My thinking was that there is more smart content online than anybody could ever read. I’d rather, I thought, point to that content than contribute to the ongoing content inflation by adding my own 2 cents. In short, I was hoping that content curation, through filtering and re-organizing existing online content around topics would contribute to the discovery of smart content.
I researched content curation using mainly two curation tools: one more business-oriented tool, Scoop.it, to monitor four topics (including Content Curation and Mobile Payments included in the Curated Content section of this blog) and one consumer-oriented social curation tool, Pinterest, to curate half a dozen varied topics of personal interest (books, art, shoes, designer handbags… yes, I love those).
Here is what I concluded from this research:
- Content curation does help content discovery. Curation helped me discover and share content on my favorite topics. Numerous reports show that social content curation à la Pinterest brings traffic to brand sites. Curated content embeds brand content into a rich inbound context of external content.
- Social content curation fosters customer engagement. Consumers who curate a brand’s content not only send it traffic, they also bring to the brand and its product a much needed validation. Brands like Whole Foods that participate in social curation on Pinterest increase their customers’ engagement.
- Corporate curation tools help create a competitive advantage. In addition to public social curation platforms, brands should use scoop.it or corporate collaborative content curation tools like Curata, CurationSoft or Zemanta to listen to their market, optimize their content and collaborate on their content strategy.
- But content curation is no panacea for failing content creation. Curated content supplements original brand content, it cannot replace it. If a brand has no story to tell, no original content, no topics to share with its audience and no Social Media strategy, content curation will only increase the overall online noise level.
Brands struggle to meet the Content Marketing imperative
Most of us do “curate” content in that we collect, filter, edit, and re-dispatch online information related to the topics that are relevant to our friends and followers. We want to become the go-to person for our target audience on the topic we curate.
But creating content is hard. It’s not easy to regularly tell stories that are good enough to engage online audiences, to attract them, retain their attention, and – even more difficult – to convince them to act, to spread the word, to endorse the brand, and, last but not least, to buy its products!
Enter content curation tools
In 2011, content curation became a craft with dedicated tools.
By then blogging had made it clear how tough it is to produce original content in big enough quantity and of good enough quality to stand out among hundreds of millions of Web sites and blogs.
Content curation appeared as a natural evolution to ease and speed online content production and distribution by tapping into existing online content.
Content curation is much more than content aggregation. A brand curator handpicks the content that matches the interests of his target audience: He filters it to keep only the best. He also possibly edits and comments it, before posting the curated result on multiple media.
Curation tools make this process easier by partly automating it. The emphasis is on “partly”: curation tools assist curators, they don’t do away with them as people able to make intelligent judgments about which content adds value to which topic and its audience.
Although curation tools differ from each other in many respects, all roughly include 3 main steps:
- Pulling content from external sources
- RePurposing it along topics
- Publishing the curated content on multiple media
1) Pulling content from external sources
The capacity to identify external sources, search through them and extract data that will point to selected sources is one of the main benefits of curation tools.
Consumer-oriented social curation tools like Pinterest, tumblr, Trap.it or Bundlr are designed to be easy-to-use social content networks. They offer a widget or bookmarklet that users can add to their browser to “clip” individual pieces of content – images, text or video — along with their urls of origin. As illustrated here, one click on Pinterest’s “Pin it” button extracts a dozen images from a Web page - here Garance Doré’s blog, for example. With another click the curator can select one picture, add a title or description to it, and post it on a Pinterest page, called a board, in his name. The clipped content (the ‘pin’) remains linked to its source.
Pinterest users can upload their own content to the Pinterest site and mix it with external content. US food retailer Whole Foods Markets is a great case study, as originally pointed out by Mashable. Whole Foods employs curators to pin content such as food recipes taken from Pinterest users, partner sites like myrecipes.com and blogs like treehugger.com, alongside content from the company’s own Web sites like wholefoodsmarket.com. In the same way, members of the Pinterest community will pin and re-pin content from Whole Foods’ boards as well as from its Web sites, alongside content from many other sources and content of their own.
Each pin is a link back to its source.
Pinning or clipping to social curation sites using bookmarklets is a relatively manual process.
More business-oriented Corporate tools like Curata, Digimind, Parse.ly, Zemanta and CurationSoft and professional tools like Scoop.it or LiquidNewsroom offer more sophisticated content sourcing, search and filtering capabilities than consumer-oriented social sites. They allow business users to index sources and subscribe to RSS feeds. Digimind can also crawl designated web pages to find content updates. Curata, Zemanta, CurationSoft and Parse.ly analyze content trends in real-time, i.e. while the curator is writing and editing content. These tools are used for market intelligence, Search Engine Optimisation and Social Media Monitoring as much as for content curation.
There are litterally hundreds of curation tools. One can roughly oppose at two extremes the paid-for, private corporate tools and the free public social tools, but many tools, like Scoop.it have a freemium model and fall in the middle.
One can also make categories of curation tools according to whether they specialize in a specific type of content:
- Tools like Storify and Dashter are designed to curate content from social media like Facebook, Twitter and YouTube.
- Others like Fab.com and TheFancy are dedicated social shopping curation sites that help consumer collect and share shopping tips. To that end, they clip prices along with pictures, names, and product description.
- Others like LiquidNewsroom, NewsCred and Wavii specialize in news curation
2) Re-purposing content along topics
The second virtue of content curation tools lies in how they help curators re-organize content from different sources into topics. Once aligned to topics, content is more easily discovered and shared by people with common interests.
Whole Foods, for example, curates under its brand name 40 Pinterest boards on topics related and not related to food. Food is addressed from many different angles such as special ingredients on ”Eat your Veggies” and ”Cheese is the Bee’s Knee“, special celebrations on “Thankful for Thanksgivings” andhealth and diet on ”Plant Based Diet Recipes“. Non-food topics include interior design topics such as “Super HOT Kitchens“, family gift and gadgets on ”Great Gifts…“, the environment and corporate social responsibility issues such as ”Whole Planet Foundation“.
Topic by topic, Whole Foods embeds its proprietary content into a rich and relevant context of external content from experts, partners and customers.
Each curation tool provides specific features that make it more or less easy to repurpose content from multiple sources into topics chosen by the users. The topics are called ”boards” on Pinterest, ”traps” on Trap.it, “bags” on BagTheWeb, “bundles” on bundlr and simply “topics” on Scoop.it. However, user-generated topic classifications can be poor. A consumer site like Pinterest is so focused on beautiful pictures with little or no text that content can ve very hard to search. For example most consumers who ”pin” pictures of fashion products add hardly any title or product description to their pins. For that reason, most social curation sites provide broad standard categories into which users can classify content. But the semantic limitation of social sites like Pinterest is partly compensated by their strong social features. Registered users can “like” , “follow”, “comment” and “re-clip” other members’ content, and each new social activity pushes popular content to the top of users’ timeline and strengthen’s their collective interest graph.
Again, paid-for corporate tools provide more sophisticated functionalities in the area of topic categorization than free consumer tools. They allow users to define and organize topics into hierarchies of subtopics; to index content with searchable tags etc.
Corporate tools also provide extensive editing capabilities, team curation, collaborative workflow and analytics. Businesses use these tools to steer their content strategy, creation as well as curation, by uncovering which topics are trending and how competitors position themselves on these topics.
Last but not least, some curation tools, such as Pearltrees, Percolate, BagTheWeb and MindiT enable curators to visually represent content relationships through graph structures that aim to facilitate the discovery of related content. I must admit that I personally struggle with using these tools but curation experts like Robin Good seem to be very at ease with them.
In parenthesis, I ‘d like to mention my favorite curator on the topic of content curation: Giuseppe Mauriello. Other well-known experts are Beth Kanter and Amit Agarwal.
The topic-centric nature of content curation plays a major role in its ability to facilitate brand content discovery, i.e. to drive traffic to brand sites.
3) Publishing content
Last but not least, curation tools are also versatile publishing tools. They enable curators to easily publish the curated content on multiple media.
Curation tools semi-automatically reformat curated content into a visually attractive layout. Most of them have opted for a mosaic that aligns blocks, made of a picture and title, with or without a short description, on a grid. I have heard that a lot of technical knowhow goes into the dynamic redimensioning and placement of images that gives to Pinterest its sleek look.
The success of touch phones and tablets probably explains why the mosaic layout is currently so trendy. It was adopted first by tablet news readers like Flipboard and Pulse and most recently spread to Yahoo! new search result pages.
In any case, the layout of curated content pages is generally much more attractive than that of an amateur blog page. It is also much easier to produce and much easier to browse through with a mouse or by touch. It resembles a reader page, a newsletter, or a newspaper front page, as for example on Paper.li. It can also remind of the mood boards of advertising agencies in the case of Pinterest.
Content distribution is a major area of differenciation between social curation tools and corporate tools.
Free social curation tools like Pinterest and tumblr are not only online tools, they are also destination sites, micro-blogging platforms and social networks.
Since users’ content is public by default, this content is relatively well-indexed by search engines. Search visibility combined with social virality drives the fast growth of these social curation sites, hence their ability to send traffic to brands.
With its massive amount of content, Pinterest has been the fastest growing social media ever to reach 10 million users, faster than Facebook. Its growth recently slightly slowed down in the US, probably due to intense competition, but we can expect it to grow again very fast once its international operations are set up. Tumblr, which is not very transparent about its number of users, claims 50 million microblogs.
From a marketing point of view, social curation platforms differ from other social networks in that their members are linked to each other primarily by their shared interests, i.e. their interest graph, not by their personal relationships, i.e their social graph. Members can follow each other topic by topic. For example a consumer can choose to follow “Garden Delights“ a Pinterest board about summer recipes curated by Whole Foods Market and another one to follow ”Super HOT Kitchen“, Whole Foods’ board about interior design.
A social content curation network creates a true interest graph of consumers for brands to market to.
In contrast to social curation platforms, corporate tools like Digimind, Curata, PageOne Curator, or CurationSoft are private, not public platforms. They can be used to generate curated content for an intranet as well as for external publications but their own Web sites are not intended to be public destination sites.
Last but not least, once published, curated content can be re-clipped, re-pinned or re-scooped within a platform or across platforms. It is, for example, very common to find curated content from Kurat, Trap.it, Paper.li or tumblr among the content sourced on Scoop.it.
Content Curation Delivers Visibility and Engagement
The curation market is young (tumblr launched in 2008, Pinterest in 2010, Scoop.it in 2011) but it is relatively well-documented. Evidence shows that curation has come to the rescue of brands struggling with content marketing. It helps them increase both their visibility and their customer engagement.
By organizing their content around topics shared with their audience, brands that are active on social curation sittes increase their chances to be discovered in a relevant context. They embed their proprietary content into an inbound context that gives it broader relevance. For example, US shoe retailer Zappos mixes its brand’s content on its Pinterest “color block” fashion board with content from blogs like eatsleepwear.com. The firm also pins onto its “wedding apparel” board beautiful pictures of wedding cakes and receptions from wedding planner sites. Zappos boards will drive traffic to partner sites and blogs, but as its own content is pinned and repinned by Pinterest users, it will also drive traffic to Zappos’ shopping site.
According to Shareaholic in January 2012, social curation site Pinterest drove more referral traffic to brand sites than Google Plus, LinkedIn and YouTube combined. Mashable.com published multiple case studies showing how Pinterest brings traffic and sales to brands like Martha Stewart, British Midland, Land’s End and Whole Foods. Pinterest itself even maintains a board on business case studies.
b) Customer Engagement
Content curation does not only bring visibility, it also fosters customer engagement through external quality content that adds:
- Relevance: For example, curating health content from partnering blogs broadens the relevance of a food brand like Whole Foods.
- Unique content: Unlike aggregation, curation picks a unique mix of external content. It’s therefore more immune to search engine’s ban on duplicate content. Social shopping curation sites like Fab.com constantly gain traffic even though most of their content is clipped from existing retailer and brand sites.
- Fresh content: It’s not easy to produce fresh content every day; French online cleaning service dWeho uses Scoop.it to enrich its site with a news feed.
- Optimized content : Curation tools like Zemanta and Parse.ly tell curators in real time which topics and keywords are trending.
- Rich media: Pictures and video are a must; in-house production is not enough. dWeho adds YouTube’s cleaning tips to its blog.
- Trust: Curated blogs from external experts lend credibility to a brand citing them. dWeho curates information from government sites on French home services regulation.
- Entertaining content: Amateur and semi-professional user-generated content like YouTube videos can be fun; frankly, most brands could use more fun !
Engagement is a two-way street: It’s not only about telling your story to consumers, it’s also about listening to them and conversing with them. In that respect:
- Social curation tools are a fantastic laboratory to observe in vivo the interest graph into which customer place the brand and to interact with them. Through their social activity of likes, comments, follows and re-clipping social curation users provide brands with the social validation that has become indispensable for brand to be positioned in the collective mind of the connected consumer.
- Corporate curation tools provide a platform for teams to efficiently collaborate on the brand’s content marketing strategy — for both content creation and content curation. Curation tools’ analytics help understand customer trends, monitor competitors and adapt the brand response. They speed production and publication. For these reason, these tools have made their way into the newsroom of all performing media, such as the Guardian and Forbes.
In conclusion, content curation works, so far.
Content curation tools help brands face the content marketing imperative of increasing the brand’s visibility and its customer engagement.
What should brands do to seize the opportunity?
- Participate in the top 2 or 3 leading social curation tools in each brand’s market: Pinterest and The Fancy for fashion brands, Fab.com or OpenSky for home decoration, Pinterest or Punchfork for Food etc.
- Equip content marketing with corporate curation tools. Content teams should share a set of tools such as Zemanta, Parse.ly, Digimind, Curata or CurationSoft to source content and uncover content trends from customers, competitors and partners and to collaborate on repurposing content into an engaging inbound context for the brand.
Content curation is no panacea for a failing content strategy that has not created original brand content. I will address the drawbacks of content curation in another post. But clearly, content curation is worthless if it used only to increase the brand’s visibility by raising its online noise level. In the same vein, an inbound context of curated external content is a waste of time if it points to a vacuous brand story. If the brand has no distinctive original content and no topics to share with customers, no amount of content curation will be able to engage them.
Thank you for reading. Please provide comments !