By Neicole Crepeau, Contributing {grow} Columnist

Are you overlooking some of the most powerful influencers on the social web?  Let’s find out.

Traditionally, there has been a 1-9-90 rule when it come to creating and consuming content:

1-9-90 Rule as a Pyramid 

There’s a new element in this equation, though: Content Curators — people who make a practice of finding content relevant to their friends and followers, and then sharing links to that content.  I am making a distinction between a curator and an aggregator who pulls content from around the web, usually related to a specific topic, to display on websites generally to enhance search engine optimization.

Of course, we’re all curators to some extent, consuming content and, on occasion, sharing what we find interesting or entertaining. However, there is an elite subset of people who proactively seek out and share content. I know, because I’m one of them. I comb through blogs and articles on an almost daily basis, and share what I consider to be the best and most relevant mobile, social media, and online marketing news to my followers on Twitter.

ExactTarget calls these people “megaphones” and says:

“Megaphones want to connect, educate, and share resources and information online with others. These consumers clearly fall into the ‘influencer’ category—meaning they can impact a brand’s bottom line—but Megaphones represent an especially elite group that takes their online interactions very seriously.“

ExactTarget’s research shows that only 7% of online users are megaphones. It’s unclear where exactly these Curators are drawn from in the traditional triangle, but according to ExactTarget, 65% percent of them are creators. I expect the remainder span some part of the commenters.

Section of 1-9-90 pyramid cut out as content curators

Why are these folks important? Because they are influencers. There has been tremendous focus lately on defining, identifying, and connecting with social media “influencers.” It’s a natural pursuit for marketers trying to get their message out. I’ve yet to see a robust approach to this objective, but doesn’t it make sense that an elite group of people who loves to share great content would be natural and important influencers?

Let’s look at the dynamics that make content curators so powerful.  Based on some of ExactTarget’s social profiles, a brand might connect with individual consumers through several paths:

Ways to reach end-consumers

It may be difficult to connect through all the possible user-types, but one user “channel” stands out – the Curator or megaphone. Look at ExactTarget’s chart showing social consumption and social contribution (creating, commenting, sharing, and posting):ExactTarget Social Profiles graph with Megaphones highlighted

Graphic from ExactTarget (http://www.exacttarget.com/uploadedfiles/resources/SFF_SocialProfile_singles.pdf). Red circle added.

The Curators are the greatest consumers of content AND the greatest contributors—including sharing. That makes Curators a hub and the easiest users for marketers to reach. Curators, like me, are actively looking for information to share with others, and actively spreading the word. Content Curators are the best online friend a marketer could have!

This means there are significant changes ahead in the social media information ecosystems. Before there was search, there was a world of information available on the web, and a world of people who were interested in it.

Websites on one side and users on the other

The problem was that people couldn’t easily find the websites they wanted. Enter Google, which connected people with the websites (and businesses) they wanted, via keywords. Happily for Google, they were able to use the same method to let advertisers reach consumers with ads, piggybacking on the keywords to target specific types of users.

Website and Users connected by Google

Within social media, there is no well-established Search. That connection with websites is made through individuals, usually via shared content. What’s clear is that Content Curators are the equivalent of Google in the social world. Curators are the individuals doing the searching and sharing:

Websites and users connected by Content Curator

Of course, there are a lot of Curators, versus one Google. So, each Curator is the equivalent of a Google who is focused on specific keywords.

If the Curator is the new Google, we can expect businesses to optimize for the Curator just as they optimized for Search on the web. In this new world, Curators become a commodity and they have value that will be sought after. Marketers will seek curators in specific topic areas and with specific traits. Marketers will want to know:

  • The topics this person curates. Curators specialize.
  • The networks and communities he/she curates to. Curators who are plugged into niche communities and forums may be even more valuable.
  • The number of connections on those networks. The volume or following always counts.
  • The types of connections the curator has. What’s the quantity of different types of social users following this curator: gamers, social butterflies, shoppers, deal seekers?
  • Reshare value. How many of this curator’s followers reshare the content, and how wide a net do they cast?
  • The click-through-rate for this curator’s content. How often do people open the items this curator shares?
  • The conversion rate resulting from this curator’s content. How often does a recommendation from this person generate sales? How often does a click through on a piece of content from this curator result in a sale?

That’s right. I said marketers will want to know CTRs and conversion rates for Curators, similar to the data they want on ads and publishers.

As this kind of information becomes more readily available through tools, the question is what happens when marketers seek and court Curators? Do Curators find a way to monetize their services, as Google did? Would that lessen thier impact? How do Curators change what they do as they become a valuable and sought-after resource? What kind of markets, businesses, and products revolve around the new commodity of Curators?

This is a new view of influence on the social web — what do you think? Make sense?

Neicole Crepeau is a partner in Coherent Interactive, which specializes in web, mobile, and social media design and implementation for small and mid-size businesses.  You can read more of her original material at her blog, Coherent Social Media or on Twitter where she is @neicolec.

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