketing and International Business at the Charlton College of Business at the University of Massachusetts at Dartmouth. He is also the Director of the university's Sustainability Studies Program. An award-winning researcher and classroom instructor, Steve's passion is learning new technologies and exploring their marketing applications and potential. His research interests include social media marketing, mobile marketing, international marketing, services marketing, international business, global e-commerce, open source applications, and international business education. Steve earned his Doctor of Business Administration in Marketing and Information Systems from Cleveland State University.