The Confounding Practice Of Content Curation

By January 28, 2015 February 1st, 2018 Podcast, Readings, Social Marketing
The Confounding Practice Of Content Curation

I have a question for you today.

What do people in your industry do that drives you nuts? Perhaps a common practice that makes you wonder where common sense went. Or a borderline unethical one that sometimes makes you wish you had nothing to do with your industry at all.

How about something straight-up controversial that has folks in your world coming down on one side of the fence or another?

Think of that thing and write it down. Think about your position on that thing and write that down, too. When you’re done reading this tell me about it in the comments because today I’m going to share precisely that type of thing with you.

Today, as part of my monthly Word Carnival, I’ve been tasked with writing about something controversial in my own industry – marketing – and taking a stand.

So today, I’m going to tell you why content curation as a social marketing strategy is silly, fruitless and something you should stop doing immediately. So come on and step over the line and join me in the land of lead generation and practical marketing tactics!

*Note: I decided to edit that bit out because it seems there are some content curation defenders who will hang me on it and ignore everything else I’ve said. I’ve had more conversations about the word “silly” than about whether or not content curation works. I concede. The word silly and its cousin fruitless have been rescinded. In place of arguing a word choice, I challenge you to prove me wrong on anything else I’ve said here. In other words, show me the money.

The Controversy That Isn’t

The small problem with this controversy is that there really isn’t one. And that’s actually the bigger problem. Content curation has been beaten into our heads so often and with such conviction that we take it for granted as a must, the same way we know we need a website and know we need a logo. (You may not need those either, but that’s a whole other conversation…)

And so it gets included in marketing strategies everywhere by people who think they’re doing the right thing. In fact, entire industries have sprung up around teaching you strategies for content curation.

What I do find controversial is the eagerness of some people in the marketing space to defend the practice of content curation as if their very existence as marketing professionals depends on it. They try super hard to convince us that curation is a grand strategy, a must-do, a real results-getter.

That’s why I want to take this subject head on and tell you why believing in the magic of content curation is a mistake.

Part 1. The Buts

Whenever I argue that content curation may not be the best road to success and give people ideas for creating original content instead, the inevitable arguments pop up. Arguing some of these is sort of like trying to disprove the flying spaghetti monster but hey, I’ll give it a shot.

But nobody wants to see pictures of me and my dog all the time.

Nope, they probably don’t. And yet “pictures of me and my dog” is not the opposite of content curation. Nor is it the only viable alternative. I’ve listed a number of these before so you can read them yourself and please try not to translate anything I’ve said as promoting endless selfies, dog selfies or anything otherwise narcissistically selfie-like.

But I don’t have time to create original content.

Again, we’re assuming that content curation is either the opposite of, or the only viable alternative to, massively head-spinning, energy-sucking creativity.

Not true.

I plucked that myth out of brains everywhere in another recent post so you’ll just have to go read that one, too. To sum it up, you can use social media to interact, to listen, to engage and none of that has to involve content at all.

Plus if you’ve ever really sat down and tried to find quality content to share you’ll know that’s neither fast nor simple either. I admit, I’ve done my share of curating, and I’ve hated every moment of it. Forcing myself to sift through endless junk in search of that one gem was pure torture. I’d rather create something on my own any day.

But it builds authority.

This one baffles me. Substitute “shows expertise”, “establishes thought leadership”, “builds trust” or any such similar thing and you’ve got an argument worth crushing. I’m not clear on how sharing content that someone else has put time, brainpower and expertise into makes you look like a hero. There is no transitive power of authority. There is just you sending people to someone other than you for insight and intelligent discourse.

But the internet is so crowded with content. We need people to get to the good stuff and act as trusted resources.

Ok. But I’m busy. I’ve got an actual job and a business to run and clients to work for. I’ve got money to make and a mortgage to pay. I’m not sure how “be a resource” got into my job description but I didn’t put it there and I never promised a client or prospect I would be their personal content vetter. I bet you didn’t either.

Being your resource is not my job. Being someone else’s resource is not your job. If that’s the goal of your curation strategy then ask yourself how much you’re getting paid to spend hours researching and aggregating content for “your audience”, who, let’s be honest, is probably comprised of many thousands of people you don’t even know.

But you have to put the needs of your customers first.

Even more baffling than before. I am putting the needs of my customers first – by doing the job they hired me for. By adding value to their lives the way I promised. If this argument is circling in your brain, flush it. Then go and give your customers what they really need from you. I bet it’s not an RSS feed.

If you really want to give your customers what they need then figure out what that is and give it to them. Write the blog post they need to read. Answer the questions they need to understand. Do that and you’ll be far ahead of the curating herd.

Part 2. The Challenges

When the arguments fail, people start to attack things that I do regularly – like sharing other people’s content. They look for loopholes in what I say to prove just how amazing content curation really is and how wrong/hypocritical I really am. Because, remember, their existence depends on it.

Here’s what I get all the time.

So you’re afraid of the competition then?

No, not really. What I’m afraid of is thoughtless-leaders who insist on selling a one-size-fits-all strategy and calling it marketing gold.

What I’m afraid of is people who read books called “21 Days To Success With Any Random Thing You Want To Learn” and then selling their sudden expertise to unsuspecting people.

What I’m afraid of is that one of my clients will spend another second or another cent on trying to build authority by sending people to look for that authority elsewhere.

I quite enjoy the competition. They’re some of the smartest people I know. I’ve learned a lot from them and – yes – from reading their content.

This is yet another topic we’ve hit recently. You can read that, too.

I’m a fan of embracing the competition. When it’s worthy, competition is a powerful ally. You can build relationships and partnerships and share in each other’s success.

Sharing opportunities proves you’re not afraid of the competition. Not sharing their content.

If curating is so bad then I shouldn’t be sharing your content.

But why? Don’t you want to be an authority? And build your credibility? And prove your resourcefulness? And be a thought leader?

Ok, I really hope you caught the joke there.

But seriously. If you’re sharing my content I thank you from the bottom of my heart and I appreciate your generosity. But if you’re sharing my content because you think some of my brilliance will wear off on you and your audience will think you’re a magical unicorn for bringing them such amazing blogs and podcasts… you can stop. I mean, if that’s the only reason you’re doing it then I think you’re doing yourself a disservice.

Also, sharing is not the same as curating. I’ll get to the in a minute.

What about Triberr; isn’t that the same as curating?

At last, my favorite challenge!

I love this challenge so much because I love Triberr so much. Thanks to meeting up (online and in real life) with some super smart content creators whose content I share diligently, a world of opportunity has opened at my feet.

I’ll share my tribe mates’ content a dozen, two dozen times every day.

So what’s the difference between that and curation?

The difference is that I don’t consider it curating. You may think I’m splitting hairs but when I share people’s content from Triberr, it’s because I’ve built some kind of relationship with them, because I find them worthy allies and because I value what they say and I think more people should hear it.

It’s because we cross promote and share each other’s content to help each other expand our reach. It’s a relationship building strategy that works because I’ve witnessed it working.

It’s not about looking smart or authoritative or being a resource or filling a social stream.

The same is true of any content that I share – and I’m all for sharing. This is where sharing diverges from curating. Curating is done for all the wrong reasons. Sharing is done out of loyalty, appreciation, cross promotion, relationship building. I share because I want to. Not because I’ve made some weird assumption that “my audience” wants me to. I share because I believe that what I’m sharing should be seen, read, heard and listened to farther and wider and I’m glad to be part of that chain.

That is not the same as sitting in front of an RSS feed combing through stuff to post because “that’s what you do”.

Part 3. The Reality

As I mentioned earlier, I used to curate. Partly because I try lots of things and partly because I drank the Kool Aid, too. Somehow the word “curating” as it pertains to social media got embedded in our brain cells long before we had a chance to actually think about it.

Want to know what I discovered and why I’m so serious about helping you get out of the curation trap now?

Because nobody cared but me.

Right here on this blog we used to curate five blog posts each week about business and marketing. I would easily spend half a day searching for the best of the best and writing short summaries so my audience would fall in love with how resourceful I was for bringing them amazing content.

I hated putting those posts together. It took me forever. I would much rather have been sharing my own thoughts but I busily looked for other thoughts to share.

For a year and a half I curated those posts. And the result of all that effort?

They were the least trafficked and least shared posts of everything on our site.

Not even the authors cared. A few of them would stop by to thank me for sharing (and those were the ones I already had relationships with) but mostly nobody noticed. It didn’t help me build new relationships or expand my reach or build my authority. It just cost me a crap ton of time and I was never so happy to abandon an idea as to give up those roundups.

Because nobody ever mentioned finding us through something we’d curated.

Lots of people contact us through our website and when we ask how they found us not one of them has ever said that our curated posts or curated content did it.

They sometimes “Googled us and we came up”. Mostly they pointed out a specific post we wrote that inspired them to take action.

Because there really is a lot of crappy content out there.

Holy mackerel, is there ever. But instead of trying to sift through it all, we’ve decided to create our own, not-crappy content. All those hours spent curating never led to a single lead or sale that I can determine. But I can give you a dozen posts that directly led to a sale. Or at least a conversation. And two dozen more that led to some really beneficial relationships. And even some that stirred the pot a little. Like this one. Maybe I won’t make any friends by telling people to stop curating and to stop paying their marketers for doing it or to stop buying “strategies” or ebooks or courses around it. But I bet someone will email me and have a light bulb moment when they realize there’s more to life than “other people’s stuff”.

Because real brands don’t curate.

The next time someone tries to feed you that line about building your authority or being a thought leader or some such similar nonsense, I want you to point them to Coca Cola. I want you to ask them how much of Pepsi’s content Coke curates just to prove how unafraid of the competition they are.

I want you to point them to Whole Foods. I want you to ask them how much authority Whole Foods is building by sending you to the Food Network so you can learn to deep fry or chop peppers.

I want you to point them to Starbucks and ask them how much content Starbucks is curating so they can be the everything-coffee resource for their fan base.

I dare you to find me one recognized brand that curates the way we as small businesses have been brainwashed to do.

So if you want to share, then share. The internet would be a much sadder place without it. If you want to build relationships and cross promote or just be a nice guy, then share.

But stop doing something just because someone sold the idea to you. Start asking logical questions like, “So how does someone else’s smart content make me look smart?”

Approach your marketing with a bit of healthy skepticism. Never marry an idea. Date it for a while, then break up if it isn’t working out. Commit only when something is really, truly, measurably working.

Heck, don’t even listen to me. Just get out there, try something and see what happens. If you’re not seeing a real return, stop. It doesn’t matter how many “experts” tell you otherwise.

This post is part of the Word Carnival, a monthly group blogging event where some of the smartest business owners you’ll meet get together to dish on a topic. This month’s topic: Dirty Deeds and Due Diligence – what to watch out for in 2015! The New Year is bright with all sorts of new ideas, but in certain circles there’s still plenty of shady tricks and underhanded practices that we think should be called out. Read the rest of the fantastic carnie articles here.