Content Curation Success Hinges On Objectivity, Bridging Information Gap

Published: May 21, 2013

Content curation is often described as a product of the Digital Age, but earlier forms of news aggregation were already being practiced in the early 90s.

“Content curation has been around for years,” explained Michael Kolowich, CEO of KnowledgeVision. “But the evolution of it as a thought leadership, expertise-establishing marketing engine is actually fairly recent.”

Kolowich was the CEO of Individual Incorporated and one of the leading figures behind early news aggregation. Individual Incorporated initially distributed its newsletter, First, through fax machines, then email and finally on online once the World Wide Web took off in the mid-90s.

Today, content curation is not just restricted to media outlets. In conjunction with the growing trend of marketing teams acting as publishers, a diverse array of businesses have been using content curation to position themselves as industry leaders.

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Pawan Deshpande, CEO of Curata, cites the success of Green Data Center News as a prime example of content curation. Officials at Verne Global, an Iceland-based green data center, noticed that news about the green data industry was sparse and disparate. What little that could be found on it was restricted to IT publications and specialist outlets. The data center created Green Data Center News and curated any third-party content that discussed green data centers.

“By creating Green Data Center News, Verne Global became the singular, most important company in their industry,” said Deshpande. “But not only did it position them as foremost in their industry, it also drove leads to the sales team.”

Showcasing Valuable Content

To be a good content curator, you must think like a museum curator, observers noted. Marketers need to assemble collections of uncommon pieces that will resonate with their audiences.

“Content curation is inspired by real-world curation,” explained Deshpande. “A curator at an art museum finds masterpieces from around the world pertaining to a specific subject, organizes them into galleries, and lastly shares the gallery to the general public. Similarly, you create value as a content curator, not necessarily by creating content, but by bringing third-party content together and building a narrative around it.”

Decide what kind of content to curate, pick and consolidate the best pieces and organize them for easy consumption, observers advised. Instead of annotations describing an artifact, content curators can provide brief summaries and descriptive headlines, sometimes reflecting the curator’s unique perspective. By doing this, content curators turn themselves into a valuable resource for industry buffs and casual enthusiasts alike.

Don’t Sacrifice Quality For Quantity

Content curation is a low-cost, easily scalable practice to generate brand awareness, but that does not equate to a lack of quality. It is better to start out with fewer pieces from reputable sources, said observers.

“If you want to actually, honestly service your readers, then I would first focus on less curation,” said Peter Lenkefi, Founder and CEO of CurationSoft. “Go for quality, not quantity. You have to voice your opinion on that piece of content, what that content is about and why the reader should go there. Why are you recommending it?”

Both Deshpande and Lenkefi agreed that the best way for businesses to decide what sort of content to curate is to take an exhaustive look of their audiences. Lenkefi used the example of a guitar-oriented web site. The site would first have to determine its audience: Are they players or manufacturers? If players, do they prefer blues or heavy metal? Are they enthusiasts, collectors or mostly casual fans? Having answers to these questions will heavily determine the impact and reach of each curated post, he said.

If the target audience is marketers but a piece of content is very technical, a good curator should distill the jargon down to be understandable or abandon the content in favor of something else, observers noted.

There are a number of platforms that semi-automate the process of finding content to curate such as Curata and CurationSoft, but many curators opt to do things manually through setting up Google Alerts, subscribing to RSS feeds, crowdsourcing, email newsletters, searching through media aggregators and good old fashioned bookmarked corporate homepages.

But most importantly, the curation must have a human touch.

“I don’t think you can outsource the topics that your audience is interested in and I don’t think you can outsource that to an external company or third party,” said Michael Brenner, VP of Marketing and Content Strategy at SAP and Managing Editor of Business Innovation, a site of curated content related to business technology. “It’s like a rite of passage that a business has to go through in order to act truly successful as a publisher. Basically, there are no shortcuts.”

Kolowich echoed this sentiment with his admiration of RealClearPolitics, which provides an even representation of conservative and liberal content.

“You aren’t going to get credit from your readers for putting out a cheap, mechanically filtered solution that has no human input,” said Kolowich.

Don’t Be Evil

“Don’t be evil” is the informal corporate motto of Google. Content curators can follow this maxim by adhering to some simple precepts. One of those is what Deshpande fortuitously refers to as the “Google Rule of Thumb.”

As a search engine, Google had to strike a fine balance with its result descriptions. If the user is given too little description of a search result, she must arduously check link after link to find a satisfying hit. If too much information is given, the user might not have any incentive to visit the actual site, which borders dangerously close to intellectual piracy.

Content curators must share these considerations. Only share a portion of the original content, attribute the original source and always drive traffic back to original creators. Businesses that operate under these principles will not only be staying on the right side on the law, but will also gain credibility from both audiences and content creators. Content creators want to be curated by enterprises that are looking out for their best interests. When citing the original source, don’t bury it at the bottom of the post. Make it prominent. Re-title all of the content you curate so it doesn’t compete with the original curator in search results. It also allows you to put your own spin on the issue in the descriptive portion and incorporate your own topic-specific keywords.

Be Objective

To be taken seriously as a content curator, there are times when you will have to curate content from a competitor. Brenner encountered this issue when Business Innovation curated a white paper from a competitor’s web site.

“We used an outside source’s piece of content and were able to drive tremendous reach, engagement and convergence,” said Brenner. “It opened up a healthy dialogue with some of our leadership team to explain that when you act like a publisher, you have to maintain a certain level of objectivity. That means you have to mention a competitor. If you’re covering Big Data and your competition is producing research papers, you will have to mention them for the sake of journalistic integrity. Our authority is based on our ability to do that.”

The curation post provided a summary of the content with a link to the landing page where users could download a copy, and it even made the Top Ten list of Business Innovation articles for that year. However, the move was viewed as Business Innovation directly supporting a SAP competitor.

“I think this is the only way to do it,” continued Brenner. “I’m cautious of brands that blog in a promotional way. When I see a corporate blog that pretends to be objective and is actually being promotional, that’s when I think credibility is lost and you’re essentially self-limiting your audience. An editorial approach allows people on the fence who aren’t sure about you as a brand to become a convert.”

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