Five big problems with content curation

problems with content curation

I recently attended a conference where a major financial institution proudly displayed its new automated content curation system.  Basically, their answer to the content marketing dilemma every company is facing is to use an outside company to skim off the best financial-services content around the web and present it on their site as a value-added customer service.

On the surface, this seems like a very elegant solution. I mean, why spend the time and money to create original content when you can curate unlimited content from the web and present it as your own customer portal?  An intoxicating idea.

This is a popular trend but it is also problematic because it flies in the face of other marketing considerations …

1) Why should I trust you with my news? 

If I really am interested in this subject matter, there are thousands of other places I can get the same thing. The fact that this company is curating the content makes me inherently distrustful that it is going to be complete and unbiased information.

2) Whose problem are you solving?

Why is this company uniquely qualified to curate this content?  They’re not. In fact they are out-sourcing the task to an algorithm. They don’t bring any special  value to the task so they’re not really solving MY content needs. They’re solving THEIR need to put something out there and check the content marketing box or maybe enhance their SEO status, but are they addressing a customer need?

3)  One size does not fit all

The company serves consumers, retail institutions and other banks. Those are threes distinct customer segments with wildly different content needs. Yet there is only one news feed. How is one content stream going to address the information needs of all three market segments in a meaningful way?

4) It’s all about customization

Taking it down to an individual level, one of the big mega-trends is customization.  We want it our way. Even the idea that something CAN be customized is more appealing than one product that is supposed to be for everybody.  I want to tweak and filter my personal news stream, not just accept what somebody else thinks is important.

5) Human or machine?

This company was turning over its content marketing to a company who had developed a software program to curate the content. At that point, content is not king, it is a commodity.  There is no value-add. Further, trusting your consumer messaging to a machine is probably a problem waiting to happen.

While these observations came to mind in my conversation with the banking executive, these concerns are probably relevant for anybody considering a content curation strategy.

Now, there are certainly very legitimate uses for content curation when it is coming from a true trusted authority and its really helping customers navigate through an overwhelming amount of information.

But before jumping on the content curation bandwagon, take a step back and look at what you are really trying to accomplish. What are the possible risks versus benefits of creating (and controlling) what is showing up in your company’s content stream?

What are your thoughts on the plusses and minuses of content curation?

Image: Gushing fire hydrant by Joseph Robertson

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  • I feel like I can always tell when I land on a site that is doing the automated curation thing. And it always makes me feel like the character in Coma who walks into the giant room of patients….there’s really no-one there, and it’s pretty creepy.

  • I didn’t jump on the curation bandwagon. I don’t think I’ll ever have a scoop.it page, and the thought of taking the time to post content that isn’t original on my blog takes all the fun out of doing it, and takes all the value out of the product.

    Thanks for the post.

  • Ouch. Painful analogy Rosemary but I like it!

  • Thanks for the perspective Adam.

  • If you’re going to curate, don’t automate it. To me, true content curation is taking content and adding your value to that content, manually.

    Provide your perspective based on your experience, your opinion based on the fact you disagree or agree with the piece of content etc…

    There are a number of ways to add value to a piece of curated content… but in my opinion, if you’re automating the process… then a robot is doing the curation… not you. And people visit a site to see and get to know you or your company, not a robot.

  • This is not curation. This is aggregation. Only a human can curate.

  • Hi Mark. I agree with your list in fact, the topic could be widened to include any business decision that seeks solutions that seem to scale fast but require little to no investment into a human.

    We seem to be in an era where businesses believe products can get a business from A to Z through mechanical ways that are “safer” than an ooey-gooey human who requires more maintenance and direction and who are not controlled by If__ Then__ code.

    Like you always say, it’s not B2B, or Machine to Machine, it’s P2P.

  • I agree that companies need to decide what they’re doing with curation. It’s good to have a skeptic’s view. Without disagreeing with your 5, here is my 25¢.

    Plusses: (when done right)

    1. it focuses the company on how its brand is regarded.

    2. It focuses the company on its competitors and the marketplace

    3. It puts the company “out there” and establishes itself as a player in the market (including addressing SEO)

    4. It allows the company to know who the opinion-makers are.

    5. It establishes credibility (you say it reduces credibility for you, but frankly, that’s a result of curation done poorly, rather than the endeavor itself.)

    See my blog piece “4 Do’s and 4 Don’ts in Content Curation” at http://www.darwineco.com/blog/bid/83561/4-Do-s-and-4-Don-ts-in-Content-Curation

  • I think you are really articulating a best practice here Joseph. Thanks.

  • Nice distinction. Thanks Donna!

  • P2P … giving you a virtual high-five!!!

  • Thanks for the alternative viewpoint Nicholas.

  • As Donna says, this effort doesn’t qualify as curation. It’s an automated feed. Curation is done by a human curator. Robin Good published a checklist of what a content curator does and I summarised it in a blog post here (it’s about half way down the post)
    http://community.paper.li/2012/03/07/why-a-content-curator-is-not-an-editor/
    Curation done as Robin describes here can be very valuable imho.

  • I view this topic from the perspective of the financial services company. I suppose their decision-makers are “thrilled” with where they are. Why? Because until recently they could not participate in social media because of industry or firm regulations. It is like a baby giraffe taking its first steps. Clumsiness and stumbling will give way to graceful strides in time if they keep striving to “connect” with people in a meaningful way. For example an article on the financial challenges of raising special needs children may offer great advice. However, unless I really know my client and direct it to them proactively it is an opportunity missed, Therefore, I agree with Mark’s list. Those 5 questions should be the filter to adapt their current platform to their delivered product.

  • Amen to that, Donna.

  • Spot on, Joseph.

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  • Host of interesting issues today, Mark!

    First, we are flooded with content everyday. I am considering subdividing my Google Reader because I have trouble getting through it. I think there is real value in trusted curation.

    After a knee-jerk Luddite reaction, I can see that curation might well be an activity that could be performed by a well-constructed algorithm. The company is probably buying an off-the-shelf piece of crap from their consultants, but if they were in fact to carefully construct an expert program with the help of someone knowledgeable in the field it could be good.

    So I think the company will be disappointed but believe that the potential is there for someone who does it right.

    Thanks for making us think again!

    – Gary

  • Think of curation as one of the few opportunities you have to actually pull away from the pack. Some amongst the “Content Marketing” cadre shudder at the thought of actually putting this kind of effort into their activities. I can easily share content, via Twitter, etc, and in fact most decent information is just passed along, ad nauseam. We are awash in content. And this mind numbing ocean is of our own making, marketers. The other cool thing about actually providing a unique perspective to whatever you have assembled, is that it tends to get others to respond. And that is a fine start.

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  • Thanks Marty and Mark…

    I try to think of curation in the sense of museum curation:

    A fossil of a Tyrannosaurus Rex by itself is cool… but a museum takes that same fossil and puts it in a scene with other dinosaurs or on display to add value to that fossil and for the people who visit the museum.

    That same museum doesn’t just add fossils in some boring line.

    So do that with your curating… be a museum. 🙂

  • There’s just no authenticity in an automated aggregation process. I agree with your point that the company is just solving their own problem and not their audience’s. Aggregating content through an automated system means you are just throwing out content without truly knowing if it makes sense for your costumers.

    Could be nice to tweak the system and have it where the content is automated but needs to be approved by the user before being pushed out to the website. At least that way, the brand still has some control on what they are presenting to their audience.

  • Seems to me Mark your “Five big problems with content curation” are very similar to my passion for self-directed learning — the need for educational curricula to address students’ interest in learning the subject/s presented.

    Your thoughts are welcome 😉

  • Well said Liz. many thanks.

  • That is a very interesting perspective Jeff. It might be a baby step in the right direction. And yes, they were thrilled with it as if they had just had a successful moon landing or something : ) Thanks for adding your expert perspective on this!

  • Good point. Especially if they split the streams to be more targeted at their different market segments. Could have potential.

  • Really smart comment Marty. Thanks for contributing today!

  • Here’s a different take on it — what if the company said (internally of course) “we know this is a piece of crap but we don’t care. The SEO benefits will more than pay for the system and this will allow us to catch up.” A possible scenario?

  • Very interesting analogy. I like how you connected the dots here. Serving individual needs will create the greatest long-term benefits i think.

  • Thank you Mark… I totally agree with you! Plan on sharing a blog on ‘Self-directed learning with social media’ next Wednesday.

  • Mark,

    This seriously sets me off as a small business professional in the financial services world (insurance).

    Every event I attend people are talking about services that perform this function and well intentioned business owners that understand the value of content but are too scared to create it on their own pay money for this service.

    This is a form of SCAM to me. Because the content is NOT doing what content should do.

    Love that you tackled this topic… Huge… Huge problem.

    Thanks,

    Ryan H>

  • Ross Quintana

    You bring up good points, but I also think there is another side. Sites like Huffington Post have done quite well with the content curation model. I also think people aren’t checking the resume of every post. If they like the mix that a person or company is giving them it will build value.

    Google results aren’t scrutinized with a blame for Google, they are sifted through for what is of value to the user. My point is you don’t have to hand-make every post for your subscribers to still value your feed. On the other hand over automation can diminish your value. I like a combination so you can do more but still be engaging.

  • I totally agree Mark. I personally know of a “content curator” company that pushes the same content out for all their clients, sometimes in the same market. It’s disingenuous and totally misses the point. Why push content that has no real connection to the business’ core values or offerings. Very frustrating to deal with when the CEO thinks this now has him “covered” in social media.

  • Absolutely! There is a real difference between curation and aggregation. Curation requires a LOT of work. It’s not an automatic process. Actually, it requires some specific skills that not many marketers have.

  • radiojaja

    Thanks Mark, i recently posted about the same thing, and like you, got loads of reaction. Its great to get more information and other peoples thoughts on this topic.
    I suspect, like many other things, the answer to this one is somewhere in between the two poles. Done well, it can have clear benefits to your brand (with the various caveats) and done badly, it will no doubt damage.
    The only thing I would add is that its important to challenge our perceptions of these things. Too easy to get sniffy and then miss the boat in my experience!

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  • That would be very shortsighted indeed. If you do it just for SEO it will not work indefinitely (I even doubt it works right now). Google has always said so and the recent updates prove the point.

    I feel Anand is right, though. What’s missing in this case is the curation. Put a human editor on the stream, add meaningful commentary and categorize the output and you have curation.

    I think it makes perfect sense to automate the collection of information and let a smart filter help with the crap detection.

  • Thanks for adding your voice from the trenches Ryan. Much appreciated

  • Thanks very much for the dissenting view Ross. You bring up some very legitimate points.

  • Wow. I am seeing the same thing. Companies seem so desperate to do SOMETHING that this seems like a quick fix. Great comment Alys. Thanks!

  • Excellent addition to the conversation Tony. Thanks!

  • Morgan Sheehan

    You make valid points however automated aggregation of content is not really curation. A skilled curator can add value by bringing their expertise or perspective to the conversation. In the financial sector where many consumers of information have almost limitless supply there really is no way to filter the absolute torrent and make it meaningful. Over the past decade the volume has increased exponentially to the point where many are simply overwhelmed.

    In my view there is room for a well thought out solution that tackles the tidal wave of information from the professional consumers point of view while also providing customisation and flexibility in how and where it is consumed.

  • From what I see, content curation is mainly a syndication ploy. Before the novelty wore off, I used to click on lots of these automated newspapers, and I could never differentiate one from another. The approach made no branding impact on me whatsoever. My idea of true content curation is to take a topic that gets tons of attention, study the topic carefully, separate the wheat from the chaff and point to the wheat with insightful commentary. For instance I would love to have one place to go for reliable information and insights on Pinterest, because now half of what I read contradicts the other half.

  • Until the day comes when we can no longer believe the bog post above was written by human ( AI passes the blogger Turing Test ) we will enjoy fresh content and perspectives like those above.

    After that day, when we can no longer distinguish, there will be also be no purpose in providing content, because if will not be clear if site visitors are real or not ! We will instead have to provide what clients are looking for and know which of the “readership” are really consumers and which regurgitators.

    The resultant “denial of service” from within must ultimately warrant a “walled garden” within which humans can interact without machine assisted intervention and who are veritably human (signs of this are already out there if you ever typed something you struggled to read).

    BTW when pattern recognition technology matches human eyesight – it will be chaos (but that’s just another Turing type test) !

    One solution is known in English as “The Pub” or IRL and it will continue to be a place where real business (rather than a transaction) is done.

  • Personally, I started curating content on a specific topic (Digital Arabia) to serve as a personal archive. However, I decide to share it because it might of interest to some people. I curated a a select number of articles that I found interesting and provide a brief commentary on each one. I found it to be a useful personal exercise and I think it brought some value to others who were trying to keep up with this topic. I definitely agree with @twitter-840561:disqus @cendrinemedia:disqus @twitter-16221123:disqus about the distinction between curation and aggregation

  • Personally, I started curating content on a specific topic (Digital Arabia) to serve as a personal archive. However, I decide to share it because it might of interest to some people. I curated a a select number of articles that I found interesting and provide a brief commentary on each one. I found it to be a useful personal exercise and I think it brought some value to others who were trying to keep up with this topic. I definitely agree with @twitter-840561:disqus @cendrinemedia:disqus @twitter-16221123:disqus about the distinction between curation and aggregation

  • Personally, I started curating content on a specific topic (Digital Arabia) to serve as a personal archive. However, I decide to share it because it might of interest to some people. I curated a a select number of articles that I found interesting and provide a brief commentary on each one. I found it to be a useful personal exercise and I think it brought some value to others who were trying to keep up with this topic. I definitely agree with @twitter-840561:disqus @cendrinemedia:disqus @twitter-16221123:disqus about the distinction between curation and aggregation

  • sorry for the multiple posts – I had some problems with disqus

  • Ross Quintana

    I have always enjoyed being the dissenter :] but more enjoy analysis and logic. I think like social science and economics it is very complex. The flow of the internet is so vast that I also think it applies a bit differently with small social groups and individual vs. larger groups and companies. Commercial and personal content may also alter it.

    In the end as Alys eluded to, it comes down more to the value of the content to the end user more than the form of distribution. This is why people subscribe to automated feeds as well so mass untargeted generic automation will fail.

  • I’m glad you feel comfortable debating here. I love it too! I’m fortunate that you are part of the community.

  • Great perspective Daniel, Thanks!

  • I agree with the distinction but also think the moment you do something to the data beyond collecting it, you are curating. This company had a systemt that was filtering and categorizing, albeit through a computer. So that would indeed be curating, right? Does curating have to be human? Thanks for the thought-provoking comment Morgan!

  • Well said. Like that perspective very much Brad.

  • Really interesting James. We are certainly heading into a new world of ethical considerations and crossed lines when machines start writing the content. When will see the first blog post with this disclosure: This content of this post was assisted by a software program.

  • Excellent example. I think that is a very useful and powerful way to do it right. Thanks so much Abdallah!

  • Hmm – Mark you now have me pondering .

    At this level much of our work, already crosses those boundaries. We produce “expert reports” at very low cost, where much of the input is data-mined, visualized and commentated by software.
    This has, I believe, huge social value. As I can pass my expertise on to thousands of buildings per night.
    We are big on disclosure and integrity – I wonder should I flag our reports “assisted by a software program” – I will have to think.
    In our case I am not sure it matters, people want answers not debate (they have my blog if they wish for that). But in social settings it does seem to be more of a betrayal of trust.
    – Interested to hear your thoughts.

  • Definitely agree. Most aggregators and auto-curators produce nothing of value to me. In contrast, for example, Francisco’s blog at iblogzone.com produces a weekly, hand-curated post that I actually subscribe to by email because I don’t want to miss it.

  • I think there is a a subtle difference in what you are saying and the idea of computer created content (which is certainly on the horizon). Technically, if I use spell-check, it is computer-assisted content. But what is more fascinating is when a blogger will be to outsource content creation under his/her guidance to create entire posts. What an interesting time we live in!

  • Hey Kim! Sure honored to have you comment. Thanks for the link!

  • I read more posts than I miss on this blog. We (Andy Bailey, Dino Dogan, Daniel Lewis and others) were on a livestream Hangout yesterday (recording on my blog) and discussing this topic, and your post. I mentioned that curation can bring a lot of value when it has the human touch. Most of the time though, it’s automated. Paper.li for example requires little human involvement and not even a desire for reciprocity let alone consistent reading.

  • Hi Mark, great topic and discussion. True content curation adds value through human judgment, editing and commentary and then shares it. If properly cited it serves many readers well. Most important, from trusted sources, it can be a superb search engine filtered by fans and experts. Do a search for your favorite topic on Google, wade through the spam, localization, marketing and irrelevance and find some good results after 20-30 minutes of searching. Do the same search on Scoop.it or other similar curation tools. The results in five minutes will convince you. Thanks for a lively discussion.

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  • Fision Online

    We’ve had success with C.C., but it is frustrating having to bend and breaking to your curators site. Yes the content drives people to our website and might lead to leads, but is it worth the $50 a month?

  • Fision Online

    *Break

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  • The reality is that software will never be able to curate anything without a human process behind it. Anything else is purely aggregation. Content curation is a valuable part of the marketing mix, especially on brand blogs. My business partner and I have been thinking about this for a while, in hopes of avoiding the trap of putting content curation in a silo, similar to what many marketers are doing with social media.

    The reality is that there are only three types of content: created, contributed, and curated. CREATED content is rich in originality and insights, but is also very time consuming to create. Similarly, CONTRIBUTED content, written or originated by guest writers/bloggers for your brand, is great for adding to your thought leadership and collaboration in your industry, but it is time consuming to both create and manage.
    CURATED content, however, has the potential to provide quality and quantity, since we are adding our insight to existing content. Curation also gives our implicit stamp of importance, merely because we choose to share it out rather than delete/discard it. http://www.cherrypickapp.com

  • We are big fans of storify but the problem with apps like scoop.it and storify is that they focus on bringing people to their hosted pages. If you were to reverse that way of thinking and push that content back to your homebase aka corporate site/blog/etc then you might be more interested. Being able to create more dynamic and relevant content for your audience through curation back to your site is the best opportunity…

  • inventikasolutions

    There are few blogs who do an amazing work of curating the best amongst all the news going round. There are too many blogs going around. Curators who are experts in that field, prune the best and thus same my time.

  • Curation or content marketing are very broad “ideas” and “tools” not answers and solutions. How they are deployed by folks concerned with their audience and brand is what will determine value. We have a bit of unique view at Scribit where curation and content marketing are the foundation of what we do every day.

    Gregg Freishtat
    CEO, Scribit.com

  • Mike Jones

    could be nice to tweak the system and have It where the content is
    automated but needs to be approved by the user before being pushed out
    to the website. At least that way, the brand still has some control on
    what they are presenting to their audience.

  • I want less, not more, info. I ignore most of what comes my way. Sounds more like an SEO ploy than anything of value. Just because a company wants to “talk” at me doesn’t mean I want to “listen.”

  • Great advice Jeff. I’ll try that idea! Thanks for adding your wisdom to the discussion!

  • Thanks and good luck with your venture.

  • Thanks for commenting.

  • A thinly-veiled advertisement. Well played sir! : )

  • A good hybrid solution. Thanks Mike.

  • A valuable lesson and companies should listen to that advice! Thanks Diana.

  • yes it is a stealing not curation

  • Mark Tilly

    I think there are some uses for automation in content curation. Specifically, think of using a spam filter to weed out all of the off-topic and junk articles in you alerts and feeds. A program like MyCurator, a WordPress plugin, does this, allowing you to focus on adding your insights and comments to the content.

  • susanyoung

    Humans are needed to curate because we feel emotions and connect with content and the targeted demographics that we want to reach. Software is missing that “little” component. Amen, Donna—-spot on!

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  • yoavburger

    Hi Mark, I enjoyed your blog and am including it in ‘Best of the Web’ http://j3webmarketing.com/best-web. I have my own spin on content curation – my own blog has only 14 posts so I decided to catalog and share other people’s great content, such as this blog. Thanks Mark, for a great read.

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  • First let me say there are so many excellent comments on this post. As the founder of a company being built on curation, I can honestly say I know how much work true content curators do. Right now the major trend is to push information, but this will end. There will come a day soon when people will want to have more conversations about relevant information and the human curator will be the one who initiates these conversations by perfecting their craft and bringing special context and insight to the table.

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  • loubelou

    ah well..financial institutions – we all know how well they are in touch with human emotions and where that got us…I guess a bunch of bean counters and nerds got in a room together and thought this is great we can use a machine instead of a human and it will cost less.

  • Giovanni Arévalo Solarte

    Hi Mark, thanks for sharing all those remarkable advices, Is certainly true that a machine will never think like a human, hence it will never understand our hobbies or passions. Is only our brain who knows better than us what we like.

    On my research on content curation I conclude that the best way to achieve an accurate data proposition by an algorithm is when the algorithm is personalized and when the human has the full control of it.

    Sorry for my English and greetings from France
    Giovanni Arévalo
    http://www.noosfeer.com

  • Thank you for the comment sir.

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