IAN GREENLEIGH

Author | Marketer | Speaker

I help companies turn data, ideas and relationships into reach and influence. 

The curation for what ails us? When good ideas are oversold

Curation is not the cure. (flickr credit: higlu) I've been a proponent of content curation for months now. It’s thrilling to see it enter the mainstream of our dialogue on social media marketing, but it’s almost equally frustrating. Have you ever liked an artist or band while they’re still relatively unknown? How did you feel when they finally made it big? Most of us are excited for the artists, and excited for those that are just now getting to experience what we’ve loved for months or years. But what happens when their music starts to change as a response to their newfound popularity? Is it the same band you once loved?

I'm not even close to giving up on content curation. I’m just not happy with the direction some are trying to take it. Content curation used to be discussed as a smart practice, a way to strengthen social marketing strategies, and a partial solution to some of the problems we in marketing face. Then marketers decided to sell the concept itself, after they—ahem—rebranded it a bit. That process is going on right now, and it’s not pretty. But it’s not too late to reclaim what is a great idea, realign our expectations with reality, and continue to innovate.

From best practice to panacea

The writers that got many of us thinking about content curation had the ability (and foresight?) to excite us about the subject without relying on bullshit buzzwords and “next-big-thing” predictions. Lee Odden explored the balance of curation and creation within the “mix of an online marketing program,” but he didn’t come anywhere near suggesting that curation should be our content strategy.   Matt Chandler discussed curation as “an alternative to flooding [users] with algorithmically-chosen content,” that he considered ill-fitting and ineffective. Heidi Cool told us to “to augment the self-created content you are using to communicate with your audience”.

And then came the salesmen. I don’t mean that everyone that celebrates curation has a financial motive or platform to sell. Often they do, often they don’t. I’m simply pointing out that curation is being oversold as the one, true content strategy, when it’s clearly insufficient.

Stuffing two falsehoods into one headline, Steve Rosenbaum (founder of video curation software company Magnify) declared in Business Insider that “Content Is No Longer King: Curation Is King.” I’ve already explained why that’s not the case. Rosenbaum fused common misconceptions about social media (“The new Expert is the leader with the most twitter followers, not the person on the speed-dial from CNN”) with an overview of the “information overload” phenomenon. Paul Gillin’s relatively accurate brief on the value of content curation to the B2B space devolves into extreme oversimplification in the last paragraph:

“Pick a unique topic for a blog. Post a few headlines and summaries each day. Add a weekly newsletter. Then watch the traffic grow.”

But the most egregious misrepresentation to date of content curation’s promise comes from Social Media Examiner’s Jamie Beckland. His title alone, “How to Grow a Following With Other People’s Popular Content,” could win an award for linkbait of the year. Of course I clicked. Describing curation as a “short cirtcuit” around “spending tons of time,” Beckland then tones it down a bit, to his credit, allowing that it “won’t completely alleviate the need to blog or tweet from scratch.” But by that point, he’s already painted a picture of content curation as a shake-and-bake process. Hell, when you begin with a title that includes the phrase, “using other people’s popular content,” there’s really no way to transition into a realistic discussion of curation strategy.

Come on, guys. Let’s tone it down a bit. Content curation is a big  idea—it doesn’t need your hype, and it doesn’t need you to bottle it up and sell it as something else. Big ideas can’t be slipped into anyone’s pocket, and they’re far too complex to be stuffed into any particular use case. We haven’t found the cure for the ailing content strategy, but we have found something thoroughly exciting. Isn't that enough?

© 2016 Ian Greenleigh