If curating content is easy, you’re doing it wrong: 5 tips for effective content curation

I’m just going to come out and say it upfront: good (read: effective) content curating ain’t easy. All the tweets and posts and tools out there telling you that curating content is going to make you rich and famous and set your Klout score (should you actually care) rocketing from 14 to 85 overnight are full of horse apples.

The general sentiment of many tweets and posts and curate-o-magic tools out there is that you can quickly copy and paste a little schtuff from here and there, post it to your blog, queue it all up in hootsuite or tweetdeck or whatevs, and that’s it – you’re a thought leader.

Ummmmm, no. There are content spammers, and there are content curators. Learn the difference – and five simple tips to keep you among the effective content curators.

 You don’t go to a museum to look at crap (unless it’s a crap museum)

Curating as a profession is most often associated with museums. I love the Wikipedia entry for curator because it calls out one of the most important responsibilities of the role in the opening paragraph:

Traditionally, a curator or keeper of a cultural heritage institution (e.g., gallery, museum, library or archive) is a content specialist responsible for an institution’s collections and involved with the interpretation of heritage material.

Emphasis added on interpretation to make a point: just linking to something without any semblance of thought, or an attempt to make a cohesive point, or adding your own commentary or expanding on is, isn’t curating. It’s content spamming, particularly when done en masse. Let’s take a look at 5 easy-to-understand ways to make your curated content stand apart and keep your followers coming back for more.

5 tips for effective content curation


Better content curating tip #1 – Stop playing the volume game.

I could honestly give a two day old turkey dog how many times my favorite bloggers or tweeters post something. A trillion feeds and handles and tools compete for every iota of my attention at all times, and you won’t get my (positive) attention – the kind that yields results in marketing – by stringing together a bunch of links all day every day and calling it macaroni.

Always put quality first – the high frequency, high quality channels you engage with are probably able to be great on both counts because they have more than one person curating and creating full time. If you aren’t a media mogul with a dedicated staff, don’t worry – pace yourself. I care much more about reading something great (helpful, with utility) than I do about just reading something.

Better content curating tip #2 – You need an opinion

I would never date an opinion-less person. You know the type – boring, agrees with everything, adapts their opinions to those around them. I want your content to take a side, to open my eyes to something, to be sexy AND smart. If you are curating content from a wide variety of other experts and sources, inject your own color commentary. Agree and extend on content that represents your own thinking, and challenge content that could be taken further. There are countless channels I can tune into online and off that simply deliver what is happening as pass-throughs. What value can you add?

Better content curating tip #3 – Dig far and wide

As a consumer of information, you already have more content coming your way in a day than you can even begin to process.  I can’t tell you how many Twitter posts I see in a day that are just RT’s of the same article 10 other people I am following have RT’d. I’m not saying don’t retweet good material to your audience, that’s not the case at all . What I AM suggesting is that you stand out when you offer something different.

Look for unique perspectives. Scour for sources that aren’t just the same opinions from the top publication in your industry. I LOVE articles that pull together multiple viewpoints from a handful of experts. Highly effective curated content is more than jjust retweeting – it’s about also creating new articles that pull together content from a variety of sources. The ensuing article may often be better than the originals, because it brings a breadth and depth to the topic that a single article might not have. An example of this is my recent blog post on how creatives can better manage negative feedback – and how stakeholders can better provide it. I scoured some of my favorite blogs, and a few lesser known ones, and pulled together a bunch of really great tips into a single place and added my own insights. It’s performed really well for me.

Better content curating tip #4 – It pays to cite your sources.

When you use content from someone else, it’s really important that you give credit where it is due, for two reasons. 1.) They deserve it. You are using their thoughts – don’t take credit for something that isn’t yours and 2.) Giving people credit will absolutely drive more traffic to your site in the long run. Read this article from Hotblogtips about linkbacks and trackbacks if you aren’t already familiar with how they work. In short, when you post a link within your blog to a blog post on another site, there are means by which they get automatically notified. If they pay attention and visit your site, they may end up deciding to promote your post to their followers or respond to your blog, driving further attention your way.

I take this a step further and tweet my followers about my new post (and tag the authors of the content I curated). This has yielded quite a few RT’s from the authors to their followers as well.

Better content curating tip #5 – Treat curating like you are creating original art.

You can make an argument that This American Life, the nationally syndicated radio program hosted by Ira Glass, is a vehicle for curated content. The pitch is probably familiar to many long-time listeners: Each week, they pick a topic, and then bring us stories gathered from around the country (world) on that topic.  They insert commentary and narrative. But most importantly, each episode is typically worth more together than each story within it would be if taken alone. It’s actually the synergy and contrast between the angles and perspectives – the entire story arch across the vehicle (This American Life) itself, both within a single episode and across the series from start to present day, that makes it what it is.

To me, that’s the holy grail of curating content.  If two different people curate and distribute the same content (which happens every day times thousands), what makes the experience of your followers more valuable? The answer doesn’t have to lie in a single piece of content, but it must lie in the story arch of the greater body of work, and the more you treat each item you curate as a diamond in the rough that needs some extra cutting and polishing to be ready for your audience, the better your content will perform and the more loyalty you will drive in your followers.

25 Responses to If curating content is easy, you’re doing it wrong: 5 tips for effective content curation
  1. Greg Bardwell Reply

    Some great one liners. Not sure why you would give a horse crap — I like horses and apples and would only give one a non-crap apple ;-).

    I totally have to agree with your sentiments. I may in fact steal concept of “content curators vs. content spammers” and make it a blog post of my own.

    I curate on my blog [ b2bcontentengine.com/blog/ ] one or times a day and my comments are usually as long as the curated snippet – sometimes longer. The goal of course is both SEO and thought leadership. I also try to give the author and site some extra credit and am surprised on how hard it is to find or determine who the author actually is.

    Oh and I’ll probably curate this post ;-). Thanks.

    Does anyone really care about Klout score? Maybe I spend to much time in the B2B space?


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  4. Tom Parish Reply

    Excellent points Joshua. I hope more people read this and back away some from the giant echo chamber in the sky. I suppose in many ways we’ve just made it too easy to find and repost content and your suggestions are spot on from my perspective. Think of it as art. Less can be more.

  5. Mark Tilly Reply

    I’ve found that your point #3, searching far and wide, is key. Getting away from what everyone is re-tweeting and finding the many creative and excellent writers out there can be inspirational. It has helped me realize how important it is to focus on quality and insight when I curate. I’ll be curating this for my clients. And even though we make a content curation tool [MyCurator WordPress Plugin at http://www.target-info.com/mycurator I’ve focused more on helping you discover content with a tool that weeds out ‘off-target’ articles like a spam filter rather than just posting quantity.

  6. Meagan Dahl (@hiuhime) Reply

    Great points, I’ll add that content curation is about telling the larger story by allowing your insights be supported (and hopefully back-linked) to other legitimate thought leaders. I am personally fascinated by the way the networked, internet space has changed how we view authorship. Instead of resisting the “death of the author” we are shifting to a collective authorship, and content curation is part of that shift. As both content producers and consumers, we have a responsibility to not only do our due diligence with proper citation, but also be thoughtful in our the larger story we tell our audience…they’re the hero, not the link.

  7. Paul Chaney Reply

    Joshua, it seems to me that what you’re referring to is blogging is it not? I mean, do I have to express an opinion on everything I share? If so, how is curation different than me creating a blog post that references and links to other sources, but which expresses my own ideas? It seems to me that is less “curation” and more “creation.” Or, is the balance different? Do I have the fulcrum in the wrong place?

    • Joshua Merritt Reply

      Hey Paul, thanks for writing. No, you certainly don’t have to express an opinion on everything you share, I certainly don’t. I’m mostly pointing out that with so many people passing content through to their audiences, and so much overlap in audiences, the differentiation between content sources is narrowing. I can’t tell you how many times a day I see the same content in my Twitter feed just passed through by various handles. So what gets my attention is when people go an additional step – instead of just RT’ing one article about how to build followers, for example, they compile the best advice from multiple articles and effectively turn a bunch of existing work into something greater (the sum of the parts.)

      My fear is that people will mistake curation and aggregation. Anyone can put a bot in place to automatically push any and all articles on a topic out to their audiences. On the light end of the curation front, it isn’t all that difficult (or beneficial to readers) to do something similar manually – scour the news and RT anything and everything that seems slightly pertinent. VERY CAREFULLY and DISCRIMINATELY selecting content is the minimum requirement to be considered curation to me. On the heavier lift end of the spectrum is actually creating new articles from a variety of sources. A combination of both approaches strikes a great balance.

      Very thankful for the discussion – it helps me iron out these ideas even further as I work with my team on these very concepts.

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  9. Srish Agrawal Reply

    Content Curation Marketing is the IN-THING today.

    Very Nice Tips!

    Personally I feel the key is “Treat curating like you are creating original art”. If you just copy and paste, you loose the effect you are trying to achieve.

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  12. Davina K. Brewer Reply

    I so totally agree w/ this.. glad my random search for a tool to help me turn curation into newsletter brought me to this post.

    All of these are spot-on, I gotta shout out #1 and #4. One thing I’ve noticed about the power tweeting set – at least some – they do pump out a lot of content, content, content and not coincidentally, it’s almost never attributed. That’s not curation, it’s a feed. FWIW.

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