By Mark Sherbin published August 6, 2012

Should You Curate Content? The Essentials Every Content Marketer Needs to Consider

content-curation2-344x230There’s no doubt that midway through 2012, one buzzword for marketers is curation. Some of us are still trying to wrap our heads around what exactly content curation is and how we can best curate content. How does it differ from content aggregation? Should it be a higher priority than building your own content?

According to marketing guru Beth Kanter, “Content curation is the process of sorting through the vast amounts of content on the web and presenting it in a meaningful and organized way around a specific theme.” Sounds straightforward enough.

But one thing’s for sure: curation as a strategy is divisive. Content purists like Mark Schaefer believe the risks outweigh the benefits. Mathew Ingram of GigaOm thinks there’s no difference between curation and aggregation. On the flip side, curation evangelists like Steve Rosenbaum and Pawan Deshpande are spreading the good word.

Who the hell should you believe?

Content curation certainly isn’t the marketing demon-spawn purists make it out to be. But like any marketing strategy, deciding whether to implement it requires a clear look at whether or not it aligns with your business needs and goals.

First, let’s explain what content curation is and is not.

How do curation and aggregation differ?

Both curation and aggregation have been around for a long time. Now, as calls for content curation fill more blogs, marketers are wondering about the difference.

Some argue that the difference is purely perspective, but in actuality, a clear border divides the two concepts: the method.

  • Content aggregation relies on automation, using algorithms to find content.
  • Content curation features handpicked content, often introduced with a snippet of copy from the curator. Performed correctly, content curation can create a big value addition.

Twitter is a simple example of content curation. Consider the way you promote content to your followers. Adding your own short description before the link is how you take partial ownership over the content. That’s a simple way to curate content.

But curation via Twitter is less controversial. The character limit controls the amount of content you share directly. In a venue with fewer limitations, marketers can technically share entire reprinted articles. This is where content curation gets tricky. Experts explain that the way to avoid this trap is to post snippets of content linked to full articles.

Marketers versed in content curation don’t put their brand at risk, either — a crucial differentiation from aggregators that aren’t moderated by human judgment.

“A curated site that mixes created, contributed and gathered content sends a powerful message of inclusion to customers,” says Steve Rosenbaum, author of Curation Nation and CEO of Magnify.net. “Because curation is based on brand-safe rules and practices, there’s no risk of being exposed to content that is going to damage the brand.”

Between curation and aggregation, the human element makes all the difference. Curation is clearly the superior option for businesses. But that doesn’t mean it’s right for everyone.

Deciding whether content curation is right for your business

Content curation isn’t for everyone. According to Curata founder Pawan Deshpande, marketers should evaluate three crucial points before deciding to implement a strategy to curate content:

Is there a dominant publication in your market?
One of the goals of content curation is to create a go-to feed for audience members interested in your topic. If your news focus has established, dominant competition, reconsider the inclusion of curation in your content strategy. If there’s a clear opportunity to organize disparate information sources, that may be the right indicator to get started.

Does your topic of focus align with the interests of your audience?
Like any good content strategy, curation should always focus on audience-centric information. The narrower you can make that focus, the better the opportunity to become the premiere source for that topic.

Is there enough content to curate out there?
Of course, there is such a thing as narrowing your focus too far. Effective curation requires enough content to fill your quota. To build an audience, you don’t have a share a ton of content — but you should share it consistently. Make sure enough people are creating content before you decide to specialize in curating that content.

Looking to create a business case? There are plenty of success stories out there to convince an executive that the strategy works.

Businesses have already found success with curation

To enhance his content strategy, Michael Kolowich launched his content curation channel in December 2011. He posts high-quality, relevant content to Rich Content Daily, a curation channel that points back to his business, KnowledgeVision Systems (a CMI benefactor).

Since he got started, Kolowich has seen big returns that aren’t simply increases in traffic. “We trace back a substantial amount of business to Rich Content Daily.”

The curation website first got legs through KnowledgeVision’s marketing channels. Only three months into curation, Rich Content Daily picked up tremendous steam in Google search results. It quickly transformed from a way to educate current customers into a new customer recruitment tool. Nearly eight months after it began, Rich Content Daily has amassed a library of resources that includes more than 2,000 articles.

 

Spending an hour a day handpicking content makes all the difference,” Michael explains. “I’m a firm believer in the notion that editorial judgment augments automated search. It makes all the difference between curation and aggregation strategies, and readers can tell.”

What’s the right way to curate content?

Curation doesn’t require you to replace content creation. Instead, curating content eases some of the editorial burden. As a result, your role as content strategist consists of one part creator, one part curator. “It would be a shame if you created a great content environment, got your customers to come and consume content, and then weren’t able to satiate their ravenous appetites,” Rosenbaum says.

To curate content the right way, experts suggest best practices like these.

Explain why the content is important to your audience
Rather than simply posting content, it’s important to put your own spin on it. That way, you can imprint your brand on an article without claiming full ownership. It also builds reader trust by clearly showing you actually read the article, raising the value of the pick in the eyes of the audience.

Include clear links and credit for the original content
The way to avoid morally dubious curation tactics is to clearly identify the original writer and the source of the content. That way, audience members find information through your site, and publishers, if they take any action, will thank you for sending traffic their way. 

“You hear about media outlets lambasting the Huffington Post for borrowing content,” Deshpande explains. “The problem is that they don’t always feature credit for the content very prominently. As a result, visitors read the content on the page, rather than clicking through to the site where the content originated.”

Post snippets of content
Curating content doesn’t require you to post articles in their entirety. Instead, it’s important to post snippets of content. Curata’s Curation Habits Report 2012 finds that medium snippets (141-1,200 characters) get a 20 percent higher click-thru rate than small snippets (<=140 characters).

“With Rich Content Daily, we do our best not to give away the essence or punch-line of the article,” Kolowich says. “That way, readers click-through to the content, and we never step on any toes.”

Pickiness is encouraged
Most marketers will tell you that producing too much content is almost never an issue. Aided by software, content curation offers the temptation of posting as much content as you can get your hands on. But experts say it’s better to be picky — your audience can only digest so much content.

In fact, Curation Habits Report 2012 finds that email newsletters featuring curated content average 12 percent list growth when they publish less than 50 percent of articles they find. In comparison, curators that publish more than 50 percent only average 5 percent growth.

“Your search for relevant content may return 200 to 300 useful articles,” Kolowich explains. “But the closer you can get to those 10 absolutely vital articles — the cutting-edge ones that advance your audience’s understanding of their jobs — the stronger your readership will be. Respect your readers’ time and they’ll repay you for it.”

Find a unique voice
Again, you want to associate your brand with the content. In order to accomplish this, you should find ways to stamp your flair on the content you share via curation.

According to Rosenbaum, “Curators have a voice. If you’re a company that produces a consumer product, you need to figure out not just what you’re going to say, but also the kind of content you’re comfortable drawing in around your brand and how you’re going to contextualize it.”

Following best practices clearly requires time and effort. How can marketers at mid- to large-sized companies reduce that burden — especially when they’re spending time to create content as well?

Are there other tools that can help?

The focus on curation has helped spawn a variety of tools to supplement your content strategy. Prominent choices for marketers who wish to curate content include:

Curata

Curata is a good resource for enterprise curation, featuring strong search, data management, simple publishing/sharing and more. You can get a free trial of the software.

 CurationSoft

CurationSoft lets you “discover, review and curate content from Google Blog Search, YouTube, Twitter, Google News, Flickr and any RSS feed you want.” For marketers, we suggest the paid version ($59/year), which gives you limitless content sources and no ads.

Paper.Li

Paper.Li is similar to CurationSoft and features plenty of customization options, including content blacklists and email notifications. The Pro version costs $9/month. Enterprise functionality is conditional and requires you to contact the company for more information.

Scoop.It!

Scoop.It gives you access to powerful curation tools, as well as analytics tracking to monitor your performance. The Pro package costs $12.99/month, while the Business package runs you $79/month.

Storify

Storify brings a narrative element to content curation. One of its more popular uses is to bring together breaking news into a cohesive story. It’s free to use and caters more to personal use.

XYDO targets email and social media marketers with strong curation filters and publishing/posting features. Finding and sharing relevant, quality content is a cinch with this easy-to-use tool, which you can start using for free for 15 days.

Looking for more insights on content curation and other powerful content marketing tactics? Check out our guide to Building the Perfect Content Marketing Mix: Execution Tactics.

Cover image via Shutterstock

Author: Mark Sherbin

Mark Sherbin is a freelance writer specializing in technology and content marketing. He shares occasionally insightful information at Copywriting Is Dead, where he promotes authentic communication between organizations and their audiences. Contact him at msherbin@gmail.com.

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