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June 5th, 2012

It’s Not Curation; It’s Storytelling

If you want to get into the social media equivalent of a bar fight (and who doesn’t, they’re a hoot) there’s no better way to do so than to bring the conversation around to “curation.” Choire Sicha’s recent post on the topic is a great one that’s well worth reading, especially if you stick with the bar fight metaphor and read it with a “your mama” type of voice in your head.

Let’s be clear, for the sake of argument, about some definitions here. I’m not in this instance talking about taking someone else’s content and repurposing it in some manner on another site. So this isn’t about a story that first appeared on the New York Times’ site and rewording a couple sentences before posting essentially the same story on another site. The “curation” I’m talking about is taking links to stories, posts, photos and other material and linking to it from a platform like Twitter, Facebook or Tumblr. And that’s something that doesn’t need to be controversial since it’s simply all about telling a story.

I’ve been pondering Matthew Ingram’s post about blowing up the concept of the news article for several days and how it relates not just to journalism but also corporate publishing programs. Specifically I’ve been focusing on where he makes the point that increasingly the model that works best is “small pieces, loosely joined.” That’s where the idea of curation comes in since it’s those smaller pieces that curation fills in.

There’s a new study from (of course) a company that specializes in content curation services that shows the number one reason a company will engage in a curation strategy is “thought leadership” and that makes sense. “Thought leadership” looks nice on a presentation slide and hey, who doesn’t want to be leading the thinking. But when you stop and think about it the idea of achieving a leadership position (where people pay attention to what you are saying) through curation (where you are riffing off of what others have already said) falls apart rather quickly.

It’s better, in my mind, to curate with the mindset of it being just one part of an overall storytelling strategy.

If you know what the story your company (or brand or division or whatever) is trying to tell is then you’re already likely executing the biggest chunk of that on your home blog or other publishing platform. But there’s only so much that can be put there, both because of time constraints and because the audience will only support so much output.

That’s where curation comes in. If you’re trying to sell vacuum cleaners and the main blog is 75% about your product and the remaining 25% is about the industry that’s a pretty good mix. Then your status network outposts (Twitter, Facebook etc) can become where you share stories not just links to those posts but also to reviews of your products, consumer stories, industry trade show information and whatever else, all in proportion to what you have found your audience to be most interested in.

So those links to other people’s information, writing and other material isn’t because you want to be the end-all-be-all of your space and the first mover whose every word is hung off of (though that would certainly be nice. Instead all those links and updates that you are curating are ultimately helping you to better tell your story. They are the small, loose pieces that fit together to make something bigger.

There’s an example I go back often: If you have three big stones and a bag of gravel and you need to get them all in a single bucket the best way to do so is to put the big stones in first. Then when you pour the gravel it will fill in all those small spaces to fill the bucket.

So too with publishing material. The best way to fill a program is to start with big stones (your own blog posts, photos and videos) and then allow the smaller pieces (retweets of fan comments, links to reviews on industry news sites) to fill in the holes.

That’s not to say any of this is easy. It may seem quite a bit simpler to retweet a bunch of other people’s updates than to write a whole new blog post but it really isn’t. There are serious considerations that need to go into every single bit of material that’s published, every interaction and more. While the level of difficulty is similar, though, the payoffs are much different in terms of how it connects the organization doing the talking with the people who have opted in to listen.

The reality of the current media world is that we rely on filters. That’s always been the case, even when the dominant media was radio since people ultimately decided one station (or filter) was better than the other, but now it’s been heightened because of the sheer volume of potential inputs. Some of those filters will likely be corporate-based since it’s easier than ever to connect and interact with the companies and brands we have chosen to align ourselves with publicly.

Curation is a means to an end, and that end is reaching the audience with a meaningful story. Ultimately that should in some way lead to a conversion of some sort (there are a plethora of potentials to choose from here) but they don’t mean a thing if the story isn’t working at reaching that audience. Which means it comes back to simple, solid storytelling and the tools and tactics put in place to achieve those goals.

About the Author
Chris Thilk works on the Client Services team, part of Voce Connect, developing and executing social media strategy. You can follow him at @christhilk on Twitter.

Filed in Publishing Programs

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