"Curation" is a buzzword (even if it isn't technically a word…unless you count the 14th century French definition meaning "to cure") that's smokin' up the interwebs these days. Launching into the blogosphere virtually from nowhere in 2009, it's now one of those terms that's essential to any digital marketer on the cutting edge (or for anyone who wants to sound like one).
Curation has now come to mean the act of sorting through the vast amounts of content on the web and presenting it in a coherent way, organized around a specific topic(s). However, unlike automated services (such as Google News), the essential difference of curation is that there's a human being doing the sifting, sorting, arranging, and publishing. Just as a museum curator must decide which artifacts to display during an exhibition, an online curator decides what information available online is appropriate and relevant to her audience.
If you're a web veteran, you're probably wondering how this is any different than what people have been doing online for years. After all, even the earliest "home pages" usually included lists of favorite links, sometimes "curated" daily. The "portal" craze of the 90's was basically the same thing blown up to epic proportions, with billions (yes…billions) invested in "portal" sites that aggregated content from across the web. Remember: content is king! And while blogs started out as personal "weblogs," they didn't find success until they moved away from musings about cat behavior and toward serving up nifty links to a hungry audience. Check out the 15 most highly trafficked blogs today and every one of them is primarily about directing us to other stuff.
So what's the big deal about curation? The cynic in me wants to say that it's just about reinvigorating the concept of bloggers as "editors" of the web. And that is a big part of it. But there's one thing that we have now that we didn't have in the 90's…the mass adoption of social media. And that's where the difference comes in.
NYU Professor Clay Shirky provides one of the best explanations of the role of curation in today's web in a Fast Company article from a year ago: "Curation comes up when search stops working…[and] when people realize that it isn't just about information seeking, it's also about synchronizing a community."
It's the "community" part that's at the heart of the whole curation movement and the most powerful element when it comes to curating content as a way of drawing traffic and attention in your marketing efforts. Just as a carefully-curated museum exhibit is sure to draw like-minded people together, carefully-curated content on the web has the potential to attract (and/or build) an online community of people who are into the same stuff.
Making curation work for your brand is a lot easier said than done. As countless would-be content curation kings (and queens) have found out, just gathering a lot of links together doesn't guarantee anything except that you'll spend a lot of time curating links. You need to commit resources to both curation and promotion if you're going to be successful. And that's just the first step. To truly succeed as a curator, you need to think like a curator (not just an aggregator) and keep the following in mind:
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Sean Carton has recently been appointed to develop the Center for Digital Communication, Commerce, and Culture at the University of Baltimore and is chief creative officer at idfive in Baltimore. He was formerly the dean of Philadelphia University's School of Design + Media and chief experience officer at Carton Donofrio Partners, Inc.
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