What’s the biggest problem marketers say they face when it comes to content marketing? Producing original content is the number one issue (73.6%), followed closely by finding the time to produce content (73.0%), according to the findings of a 2011 survey conducted by HiveFire (see Figure 8.1).
A study of business-to-business marketers conducted the previous year by Junta42 and MarketingProfs had similar findings (see Figure 8.2).
Small wonder. Consistently creating and publishing original content is a full-time job. It takes time, thought, and resources. That’s why nearly half of marketing executives (48%) are using content curation according to a 2011 survey from HiveFire. And many more are aggregating content to publish on their blogs and websites and in social media outlets. As is shown in Figure 8.3, they’re doing it to establish thought leadership (78.9%), to elevate brand visibility and generate buzz (76.1%), and encourage lead generation (60.6%).
Take bOINGbOING.net, one of the web’s most popular blogs. Its traffic often exceeds that of NYTimes.com. The group blog is nothing more (or less) than curated content—items its contributors, and often its readers, find and share with others.
Content curation and aggregation can take many forms: feeds, “channels” (such as on YouTube), blogs, or even the links you upload to social media sites such as Facebook. It can be an online newsroom, a collection of links, an assortment of RSS feeds, or a Twitter list. Whatever form content curation does take, it’s around a topic, a subject, or even a sensibility that speaks to the knowledge, expertise, taste, refinement, brand message, or persona of the person, brand, or company that has created the particular content channel.
Content channels can be as subject-specific as bee-keeping equipment or as amorphous as “what’s cool.” But they all serve multiple purposes, ranging from informing to engaging to entertaining. In an era where marketing is supplanting advertising and storytelling is an ever-more essential part of the marketing message, carefully curated content—well organized and presented—is an immense brand asset, be it to a humble, over-caffeinated individual blogger or a Fortune 100 company.
Curation and aggregation needn’t be merely collecting and cataloging a bunch of links, abstracts, and headlines, of course. There’s nothing wrong with writing up a brief paragraph or two putting your own spin on an external article or story, or blending outside content with your own original contributions. Pawan Deshpande, CEO of HiveFire, a company that makes a content curation tool, suggests a mix of perhaps 1 original piece per week plus 12 curated items of content. Your own mileage, of course, may vary.
Plenty of websites thrive with little to no original content. Google is a prime example. Search engines aggregate content from across the web; they publish little of their own. Travel sites such as Expedia and Kayak aggregate feeds from hundreds of hotels and airlines. Techmeme aggregates technology stories from across the web into one authoritative collection.
Of course, you can also apply this model to marketing. Purina’s Pet Charts aggregates pet-related content from across the web (see Figure 8.4). GE’s EcoPressed does the same thing with ecologically minded content, and Green Data News from Verne Global does much the same thing, but with a computer technology bent. Adobe’s CMO.com is a collection of marketing stories and news targeted to this critical component of the company’s target audience.
3M has a widget on its career page that contains articles highlighting the company’s innovations and achievements, making it appear a more attractive place to work for job seekers. The tactic has also been embraced by the nonprofit sectors.
Organizations such as the Economic Development Council of Western Massachusetts have sites featuring content about business and economic growth in their region.
Of course, not all quality content is “out there.” Many quality publications you might want to link to have content behind a paywall, such as with The Wall Street Journal or The New York Times. HiveFire CEO Pawan Deshpande doesn’t see this as a significant barrier to publishing headlines, abstracts, or links to those pages. “We do have customers for whom almost all the content they aggregate is behind a paywall,” he said, “Really, all they need to do is publish the abstract. Most of their clients have access to the full article.”
Curated content does more than augment websites, blogs, or social media channels. It can also be a great tactic to keep email newsletters interesting and relevant. The curated content you’re using in online channels can be flowed into newsletters. Many marketers opt into services such as SmartBrief.com, a company that creates subjectspecific newsletters created entirely of aggregated content. Their clients run the gamut and include thousands of B2B organizations and professional trade associations.
Curating and aggregating third-party content obviously requires less commitment on the creation side than does conjuring a steady stream of original content. Nevertheless, there’s still a commitment of time, resources, and setting up procedures to mine and sift through sources.
Your first step is obvious: Scour the media and the Internet for topics of interest:
- Set up RSS feeds for keywords and phrases to automate delivery of web content from blogs, newswires, and news stories that is potentially of interest.
- Read relevant trade publications, newspapers, and magazines.
- Subscribe to trade organizations’ and competitors’ publications to spark new ideas.
- Attend trade shows and conferences. Conference programmers are tasked with keeping current on industry trends and issues. Aside from conversations and learnings gleaned at these events, just keeping an eye on agendas can be a big tip-off.
- Gather research and data, such as surveys, statistics, and reports. Mine numbers not only for potential sources of written content but also for visual ones: charts, graphs, and infographics.
- Don’t discount the mainstream news. Consider how larger stories might impact your own niche or vertical. The tragic, triple disaster of earthquake, tsunami, and nuclear catastrophe that struck Japan in 2011 could, for example, be a point of departure for content on a myriad of issues: disaster preparedness, construction, building inspection, insurance, energy policy, alternate power sources, emergency medical services, grief counseling, homelessness, and search and rescue. The list goes on and on, and each of these cited topics is rife with subtopics that might be relevant to a business’s core competencies. Finding the relevant coverage and briefly adding a point of view or explanation of a relevant angle to your own target audience is a perfectly legitimate form of content curation.
Don’t Be a Pirate
It should go without saying (but alas, too often it does not) that curating and aggregating content comes with a set of obligations—ethical and moral, as well as legal.
Respect copyright. Most editorial sites have published guidelines regarding the reuse of their content. In most (but certainly not all) cases, this can be summarized as allowing third parties to link to the full story or item with a headline and brief descriptive blurb or a quote of reasonable length. Most publishers are happy for the link. It increases both their traffic and their search engine visibility.
Other sites have more liberal or more restrictive policies. When in doubt, ask. Shoot over an email explaining what you’d like to use and why (supplying any necessary links to the site or channel). With websites getting the bulk of their traffic these days from third-party sites such as Facebook and Twitter, publishers are really beginning to understand the value of such referrals, and linking to content legally is much easier than it was in the days before social media when many publishers thought proprietary was the way to go.
Aggregation, Filtering, and Curation Platforms
Content aggregation and curation is only emerging as far as technology solutions are concerned. Some are newsletter specific, whereas others are aimed at communities or hyperlocal markets. Some emphasize SEO, whereas others lean on social filtering. Some work on your sites, whereas others create content sites on their own platforms. There are no cookie-cutter solutions, but there are technologies that help publishers and marketers aggregate, filter, curate, and publish content.
Here’s a list of some commercial solutions:
- Aggreage—Creates topic-centered sites around specific market segments
- CIThread—Helps editors curate content for online communities
- Curata—HiveFire’s content curation and distribution platform
- CurationStation—Web-based software service offering a tool kit for gathering/monitoring, selecting, and sharing specific items among dynamic content
- DayLife—Publisher platform that consolidates media sourcing, management, curation, and composition
- Eqentia—Enterprise platform for aggregating, curating, consuming, analyzing, and republishing news content
- idio—Platform for aggregation and publishing using semantic extraction and other analytics approaches
- Loud3r—A real-time content discovery, curation and publishing platform
- MainStreetConnect—Creates independent hyperlocal news publications
- OneSpot—Aggregates, filters, and prioritizes content
- Outside.in—Hyperlocal content solutions for sites and apps
- Perfect Market—Helps publishers identify, package, distribute, and monetize content
- Publish2—Content acquisition and workflow optimization
- PublishThis—On-demand content publishing platform for discovery, collection, and delivery of relevant, real-time content; provides audience segmentation capabilities
- SmartBrief—Industry- or topic-specific email newsletters