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In Which I Discuss Why Content Curation For Marketing Sucks

By April 16, 2014July 1st, 2015Social Marketing
In Which I Discuss Why Content Curation For Marketing Sucks
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Die Dogan DieUpdate:

I’m interrupting this article for a moment to bring you a few updates.

This article has caused quite the conversation among my peers and colleagues. I wrote a follow up to this article called Get To The Choppa that gets into a bit more detail on the topic.

I’ll also be appearing on Ryan Hanley’s podcast Content Warfare to debate some of the points discussed here with Dino Dogan, founder of Triberr.

I’ve done shows with both boys before and they never disappoint. I hope to see you there.



Conventional wisdom is an amazing thing. Especially in marketing. Especially in social marketing. Especially when it’s wrong.

Not too long ago, the social media ninjas, gurus and wizards were telling businesses to “engage” on Facebook. To “tell their story.” Over the next year or two, they laughed all the way to the bank while businesses ended up with declining reach and engagement and a final salvo that included those same Social Media Rock Star Astro Mega Geeks telling businesses that all the work and money they invested was essentially gone and now they had to pay to play.

Sure, this story is technically about Facebook, but it goes to illustrate the Social Media Marketing Expert Super Cobra’s mindset which is to boldly pronounce what they hear in the social media echo chamber as fact.

I don’t begrudge them making a buck, but it irks me that so many are making a buck by misleading, whether by intent or ignorance. All of this makes me question everything that any self proclaimed Social Media Marketing Professional Rockstar Skydiver says. And it sure as hell should make you question them as well.

The fact of the matter is that there is no such thing as a social media expert even if they are practiced in the skills of Ninjitsu or are very famous musical performers or are enlightened baldheaded teachers. Not one.

The social media landscape shifts too quickly and it’s apparent that even the social platforms are making it up as they go along. Most of them are simply throwing spaghetti at the wall just to see what sticks.

So what do we have if we don’t have experts? We have a very densely populated marketing industry with a wide range of skills ranging from marketing veterans to day trippers. The day trippers are the ones that think they know everything, but don’t. The veterans are the ones that know they don’t know everything, but seek to learn. Which one should you trust? Neither.

Question Everything

Since I am in “question everything” mode, I want to address a tactic that is conventional wisdom at the moment. It goes like this:

When you run a business and want to establish a social media strategy, you should regularly post your content via your social channels. But you should also publish third party curated content that is relevant to your audience so that you don’t seem like you are constantly talking about yourself.

I have to admit, for a long time I kinda bought into this thinking as well, but then I had a change of heart. Here’s why.

Branding Your Stuff With Brand-y Type Stuff

I love the expression “don’t build someone else’s kingdom with your bricks.” That expression has so much depth and can apply to so many scenarios. However, in this context, I would apply it like this:

What value is there in researching lots of content that you did not produce in order to publish it to your audience?

Oh, I know. I see the eye rolls already.

You do it because you want your brand to be brand-y and full of branding brand-fullness.

But here’s the thing: most people don’t post stuff that reinforces their brand. They just post stuff. And worse, they post stuff because they heard that they have to post stuff.

How does that help your brand? It doesn’t.

I started following a lawyer recently. This lawyer out in the middle of the country somewhere is a curation master. He curates the crap out of stuff.

Ask me what kind of law he practices. Go ahead, ask me. I’ll answer that by telling you that you probably have a better guess than I do.

This poor guy was probably advised about how he needs to curate; curate! Curate! CURATE!

But what is that buying him? Once you factor in that his posts are probably all but ignored on Twitter and certainly gobbled up by Facebook’s EdgeRank, what’s the point?

And the kicker is that if he wasn’t doing all this curation, he could be doing what you should be doing which is…

Creating Better Content That Brands The Crap Out Of Your Brand’s Brand

People are never going to go to your social media site to see you post tons of material that isn’t relevant to them, but they will go to your social media site if you are producing content that is compelling to them in a meaningful way.

Turns out my lawyer friend is a divorce lawyer. Want to know how many pieces of content were related to divorce in the time I was stalking him? He posts 3 times a day every weekday. That’s 15 posts a week. I watched him for a month. That’s 60 posts. Three were about divorce.


How does that help his brand?

Here’s what I would suggest to him. Stop curating. And stop with the 3 posts a day. Write one good original piece of content per week. Save yourself all that time you spend researching and use that time to write “knock it out of the park” type content.

But this is where things get interesting.

Branding Can Be… Oh, Never Mind. I’m Tired.

While I was being all stalkerish, I reached out to my lawyer friend. Turns out the lawyer isn’t posting. Neither was his business or any of the partners. It’s a…

Say it with me…

Social Media Expert.

The social media expert as it turns out is a twenty something year old college kid that describes what she does with words like “swords” and “geek” and “nerd.” When I spoke to her online, I made a Doctor Who reference and she had no idea what that was.

Some Geek.

Hashtag Fail.

I’m not trying to beat her up, but what value does she provide? How does the brand get strengthened?

Pulling Back The Curtain

So I did cyber-meet the lawyer as well as the Social Media Expert. He said I could relay his story as long as I kept everyone anonymous. After a few chats, he decided to shut his social media sites down. He decided that he had more business than he could handle. Didn’t need any more and didn’t want to keep spending on social to no effect. The social media expert was relieved to be let go because she felt that she wasn’t being paid enough. I’ll let you come to your own conclusion on that perspective.

So What’s The Lesson Here?

I don’t have any pearls of wisdom, but I do have a few random thoughts.

Facebook is getting beat up as of late because of its shift to a more ad-based approach. Most people are on the “Facebook is evil” side of the fence, but the reality is that part of why Facebook is doing this is because there’s just too much content on its platform. People and businesses aren’t posting naturally, they are curating and artificially flooding the network. As a result, all people see is noise. Facebook wants to balance that and one way is EdgeRank and the other is paid ads.

This is the unintended consequence of curation. Lots of noise.

My other thought is that given the state of things, social is a buyer’s paradise. Businesses can be very selective about who they hire to manage their social marketing and what that fee buys them.

And I’ll even go a bit farther and say that given what some businesses are paying their social media “experts” for curation, they should forgo the curation and instead use that budget to have good original content crafted by competent writers.

Then those businesses can curate content… from their own content.

Detailed and well-thought-out blog posts can become a goldmine of facts, stats, ideas, commentary and questions. Businesses can share insights, tips, thoughts and suggestions. None has to come from a third party or require hours of research only to point people away from the business to someone else’s ideas, tips and insights.

For people who argue that businesses shouldn’t share too much of their own content for fear that someone may notice that they are actually attempting to engage in marketing and not just a pleasant social pastime, I beg to differ. It’s entirely possible for a business to share all original content without coming across as a bit self-promotional.

I suspect that this article will meet with scowls. I mentioned this topic to a few people and just based on the idea, they thought it was crap. I’m going to try to make them think a bit differently on the subject, but in the meantime hopefully this article served to help you think differently on the subject.

Join the discussion 34 Comments

  • Danilo says:

    Interesting read. Definitely something i’ll keep in mind as I develop a social media plan, which includes our content plan, for a startup call OpJam.

    Although I see your point about the ineffectiveness of aimlessly curating irrelevant posts, would you’re opinion change if the curation was 80% about subjects like: divorce, counselling for couples, counselling for kids, fighting depression, etc (subjects that may be relevant to people going through divorce?

  • Really good points, Ralph, and I agree with your thinking (although I’ve read scads of articles that preach curation and why it’s so valuable to your online presence).

    In the first place, if a business has more business than they can handle, why in the world would they spend money on a SM ‘expert’ to curate content?! Makes no sense to me. Where’s the benefit? Uh … seems there is no benefit. Frankly, it’s more like a detriment. Directing people to someone else’s content is like saying, “We don’t really want your business. But here’s a link to Joe’s content. You might want to hire him instead.”

    And curating and sharing content that’s totally unrelated to your offerings/expertise?? Why not just shoot yourself in the foot?! That would be a lot less painful than the sting your marketing budget is going to experience. 🙁

    Thanks for sharing the view from the other side of the fence!

  • Krithika Rangarajan says:

    OMG Ralph

    I am definitely on the Pro-Curation side, BUT I don’t believe in ‘curating for the sake of curating’. It is okay to go off-topic every so often, but if off-topic is all you do, no one will engage with you!

    Thank you so much for this wonderful reminder to always remain true to your brand, and offer timely, relevant and engaging content.


  • AlisaMeredith says:

    I was prepared to disagree with you 100%. After reading the whole thing, that number has gone way down. I do believe their is value in being a source for industry knowledge, a case to be made for the give-and-take of sharing, and I don’t think most of us have the time/budget to produce so much quality content on everything related to our customers’ needs that we never need to share someone else’s.

    However, there are tons of different ways to repurpose and repackage your own awesome content. I loved your idea to pull out a fact, stat, idea or commentary to point people back to an older blog post or other bit of content and I plan to implement that right away. Why share someone else’s post on “Four tips to XYZ” if yours from three months ago was just as good. Slap a thought on an image and post it again!

    As for it being possible to share only your own content without seeming to be self-promotional, totally agree. That is, as long as the content itself is useful.

  • I think you’re confusing “thoughtless regurgitation” with “thoughtful curation”. Your diatribe applies to the former but not the latter.

      • I think your core point is that curation has been bastardized by brands into something that doesn’t add value or context. Curation, to me and the brands I work with, means identifying things that may matter to an audience you are trying to reach and then contextualizing it for them.

        You have a photo of a museum at the top of this post. Great museums scour through all of the work that has been done and curate what they view as most meaningful. They create none of the content themselves, but they use their knowledge of the field to select what is worth being shared with the audience they are trying to reach. Next to most art in museums is a little bit of context explaining what the art is, who created it, and why it is important.

        Great brands follow the museum model of content curation. They add context to things that matter in an industry and share it with their audience – even in cases when they didn’t create the original work. This develops their reputation as a trusted broker of information and insight.

        The brands I think you’re referring to in this post treat curation more like a warehouse. In other words, if it exists, it gets stocked on the shelves.

        Curation in the context of marketing absolutely works. We’ve got performance analytics and brand affinity studies that back that up.

        I don’t disagree with your premise that “curation” has been co-opted by marketers to mean something entirely different than the original purpose it was intended to serve.

  • Hadass Eviatar says:

    OK, I need to see what Carol Lynn thinks of this. I often share the wonderful pieces she curates in her newsletter … so this confuses the heck out of me ;-). In general, though, I agree that sharing for the sake of sharing is not very helpful.

    • I think curation is GREAT! Keep doing it 🙂

      Ok, for real…. there are 2 types of “curation” – the kind Ralph is talking about which is pretty mindless curation for the sake of curation. There is also an argument to be made that if you are on social media for business purposes, then curation may have limited usefulness since it requires a lot of time to find great stuff, time that you could otherwise put into PRODUCING great stuff.

      On the other hand, curation that is “sharing” – more like the type you and I (and a billion other people!) do – is different. It should still not be done blindly or mindlessly but that falls more under the category of cross-promotion and sharing. I read a lot of blogs and when I find something great, I share it. But I don’t necessarily run around “curating” and wracking my brain trying to dig something up to share because… well, someone told me to “curate”.

      The greater point is that if someone is curating and sharing content just because someone else said that’s how you’re supposed to “do social” then it’s time to consider WHY and whether it actually has value.

    • PS: Thank you for so often sharing my posts 🙂

  • Karen Peck says:

    Spot on! The best way to engage your clients is to write relevant articles about how your business can help them solve their problems and if you can write about a specific real event or customer even better. Everything else is just junk.

  • Dr RWP says:

    IMO some very good points here. As it happens I’ve always been naturally cautious when I hear anyone describe themselves as an “expert” – especially when it comes to social media.

  • Brenda Stokes Barron says:

    I’m inclined to agree with this. I think repurposing your own content as infinitely more value than curating. But if you find something awesome created by someone else, sharing it with your audience is great. So long as your followers are getting interesting content that’s relevant to your business, you’re doing that brand building thing.

  • Adrienne says:

    Hey Ralph,

    I’ve had this post lined up to stop by and read so I’m just now finding the time. I’m glad I did because I agree with you. It think that a lot of the sites have really become just way too much chatter and curating for the sake of curating with no purpose behind it is just silly.

    Now I share other people’s content that it relevant to what I do and I really don’t share anything like I use to. I think we’re overwhelmed with way too much anyway but at the same time I’m probably not doing myself justice either. I’ll have to go back to the drawing board and figure this all out again darn it.

    Thanks for your opinion and you and Dino behave yourselves. LOL!!!


    P.S. Tell Carol I said hey!

  • Thanx for a great post discussing the content curation issue. I like what you say about building others kingdoms with your bricks….

    If more people thought along these lines then marketing would be an awful lot simpler, and also more cost effective. there are many kingdoms built with foreign bricks, and the worst is those building do not care where the bricks come from, esspecially when you do not need to pay for them.

  • I wholeheartedly agree with this article. There is SO MUCH NOISE out there! I get pitched by Social media managers all day long… they are 20 something who don’t know the difference between Justin Beiber and Cole Porter, they believe they know my target audience but they don’t. Why would I entrust them with posting on my social media? and posting what? crap from other blogs of their buddies? I only post once a week on my blog and try to interact with my followers, my blog has “other” problems but if I curate, then I do it myself with things that are meaningful to me. An interview with another blogger or a collaboration is much more relevant, IMHO. Thank you for the article.