Centerline Sessions: The Case for Content Curation
Jul 16, 2012
An Interview with Kristina Halvorson of Brain Traffic and John Lane of Centerline.
With the rise of platforms like Tumblr, Pinterest and Zite, “content curation” is a hot topic. And the process of finding, organizing and sharing kindred information from myriad sources is being adapted by marketers in an attempt to capture interest around a topic and harness the power of crowd-sourced information.
I had a chance to talk with Kristina Halvorson (CEO and Founder, Brain Traffic) and our own John Lane (Vice President, Strategy and Creative) about how corporations are employing content curation and whether or not it’s an effective content marketing tactic. (You can learn more about Kristina and John at the end of the post.)
So, what is “content curation?”
Kristina Halvorson: The term curation is borrowed from museums — where there is a curator who picks what art to present. It doesn’t even have to be one kind of art…it can be a bunch of different kinds. But a specific person is bringing it together under some theme, and they are handpicking it based on their professional perspective.
As marketers, we talked for a long time about “content aggregation” and that was sort of rooted in this idea that the more content people could have on or link to on a site, the better they would do. Sort if like “This is my one-stop shop for all this different stuff, so I’m going to just pull everything in at once.” And that can be automated now. Robots can do that.
So, what’s shifted is that with curation you have an actual human being with some editorial intent gathering information or links and bringing it together. Now, their intent might be “this is really funny” or it might be “this is news that is important to me and because it’s important to me, and if you’re interested in my editorial viewpoint, then maybe it’s important to you too.”
I want to make sure that we separate out content curation from content strategy because content curation is a tactic. It’s a tactic that you use to execute on a content strategy.
Does the size of the industry impact the scale of the processes that are associated with responsible curation?
John Lane: It’s not really about the industry, but more about the intent of what you’re trying to communicate…what response or result or action you’re trying to achieve.
KH: Precisely — it all comes back to intent. I have never used that word and now I am going to use that word all the time. Because I always say, “You have to ask why.”
Is there a one-size-fits-all strategy for brands who want to begin curating content?
KH: When we talk about curating online, there are many different really great ways to do it. There are a lot of community curation places; just about any Tumblr blog is a good example of that, FFFFound! is also a good example of that. They’re both groups of people coming together and curating — whether it’s their own stuff or collecting collaboratively.
JL: Different businesses are doing such vastly different forms of what could be called “curation.” That it makes it hard to nail down what’s the right way — or, really, the most effective way — to do it.
For example, American Express OPEN Forum is one great example of content curation. They’ve created a community around small business that is highly controlled in terms of the editorial content, but has a very light brand application.
That’s a completely different bent than what Whole Foods is doing with Pinterest. They are starting boards around particular subjects and mashing together their own content with customer supplied content. It’s squarely in the “lifestyle brand” arena, with the brand as the prominent driver…so much so that if you aren’t a customer — or a Whole Foods evangelist — it might not matter to you in the least.
KH: Right. If you are an organization that’s doing your own curation, then obviously you have a really tight hold on that experience and can really shape it.
If you’re opening up something like Pinterest or Tumblr or Facebook or anywhere else where you are very clearly inviting a much larger amount of community participation, well then you are turning it over to the community. So it can take on a life of its own. It has absolutely nothing to do with your brand. In that instance, I wouldn’t say that it’s so much a company that is curating content, but rather it’s a company that has created branded forum for people that want to come in and post stuff and that’s all it is. I wouldn’t call that curation.
Are there any tools or techniques out there that can help companies that are just getting started with content curation?
KH: There are tools that have been around forever, like Google News where you sign up for different RSS feeds or to be alerted when something is posted. So the content is pulled in and then you can scan through that content and determine what is useful to you or valuable to you. That’s one way to gather it.
Another way is to simply pay attention to what people in your space are saying, and go to their blog or their site or that media outlet or whatever. That’s kind of like using other people’s curation to do your research. I honestly do 100% of my personal content curation — 100% of it — on Twitter. Okay that’s not true, I use Google too…but truly on a day-to-day basis.
JL: That’s so true. I wrote a blog post a couple years ago about how Twitter had replaced Google Reader for me. Because the same stuff I was subscribing to in Reader was being shared on Twitter. But the best stuff would rise to the top because it would get shared two, three, ten times whereas in Reader it all had the same weight. That approach helped me find the best stuff.
KH: And it’s so fast. I can run a search for content strategy and scan 200 tweets in 10 minutes.
JL: Exactly! I think the two most important acronyms of the next ten years won’t be HTML5 or CSS, but rather API and RSS. Both from the perspective of being the curator or making sure your content is curatable — meaning it’s capable of being grabbed and shared by others so that you can increase your findability, your content’s surface area. Those two technologies are going to become indispensable.
Just think about Flipboard and Zite and Prismatic and all those other content shifting, curating channels. They are becoming more popular and if your company’s content can’t be found or pulled, then you’re voice will be lost.
The point is to make sure that, regardless of the tactic, the content that’s created, curated or promoted is accountable. That means if the act of creation or curation isn’t actually achieving anything — if you are not looking at a grander business goal — then it’s basically navel-gazing.
What do you think of platforms like Reddit? Do you think they are tools that companies should use to help with Content Curation or even just content sharing?
KH: I don’t use Reddit. I have never even looked at it. And the question is: Does that make me irresponsible?
But you could have asked me the same question about Pinterest nine months ago and I would have said, “I think that there is a real limited corporate opportunity there.” And you know what? Frankly, I still think that. But I spoke at a marketing conference two months ago and I asked, “Who is on Pinterest?” I swear to you 95% of the people in the raised their hands. I wanted to get them all in a line and ask, “Explain to me why you are on Pinterest?”
JL: I’d like to hear those answers!
KH: They probably would say their CMO said “We need to get on Pinterest” just like they said “We need to get on YouTube,” “We need to get on Facebook,” “We need to get on Twitter.” Why? Well, because it’s there and because everyone is doing it and because we have to have visibility.
I always tell people this and they are always so shocked, but Brain Traffic is not on Facebook. We don’t use Facebook because my community of professionals are not on Facebook. I don’t think that my high school friends want to be reading about content management systems on Facebook. In fact, I disconnected my Twitter feed from my personal Facebook because people were like, “What the hell are you talking about.”
JL: That’s a very refreshing thing to hear, actually. Because I can’t imagine that you’d find many corporations out there that would be willing to say publicly “We are not going to go on Facebook because our community isn’t engaging with us in that way and it’s not the optimal channel for us to achieve our business goals.” Frankly, that’s too honest for a lot of corporations. If they’re not on certain networks, they’d be worried — fixated — on missing one nuance of a conversation that happens there as opposed to really focusing on the channels that are their core — the things that work best for them and need the real focus of time and attention.
Kristina Halvorson is the founder and president of Brain Traffic, a content strategy consultancy. She is the author of Content Strategy for the Web; the founder of Confab, The Content Strategy Conference; and the host of Content Talks, a weekly 5×5 podcast. Kristina is widely recognized as the industry’s leading advocate for content strategy. Follow Kristina on Twitter.
About John Lane in his own words: When I would watch TV as a kid, I would run to the bathroom during the shows so I could make it back for the commercials… they were more interesting to me. That interest in the connection between brand and consumer is still the driving force of my involvement in marketing strategy and content creation. Follow John on Twitter.