A flip side of the social media revolution is that now anyone can be a publisher. This means that you need to compete with all kinds of bloggers, online media, Twitter and other social network chatter to get your content and postings noticed. It also means you need to understand how to curate content like a professional content marketer.
It is a harsh reality, one that puts pressure on social marketing teams to be on top of their games. Content curation can help. it is the practice of using OPC (other people’s content) to generate a steady stream of high content quality, relevant materials. Curation typically employs a mix of tech, process and skills, and should be an important part of any social marketer’s arsenal.
When I wrote about this last year, I offered some basic tips and examples. Since then, the online din has only grown – as has the practice of content curation. I thought it might be a good time to revisit the topic, with a focus on how the “big boys” do it, meaning professional news sites. Perhaps corporate social media marketers can learn a thing or two in the process, and stealing a page from the pro’s playbooks can help us to up our games.
Turning the Web Din into a Vibrant Content Marketplace
Not long ago an article in Business Insider caught my attention: How to Create a Fast Growing Media Company. It was about Upworthy, a site that is about “serious news for a spreadable age,” as the NY Times said. Several things jumped out.
The first was its success – Upworthy was barely six months old when the article ran, yet, according to the BI story, it was the fastest growing media company in the world. The Times said that the site was off to a faster start than Huffington Post.
I dug deeper and was amazed to learn that Upworthy produces little original content; their team excels at trend spotting, publishing and promoting rising stories. It occurred to me that they are great content curators, and begged the question: what can corporate content and social media marketing teams learn from Upworthy and other top curators?
You can Try this at Home
Before we jump in, a few words of caution are in order. The pros are, after all pros – some have wads of cash from VCs, industrial strength tech, and many are run by professional writers and editors. Further, their curation goals may be different than those of corporate marketing teams.
Also, it is worth noting that the practice of exploiting third party content can be controversial, even unethical (but isn’t, if it is done in the right way). I covered this in my post about overcoming content curation challenges.
Having said that, the sites below have all been tremendously successful in leveraging third party content, optimizing it, adding value, and building audience. They range from the famous to the obscure. There are some common threads, yet each has a different formula.
Upworthy – the Do-good Headliner
Upworthy has a knack for identifying content about important topics and optimizing it, helping the stories along to viral success. Their editors scour Facebook and Twitter, looking for the right topic at the right time. It is not about being first; they generally ignore breaking news and general news and websites, according to Business Insider.
What the Upworthy team is good at is making weighty topics fun, interesting, and sharable via creative headlines and cute images. Here is a summary of relevant tips from the Business Insider article.
1) The team is obsessive about headlines – they come up with a list of 25 for each story, before whittling the list down to the top 4, and making the final selection.
2) A spoonful of headline sugar helps the content go down – as an example of one of their most shared stories, they slapped this headline on a story about media consolidation: The Real Reason They Still Play ‘Mrs. Robinson’ On the Radio.
3) Upworthy test markets various headlines to its social media followers, keeping a careful watch over numbers like clicks-per-share, and shares-per-view.
Huffington Post – The Content Commentator
Huffington Post is the famous AOL-owned site run by Arianna Huffington, the so-called Queen of Aggregation. It is a huge enterprise, with some 1500 journalists and a network of 9,000 bloggers, according to a story in Content Gems. Alexa ranks it in the top 100 of all websites.
The Content Gems article attributes the site’s success to a three-legged stool that includes created, contributed and collected content. The LingoSpot blog offered these takeaways:
1) It stands for something – the site was launched as a left-leaning answer to Drudge Report (see my story What Marketers and Social Media Teams can learn from the Drudge Report).
2) Relies on pros and amateur contributors
3) Carefully selects content from reputable outlets, ones that are in synch with their audience
BuzzFeed – the Viral Engineers
It combines computer smarts with human aggregation, and uses custom technology to identify the hot topics and publish in a way that promotes sharing on social networks. Their team has a knack for figuring out what people might want to share – and which stories merit placement on the coveted home page.
Like HuffPo, BuzzFeed also employs professional journalists and relies on their own three pillars: community, algorithms and editors.
AlwaysOn had a good article about the site, and listed attributes that go along with curating sharable content. Here are some of their tips:
1) Keep it short and authentic
2) Produce “rough cut” content that is authentic
3) Create something people can engage with, offer the ability to react
4) Use lists and images
5) Headline should be compelling, a call to action, or a list
Brain Pickings – Quirky Web Librarian
Brain Pickings proves that you don’t have to have a huge team or tech war chest to run a successful curation site. Maria Popova is “the unlikely founder of the exploding online emporium of ideas,” according to the NY Times. Her site is the cornerstone of a mini-social media empire; her blog gets 100K visitors a month, her newsletter has 150K subscribers, and she has 326K Twitter followers.
According to the article: “What Maria has is the DNA of millions of people… She somehow tunes in to what would make other people dream, or inspire them in a way that is quite unique.”
Brain Pickings employs a very visual style – it uses illustrations, nice photos and catchy graphics alongside its articles. While it is a one persons operation, Maria does rely on a network of friends to alert her to interesting stories.
TechMeme – The Geek Curators
TechMeme is an enormously popular tech news aggregation site that is especially interesting to me, because I work in the tech field. Also, it employs tech, i.e. algorithms to spot rising tech stories. Unlike some of the other sites, TechMeme leaves original headlines intact; however the editors sometimes favor stories with better headlines that cover the same news or topic.
The Content Strategist had an excellent article about the site: The Art and Science of How TechMeme Curates News. It described how the team relies on algorithms to identify the hot topics and applies editorial decisions when deciding priority of content placement on the site.
Conclusion on How to Curate Content
Even with the above examples and takeaways, you might not find that it is easy to curate content like a pro. Much of what these sites are doing is the basics (e.g., minding the headline, ensuring relevancy, using visual content), but they do it exceptionally well.
Also, curation techniques can involve a secret sauce, in terms of a formula, or tech, which the sites hold close to the vest. A lot of this gets down to an instinct for good content, which is hard to imitate.
But there is no reason you can’t develop your own secret sauce or cultivate an instinct for great, sharable content. I urge you to read the linked articles, visit and study these sites, and commit to becoming a student of the art and tech of content curation.
Are there any other sites that have provided good inspiration for how to curate content?