We've been preaching (and hearing from the marketing echo chamber) for a while now that creating content that's valuable to your followers is where it's at. It's the not-so-secret secret. But can you, or even a brand with a large marketing team, create kickass original content on a daily basis? Not likely. And that's more than okay.
That’s where curation comes in, not as a backup plan for when you don’t have anything original to post, but as an equally valuable piece of content that can delight followers just as much because you’ve taken their interests into consideration.
Social media content comes from many sources – Pinterest, Tumblr, Feedly, Imgur, etc. This “unoriginal” content is recycled, re-appropriated, re-grammed, re-upped. If you looked at social media under a microscope, you’d see that reposts are in its DNA. There are entire social accounts that are purely curational, i.e. composed exclusively of pre-existing content. Curated content usually provides layer of commentary on some form of original content, and is sometimes designed to fit into a theme the brand may be running with during a given week.
Although it may seem obvious, allow me to take a moment to define curation in the online marketing sense. Social media curation consists of selecting and posting images that fit your brand’s aesthetic or message. Dictionary.com defines it as “
Allow me to illustrate the “tastemaker curator” by using Pinterest as an example. Pinterest is essentially a curational tool. While you can upload your own original pins, most pinners use it as a way to build pinboards made up of existing pins to create a single cohesive feeling or theme. Even though the pinner didn’t create the parts that make up the whole, the whole can be so compelling that it grants the pinner a strong point of view, and conveys the curator’s own identity and ideas. Those who are especially good at this become tastemakers, and garner enormous followings.
Applying this curational approach to your social channels beyond just Pinterest can give your brand a similar authority. One brand I follow on Instagram posted a photo of a ’90s-era Leonardo DiCaprio looking hot and bothered (in the literal sense – he was grouchily squinting in the sun). This subtly spoke to their demographic – their followers are likely ’90s babies who are into cultural references and eclectic fashion, and let’s face it, Leo will never stop being fashionable. Posting a photo like that which has nothing to do with the product serves as a wink to the audience, an inside joke, and a break from the obviousness of the traditional, more deliberate types of posts that aim to sell. Mix in this kind of curational content that ventures into pop culture territory if your brand aims to be a little cheeky or sophisticated.
The informational curator is more apt to share information on platforms conducive to links, like Facebook and Twitter. Brands can offer value by sharing links that are timely, local, and strongly tied to their audience’s interests. Consistently publish links that are applicable to your followers and you’ll earn their attention and even eagerness to see your posts. I know that for me, there are certain brands and influencers who kill it every time with the links they share! The can’t-not-click impulse these accounts elicit is pretty impressive.
One strategy for content curation is to implore your followers to create content for you! Companies that specialize in aesthetically pleasing or aspirational content often create custom hashtags their followers can use on their own photos that may fit the brand’s aesthetic. Design Sponge accumulates tons of submissions from Instagrammers who use their custom hashtags: #DSfloors, #DSpattern, and #DScolor. Not only can you use this type of UGC on your own Instagram page, you can also repackage it as a blog post, highlight it on Twitter and Facebook, or create a whole pinboard.
You may be reading this and be reminded of aggregator sites like Reddit and Buzzfeed, which are built solely around collecting, re-sharing, and I suppose curating others’ original work. According to Social Media Today, “the real problem is not that people are sharing content that is not theirs. Sure, it’s annoying, but that’s just the way things are now. We live a remixed, sharing-based culture, and digital content is far too easy to pass around. The real problem lies entirely with authorship and attribution, and being absolutely sure creators get the credit they deserve.”
When sharing other people’s work, adhere to the golden rule of college essays: cite your source. On Facebook, end the post with a byline and tag the photographer or artist. On Twitter, incorporate the source in your 140 characters. On Instagram, both tag the source in the caption and tag the photo. And so on.
Most of the time, it’s pretty obvious if curation is not in your brand’s best interest. For example, one of our clients, a dog training/boarding center, takes amazing, high quality photos of the dogs staying at their facility on a daily basis. Although there are a million cute dog memes and photos to curate from the internet, they don’t really need to share those on social. We supplement their original photos by curating helpful articles and information, and we may throw in an occasional zeitgeisty dog post (a la Marnie the Dog), but their followers mainly want to see their own dogs, and that means using original photography. If curating content from the internet strays too far from your followers’ hyper-focused purpose for following your page, you may want to stay away from bombarding them with curational content.
There’s something very “uncool” about breaking down the art of curating and tastemaking. But when you look at how brands are using curation to strengthen their own points of view, it can help you to figure out just how to strengthen your own social media content. Just remember that curation works best when it’s supported by original content, so make sure you have a good mix of both in order to delight, inform, and inspire your followers.