William & Mary

Using Data to Understand & Predict Human Behavior

Scott Wilkinson has never been one to live by the status quo. Having graduated from William & Mary in 1994 and returning for his MBA in ’99, he says one thing he’s learned is that life is unpredictable and it’s important to seek out your interests.

Ironically, Wilkinson now spends much of his time trying to predict human behavior using innovative approaches to data analysis. While studying for his MBA, Wilkinson developed a fascination with statistics. He’s since applied micro-targeting strategies and survey research to his work in order to help companies work towards their goals. After working at a marketing firm for some years, Wilkinson took these skills and founded his own company, AlphaVu, in 2009, where he has been working since.

The company is small, with only twelve employees, and Wilkinson attributes much of its success to his employees’ willingness to be flexible and genuine interest in using data to generate solutions for their client’s issues. For example, experience has taught Wilkinson, and many others, that people don’t necessarily respond to facts. With his work, this means targeting instead those few who will listen to solutions and encourage them to be more vocal in their communities. Whether it be improving public transportation systems, helping a locally elected official connect to his voter base, or empowering groups to feel heard, the data AlphaVu generates and uses helps us understand what exactly the problem is and which solutions should be implemented.

In the future, Wilkinson expects this type of data to go even further in its applications. He thinks machine learning systems will be able to create targeted ad groups based off of real time social media and news feeds, rather than having individuals generate this data retroactively. This type of technology would allow AlphaVu to be as up to date as possible on the information they use.

Whatever the future may hold, Wilkinson’s career proves the difficulty in sticking to a strictly defined path. Graduating with a major in government, he planned to work with political campaigns and in policy offices. It was years down the line before he began his work in data analysis. Using what he learned as an undergrad, however, he was able to customize his business to something he enjoyed and could be successful doing. While Wilkinson isn’t keen on advice, he does think sticking to those two aspects is always important and will create achievements in any scenario.