After years of writing and content strategy work, I know all too well how keeping your site living and breathing with fresh content can grow burdensome (it’s one of the reasons I’m only just now getting back into the blogosphere). Around my house, we often say: “The content monster must be fed.” These days, with the popularity of content marketing, organizations are struggling to keep from being gobbled up by their content monsters. Curating content seems like a great solution.
Curated content is powerful.
Before I go much further, I want to be clear. I’m not against curated content. It is a very powerful way to reach your audience. Some of my favourite sites gather the best of the web in their subject area and feed me excellent information. I discover new ideas and new people to follow all the time. It’s a big reason I subscribe to blogs, Twitter and other social media, so I can keep up with what sources I respect are into.
It’s no silver bullet.
The problem is that there’s a disturbing trend in the way people are talking about content curation. While many of those who publicly advocate for its effectiveness talk about the strategy effort it takes to do it right, out in the wide world something sinister is happening.
I hear decision makers looking at content curation tools as a quick way to get around the real work of generating quality content. In-house writers and editors are being devalued because it seems easier and cheaper to get content elsewhere: “Let’s just sign up for a content curation tool and in a few clicks a day, there you go, more traffic to our site”
Hmmm… Something about this sounds very familiar to me. Over my years in the software industry, I’ve heard similar talk about software test automation (being married to one of the software testing world’s leading bloggers did help raise my awareness ). People often jump at test automation as a solution for gnarly testing tasks. Why pay expensive, skilled testers, when the technology can do it for us… Hmmm…
How to cop-out.
Why spend money hiring more writers? Why wait on the time it takes to edit and proof content? Why bother when the web is teeming with content to point to?
Because, the success of any content curation effort must rest on providing excellent, relevant content.
Remember why I follow certain sources? Because I respect them. This doesn’t mean I love every article they point my way, but I generally trust they will point me to relevant, interesting and accurate content. Relevant, interesting and accurate content takes work, whether it is curated or original writing.
So, while you may not need to hire as many writers, you may need to increase your editorial staff to select the right content. And, this must be more than just scanning a headline and seeing it as mostly relevant to the subject. Someone who understands your audience and your business strategy should carefully choose the content.
Reputation on the web is hard-won but quickly lost.
Other big no-nos.
While my beef today is with this trend towards curation cop-out, I see a few other things that concern me about some curation efforts out there:
- Valuing quantity over quality. One of the reasons I like the sources that I do is because they select the right content for me. I don’t care if I only have one or two posts or tweets a week. I care more that what they select fits my expectations. I’ve given up on some sources because not enough of their content met my needs.
- Content Bombardment. Twitter and other 140-character social media platforms are usually where this frustrates me the most. I realize that there is a delicate balance between getting content out to your followers and getting lost in the mélée of other tweets. But, work hard to find the balance between frequency and your users needs. There are some sources that I have promptly unfollowed because I felt inundated and unable to keep up. Think about your audience and what their lifestyles can tolerate. Carefully timing and strategic repetition will keep your followers watching you.
- Minimal attribution. A few sites I’ve noticed format the page so that curated content blends in with their own content. Bad examples of these sites even obscure or minimize the original authors’ names. If you’re going to curate, explain what you’re doing. You’re using other people’s content to fuel your search engine juice–at no cost–so the least you can do is plug them appropriately.
- Lack of compensation. For the most part, the currency of curation is to get paid in search engine juice and traffic to your site. Maybe I’m not aware of a system that gives real money kickbacks to original authors. It worries me that independent-minded people are out there writing, unpaid and on their own time, and then larger, profitable organizations will leverage this content to drive their own business.
Who’s left to write good content?
If everybody curates, who’s left to write good content? What will feed the content monster? Junk. Please, don’t short-change your content efforts by copping-out in your curation efforts. Both need thought and strategy. Both are worth investing in.
So, curate to your heart’s content, but please do it responsibly and respect the craft it takes to write good content. You still need talented writers and editors to create good content. And, take the time to consider your audience — it will help you become a respected source for like-minded people. With the volumes of content bombarding us every day on the web, well-written and properly-curated content can guide the right audience to your door. But, that takes time, skill and effort. Don’t cop-out. The investment is worth it.