The essential pivot: Big data becomes Smart data

The essential pivot: Big data becomes Smart data
6 March 2017 Rutger Verhoeven

The essential pivot: Big data becomes Smart data

We get asked more and more to give keynotes on several occasions. People like to listen to our thoughts about and experiences in the media-industry. Especially on topics like the cultural impact on an organization once big data is part of the editorial and creative process. Or on how to interpret data from different silos. Or just on simple million dollar questions like: How do I start to work more data driven? How do I deal with resistance once the organization chooses the hard but necessary route of digital transformation? We see companies taking the deep dive cold turkey style and we have anecdotes of companies with cold feet who sometimes need a little push. And of course – everything in between.

The six F’s – or actually seven:
There’s no royal route. In my keynotes I often start with a sheet that shows the key take away of the six F’s. If you want to give data a key role in your content development you need to:

Fail Fast,

Fail Forward,


Fail Fearless.

Of course there’s also a 7th F: Have Fun while doing it.



The thing is – nobody knows (yet) what the most effective strategy is. There’s no clear path for reaching your targets groups more effectively. There’s only trial and error. And it is not a shotgun approach. Stick to the goals you have and take small steps in the right direction. Do it fast, learn from these small experiments and move on to get closer to your goals. Don’t be afraid to make mistakes. Be transparent about them and dare to openly ask your target groups what they think of the stuff that you’re doing. You’ll be surprised how much relevant feedback you’ll get, as well as gaining respect for making them part of your transformation process.

Once you’ve decided to start working with big data, you probably did it for a reason. Maybe you want to optimize your content strategy, gather more information on your diverse target groups. Or check if the timing of your content strategy is spot on, on all different channels, or you want to learn which content types have the most impact, reach and engagement. Big data can deliver these insights in real time, and it can influence the content production decisions. It can be really powerful if you have access and insights on all these questions in real time.

Happy thoughts
The counterpart of letting big data into your editorial rooms is not so much that it won’t work – it’s the fear that it will. That the data will lead to puppy stories. At CleverLions we have a different approach. That’s why we’ve built SmartOcto. We think data should answer questions. Your questions – from a media perspective. Not the other way around, where the data decides what the media should look like. That’s an essential pivot in thinking about big data.

Therefore, I think we shouldn’t talk about big data any more. It sounds as if just collecting and having access to lots of data is the holy grail. But having access to more data doesn’t bring you closer to the truth. So big data should be looked at as smart data – data you can use, data you want to know, data that is relevant to you and your content strategy. Data questioned from a media perspective. Start looking at it in that way and things will turn around. Fear will vanish, happy thoughts will appear. And you know what happened to Peter Pan once he unlocked the powers of happy thoughts.