Content Curation: The Secret to Social Networking Success

Oct 06, 2011

Social networks are changing the way consumers obtain information about products and services. Nearly everyone -- except for Prince, who declared the internet dead -- is getting in on the action.

Consumer research indicates that members of social networks are more likely to purchase products and services referred to them by their friends, fans, and followers. In fact, 90% of consumers say they trust recommendations from people they know; 70% trust opinions of unknown users. 71% claim reviews from family members or friends exert a "great deal" or "fair amount" of influence on what they purchase, while the same number of consumers don't believe the claims made in traditional advertising messages at all.

Social networks are like magnets to marketing, public relations, and advertising professionals. They can't help but be pulled in by their allure. Social sites like Facebook and LinkedIn, and socially-enabled message sharing sites like Twitter, are loaded with hundreds of millions of information-seeking consumers hungry for advice, recommendations, news, reviews and more. It's no surprise that companies and non-profit organizations are trying to tap into these networks. They're viewed as goldmines full of potential customers just waiting to be delivered a pitch.

Members of social networks, online communities, and messaging sites don't want to hear your pitch. It's that simple. They want unfettered access to information about subjects that interest them-and they want to hear it from people in their extended networks.

They don't care about you, nor your latest press release, partner program, or dinner special. They don't care about what your boss cares about-or your shareholders. And, the louder you shout, and the more you chase them, the more they tune you out.

To be successful at social networking you have to be able to engage your audience and attract and maintain their attention. Doing so involves a variety of tasks, the most important of which is to share interesting and relevant content, frequently.

It's not enough to set up an account on a social network and then publish content when you have time or when there's something your boss thinks is important to say. In order to develop an active and engaged social network audience, you have to publish as much content as possible as often as possible.

That's because the half-life of a post to a social network is measured in minutes, not years. The average tweet loses its maximum potential to attract attention in less than 60 minutes (although the URL shortening service says that number is more like 168 minutes). Facebook posts don't fare much better, losing their effectiveness in about three hours. This is because social networks are constantly updated. The most current information is featured at the top of each individual's news feed. Each post made after yours gets its turn at the top of the feed, moving your post down until it's no longer front and center, nor easy to find.

Add to the mix the sheer volume of tweets, posts, "likes," photos, shares, and updates being made every hour, and you'll soon realize the best strategy for getting noticed is to publish as often as possible, 24 hours a day, especially if you are trying to reach a global audience.

Because most organizations don't have enough original content to publish an update every 15 minutes, 24 hours a day, a little creative thinking is required in order to load your social network properties with interesting information. When we think of creativity, we usually think about artists, galleries, and museums-but the business success of art is directly influenced by the business decisions made by curators.

Curators scour the planet for art they believe will interest and engage their patrons. They cull these offerings together into exhibits or shows, weaved together by a common theme (e.g. paintings and sculptures by Los Angeles artists from 1950-1970, Soviet political propaganda posters, or African headwear.

By extension, if you're hoping to attract attention to your brand, you must become a curator and publisher of content exhibits relevant to the interests of those in your target audience. You must become the go-to source for information on a specific domain (ebooks and apps) or for information on that topic from a specific view point (making eBooks social) in order to differentiate yourself from the competition. And, there's a lot of competition.

Rohit Bhargava, SVP of Global Strategy and Market at Olgilvy Public Relations, defines content curation as "the process of continually finding, grouping, organizing, and sharing the best and most relevant content on a specific issue online." Aggregation, on the other hand, is the act of automatically bringing content together into a single location or information stream. While aggregation may seem to resemble curation, aggregation isn't concerned with organizing, sharing, or adding additional value to the content.

Many organizations are beginning to curate content produced by others and pair it with original content they create in an effort to gain credibility as thought leaders on a particular topic and to leverage that content in search engine optimization efforts. The more narrow the topic, the more valuable the approach.

Before you dive right in and start curating content, it's critical to have both a goal and a strategy. While you may have many goals, your first goal should be to develop audience. Without it, your social networking efforts will go unnoticed.

Audience development involves both attracting new followers and engaging existing ones. To engage your audience, you'll have to provide them with the best content you can find. Finding, categorizing, organizing, and delivering engaging content takes time. To do it efficiently, you'll need to adopt a process-and software tools-designed with curation in mind.

One tool you might consider is Curata. It's one of a new breed of efficiency tools aimed at helping solve the time crunch dilemma faced by many a social networking professional. The software provides you with a convenient place to search for interesting content, amend it with some commentary (or totally rewrite it) and queue it up for delivery to the social platforms of your choice in advance. It's a huge time saver.

Curata also allows you to set up a website dedicated to your niche topic and populate it with both your original content and with content you curate. Because all of the content you provide to site visitors is relevant and directly related to the topic, you'll gain tremendous SEO benefits.

No matter whether you decide to leverage software tools to help you become more efficient at content curation or you opt to do it manually, keep in mind these words of wisdom from content marketing guru, Joe Pulizzi: "Make sure both the content you produce and the content you curate is relevant to your audience. Make sure it is on topic and talks to their pain points. As long as it's relevant and of interest to your audience, you're social networking efforts will be successful."