The difference between content curation and link spraying

“Content curation” is one of those phrases that gets repeated ad nauseam without much thought into what it actually means or what role it should play in our digital lives. It is a term that that is widely used, yet the definition of content curation (at least in the social media marketing sense) is murky and unspecific. This blog post is an attempt to define what digital content curation is and how we can begin to think more creatively about this throwaway term.

prepare to die!

I don’t think it means what you think it means

When most people use the word, I think what they mean is distributing content from various sources via social media. Fine—that’s not wrong per se, but that’s not near enough the whole story either. This simplistic definition leaves a lot of wiggle room for some common practices that are annoying at best and a waste of time at worst.

Frequent, Regular Automation

For many people, social media curation includes an element of automation—which is ironic since it seems to me automation is the opposite of curation (feel free to argue with me on those semantics). It’s easy to hook up an RSS feed to Buffer or IFTTT to create an automated stream of tweets or LinkedIn posts that are deployed when a blog post is published. Many people do this with their company’s blog (or even their own).

I am not a proponent of this method for a couple of reasons.

1) It’s obvious that these communications weren’t crafted by a human brain, e.g., tweets that have the exact headlines of blog posts, headlines that are too long, too many characters for the post, the same exact post across multiple channels. This is a problem because if it’s obvious that a robot is doing your talking for you, real humans are not going to be inspired to talk back.

2) it’s unrealistic. Unless the blog is all your own content (ahem), it’s not likely that you would share every single post from a feed. Not to mention, why would someone what to follow your content if they can get the same from their Google Reader? Not only does feed automation look lazy, it could make you appear like too much of a crony or too self-serving—which doesn’t exactly inspire trust.

This is what I call link spraying. In the attempt to execute on one best practice (consistent sharing) these folks violate a few others: trust, context, and humaness.

Hand Selection and Scheduling 

Hand selecting content to share is infinitely better than automation. For one thing, you have ostensibly read at least a portion of the content you are sharing. You’re also helping to shape your identity through what you share. It used to be that your digital self was composed of what you created. This is still true (and those who create the content are still more highly valued than those who exclusively share it), but increasingly those artifacts with which we associate ourselves and our brands are co-creators in our online identities.

I should note here that I think there is a big difference between automation and scheduling. In most cases, scheduling (meaning: hand selecting content to share and scheduling for later publication) is just fine and helpful to those who want to provide a steady stream of relevant content while remaining responsive or (gasp!) holding down a day job. I myself use Hootsuite for this purpose. 

Sharing with context

However, let’s not let the definition of curation stop here. “Hand selection” is still not digital curation in and of itself. Without ever adding any unique perspective or context, you aren’t adding to the conversation; you’re simply parroting.

Does that mean you need to comment on every retweet or share? Of course not—there is value in simply sharing, breaking news is one example that comes to mind. But is there value in just passing along every other Mashable or TechCrunch article that everyone in the industry who knows their ass from their elbow has already seen? Probably not.
Defining digital curation
Okay, we’re getting warmer. Let’s review. Digital content curation is definitely NOT automation and it’s not mindlessly reposting already popular content. What digital curation does include is hand selecting great content and often commenting or otherwise providing context or a unique perspective to accompany a piece of content.
So…we’re done, right? Having a frequently updated Twitter stream filled with interesting, engaging content from obscure sources that you contextualize is content curation, right?
Not so fast. A curator isn’t just someone who can find great “stuff.” Though it is an important skill. A curator someone who creates a specific experience using found objects and contextualizes those objects within a limited space. A curator not only collects and interprets, but houses that work to create unique experience (dare I say “storytelling?” Check back later for a post on that term as well…).
Which is why Twitter is not a curation tool. Twitter is a fantastic discovery and sharing mechanism—but you can’t curate there. Tweets are ephemeral—they’re there and then they’re not. There’s a lot of serendipity involved in what you see in your Twitter stream. But you can certainly use Twitter to lead folks to where you curate.
For example, blogs and websites are the ultimate curation tools because of their flexibility. As are photo albums, Pinterest boards, Storify, YouTube channels, some Facebook apps, and perhaps hundreds of other examples. These are examples of curation tools because they are destinations that house these selectively placed, found objects. I’m experimenting with a few different kinds of curation projects, and I’m curious to know what others are doing in this space as well.

The Internet is a big place

And those who point us in the right any direction are becoming increasingly valuable. It’s like the Paradox of Choice in action—by making the Internet smaller, by focusing our attention, providing context, and creating a specific experience, curators actually enhance our online experiences.

But let’s hold curation up to the standard that it deserves and stop pretending that interesting tweets = content curation. Anyone can shoot arrows. But it takes skill and creativity to not only cut the path through the woods, but to lead us all to the spring.

What do you think?

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