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Content Marketing Minds: Is Curation Noise or News?

content marketing minds

It’s mostly noise.

I expect I’ll take some lashings for this opinionated piece, but I have to get this off my chest. You see, I want to help you be a successful practitioner of content marketing. And, if you don’t have what it takes to be a content marketer, I want to spare you the time and money you’ll waste pretending to be one.

So this begs the question…

What’s it take to be a content marketer?

The obvious answer: content. But it’s a lousy answer.

Anyone who knows the keyboard shortcuts for cutting and pasting can serve you content—content they didn’t create.

Anyone who sets up an account with one of the many content curation “magazine services” can serve you content—content they didn’t create.

Anyone who has a newsletter can round-up a heaping of strong content and email you links to it—content they didn’t create.

In my opinion, all of the above risk being perceived as noisemakers. To be a content marketer, you need to make news.

What’s news? 

News is timely and topical. Big bonus points if it’s something I didn’t know. If it’s about something I did know, I’m hoping to find an original point of view on it. If it’s something I know and it doesn’t have a point of view, I’m hoping to find the original concept or story expanded, updated, or challenged. 

Are online content curation services news? 

Familiar with Paper.li? Scoop.it? The Tweeted Times?

Paper.li explains it is a content curation service that enables you to publish newspapers based on topics you like. Scoop.it explains it’s a power publishing platform you use to find content from favorite topics and create beautiful online magazines. The Tweeted Times is a real-time personalized newspaper generated from your Twitter account.

There are plenty more of these types of services. Maybe you use them. If you’re active on Twitter, certainly you see people who do. 

I don't mean to pick on anyone, but after seeing an automated tweet that mentioned the inclusion of something I wrote, I once again took the bait, clicked, and was disappointed to find a long, junky heap of unorganized content mentioning me in 100th place or so. I needed to do an on-page search to locate my name.

So I put it out there on Twitter: “Does anyone actually read these things?” I got a handful of “no’s.” I got zero yes’s. And interestingly, I got one tweet directed @ me from the community and communications manager at Paper.li…

content marketing and content curation

Kelly makes a great point. The Paper.li service (and those mentioned above) can be meaningful. I contacted Kelly and she shared my concerns.

“Paper.li users have full control over their content, presentation and promotion,” she said. Unfortunately, a lot of people create a paper and promote it before they have figured out their audience or why they are publishing.” 

I asked her for tips and she kindly responded with a list of key strategies.

Setup smart

  • When you set up your paper, you need to think about your audience and fine-tune the sources for them. 
  • Steer clear of mainstream news from sources like CNN or Mashable. Focus on providing your readers with the niche content they are looking for.

Fine-tune regularly

  • Take a look at your paper each day and dispose of everything that’s not relevant and interesting.
  • Are you getting traction? Look the numbers: views, follower and shares. Look at your analytics. Ask your followers what they think. 

Brand it. 

  • Don’t settle for the basic default settings and let your paper look generic.
  • Brand yours. You can create custom backgrounds and banners. You can replace the generic thumbnail you promote via social media to something original and all yours. You can even mess with the CSS if you're up for it. 

content marketing

Kelly shared several examples of customized implementatinions of Paper.li with me. I chose to show you this one because I loved how the user pulled out all the stops to create something that is truly branded. It looks like an original website, right? 

Promote with care.

  • Only promote your paper when your content is dialed-in and reflects well on your brand.
  • Customize promotional messages across platforms.
  • If your paper is for your personal use, don’t promote it at all.

Make your curation count. 

We’re onto something now. Though far too many people curate in the name of noise, the content creation tools are not to blame. Used correctly, they can be valuable.

The rest of my post today includes thoughts on how to curate in a meaningful way.

First pointer: don’t just be a pointer.

Curation for the lazy man is some form of content—often a post, e-publication, or newsletter—that says, “Here’s news.” Later.

Perhaps if yours is a somewhat low-tech audience that spends little time online, you could win some respect by aggregating news sources. Readers may think you’d know what’s worthwhile better than they, so a bit of authority may come from your “reused news.”   

If your audience is web savvy, I strongly discourage this approach. It doesn’t further your cause. When you send story recommendations to those that are already trying to keep tabs on the topic, you risk sending them stuff they’ve already seen—or the same stuff someone else is recommending they read.

It’s overload.

Add something. 

Your curation efforts become worth paying attention to when you bring something new to the content you’re sharing. I love this, from Jessica Ann, in a post she wrote for Vocus, “How to Curate Your Way to Quality Content.”

“Be meaningful. Add your insight or opinion when sharing the content. A good content curator knows the difference between being helpful and being a nuisance. Don’t share just to share. Make sure there’s context and relevance for your audience. 

A tactic I’ve used for some time is to create a blog post that is mostly someone else’s content, but includes comments from me. I’ll do the following: 

  • Endorse an idea and expand on it
  • Offer an example of what’s being covered
  • Disagree with a point or challenge it somehow
  • Add a video, infographic, eBook or slide deck 

At a micro-level, the same idea comes to mind for social media sharing. Of course, you’re often going to see content you like and simply take advantage of the share button. The original creator will appreciate that.

However, your share can be so much more interesting when you do something more.

  • Again, endorse or challenge the idea
  • Add your own take
  • Summarize the story
  • Pull a favorite passage or data point out of the story

Being a frequent blogger who tries to keep tabs on where, when and how my content is being shared, I can tell you I’m far more appreciative when the RT or share comes with original commentary. I’m far more likely to engage. I’m far more likely to follow that person or even visit their website or blog.

Often, when I simply find a sea of shares that are only the result of a click, I’m skeptical the person even took the time to view the post. And as we both know, many did not.

Introduce a brand new element.

A wonderful way to bring value to your curation efforts is to introduce new media. This takes some effort. Each of these examples will work:

  • Add a video to existing content
  • Add audio
  • Add your own write-up to video or audio
  • Add images, infographics, or slides
  • Mix, or match, or use your imagination

When you re-imagine the content this way, you do for more for your brand. You become more meaningful than a curator. You become a commentator. You might think of it like a sportscast. One person in the broadcast booth concentrates on telling the facts. The other one, the color commentator, is there to add color.

Choose your channel. 

Consider this… Instead of curating content across all the various channels in which you publish content, how about focusing on just one?

For instance—and this is a common strategy—you regularly send email newsletters that focus on curated content. Or you have a specific program dedicated to curation.

You might select a service designed specifically for curation, say Pinterest, and embed it in a section of your site or run it on a particular day. I like this strategy because you set an expectation for the viewer who can then choose to consume it regularly or tune out. It’s more “pull” than “push.”

Focus sharply. 

A content curation strategy I’m fond of is creating a feature consisting of multiple curated pieces around a specific topic. I believe this delivers extra value.

One example is a roundup article or eBook where multiple authors are cited with their views on a specific issue.

Another example is an email I send, which I call “AEIOU.” The letters stand for: article; eBook; interview (or infographic); online tool; and useful tip. With each edition, the focus is on one important online marketing topic, for instance, webinars.

Find great stuff.

You can do better than just let content come to you and click a share button. Use search and setup feeds to identify the best of the best.

Be a filter.

Have high standards. You want to build a reputation as a consistent source of useful content. Filter out common and average work.


Put thought into what you’re sharing and where. Avoid sending advanced stuff to beginning practitioners and vice-versa. Think about the media you’ll use and the audience it reaches.

Comment and clarify.

Don’t allow every piece of content to speak for itself. Be the kind of curator that clarifies the work with thoughtful commentary.


A great way to serve your audience is to curate by condensing longer works into quick reads. For instance, share a detailed research report, but summarizing the key findings up front making it optional for the reader to continue.

Bad karaoke gets you sent home. 

You know how when an American Idol contestant does a cover tune and adds nothing new to the song? There’s no re-interpretation. No point of view. Invariably, the judges accuse them of doing bad karaoke.

I feel the same goes for content curation. The audience doesn’t benefit from getting the same thing all over again.

In the end, the acid test is to ascertain whether or not people like what you’re doing. You need to dig into the data to get the answers. Is the content you’re curating and the mechanisms you’re using to do so amassing a good amount of views, shares and comments? Do you get positive feedback? 

If you’re learning you’re delivering useful news, great. Go for it.

If you’re learning you’re not. Can it. You’re making noise. Try something else. 

And put some effort into it.


[I'd like to thank Kelly Hungerford for giving me her time to contribute helpful ideas to this article. Kelly blogs for Paper.li here.]



Join The Conversation

  • May 18 Posted 3 years ago François Guignard

    Great piece of advice. Especially the part where you shared your thoughts on how to curate in a meaningful way. Let me add this: in order to put some  added value thought(s) in your curation, you need to have a clear understanding of your target i.e your audience and. Plus, like any relevant stories or facts you need to convey, gathering information regarding your audience and why he or she would be interested in following or listening to what you have to say through a chosen communication channel is quite essential. Then in your curated text, you need to apply the five W's journalistic concepts and add the important How (who, what, where, when, why... how) in a concise way which the reader can easily understand and gain  fruitful information or thinking out of the writer's content.

    A content marketer should above all be a content strategist or learn to become one. Otherwise, he is making some... noise? Well, noise in  a narcissistic way!

  • May 16 Posted 3 years ago Sophie McAulay

    Great piece - lots of interesting things to think about. 

    I would really like to share it but I'm too scared I won't add something meaningful enough :)

  • May 16 Posted 3 years ago michaelgerard

    Lots of great points Barry, and I really like the comments above.  Kelly's correct by indicating that "set it and forget it" isn't a good strategy.  I like to compare a good content marketing curator to a museum curator:  Knows their audience; always searches for new and exiting art work to share with them; offers commentary on that art work; provides full attribution for the curated art; and provides art from many different artists. Note the importance of ethical curation in this analogy. (here's a more in depth post on ethical curation: http://bit.ly/1aJ2czM )

    Noya's comment is particularly insightful. . .re: adding your own insight, "whether that's still "curation" or in fact blogging?"  The best content marketers will create and curate, with 65% of content being created and 25% curated.[Curata] This is beneficial for marketers from an efficiency perspective, and for their audience who value other experts' perspectives in one location. 

    Always good to have some examples of curation in action: 360Chestnut curates within their blog; Verne Global created a destination site for their audience; and IBM created a Big Data & Analytics hub for their audience. 

  • May 16 Posted 3 years ago ensuiter

    With content that gets sent out. I think you should ask yourself would I share this, would I retweet or forward this to a friend and if not, why? If the answer to the above is no I wouldn't share it, it has to be classed as content for contents sake. However it can be confusing for some to assume its the content that isn't working whereas in fact its how that content is presented and share on social media. Does it have an image attached? Etc

  • May 16 Posted 3 years ago PatrickW

    Barry, really great stuff in there, and I appreciate the effort.  My organization is still in the stone ages of 'normal' marketing, and we've slowly entered into the 'social seo' realm recently - utilizing the ScoopIt tool.  Admittedly we need better guidance, and information such as this is exetremely helpful for me, both in my role professionally and personally.  To build a brand is rough enough, rebuilding a staid, stuck in the mud mindset is raising that rough level to a factor of 10.  I hope these insights open up eyes within my organization.  I believe if you are not forward thinking, then you're going to be left, sadly, in the muck!

  • YaelKochman's picture
    May 16 Posted 3 years ago YaelKochman

    I agrree. As in everything else, curation can seem like noise if it's done without thinking. But do it the right way and send it in the right chanell and it can prove very effective- to you and to your readers.

  • FeldmanCreative's picture
    May 16 Posted 3 years ago FeldmanCreative

    I'd like to think getting you to scratch your head is a good thing. Thanks for the thoughtful comment. 

  • FeldmanCreative's picture
    May 16 Posted 3 years ago FeldmanCreative


  • May 16 Posted 3 years ago Craig Badings

    Barry  love your phrase 'content noise'.  It's clear that a lot of companies are wasting resources, time and their audience's time creating and communicating irrelevant or rehashed content.

    Marketers, social media specialists, brand managers, communication managers and PR consultants have a problem.  All the content marketing research I’ve seen talks about the amazing growth in content marketing, content marketing budgets, how useful content is to buyers, how much more marketers intend to spend on content marketing in 2014. But most are missing the magic ingredient - the client! Remember, the person who keeps you and I in a job, who keeps our businesses going.

    Content shouldn't be about SEO, nor should it be about your products or services - it should be all about the target audience and addressing their needs, challenges and issues. Great content is not about feeding the Content Beast, rather it is about feeding your client or your prospects.

    So what if your SEO has shot up and you’re on the first page of Google because you’re producing tons of content. If it's not engaging your client, if it's not converting to sales/meetings/presentations and the like then it is merely content for content sake.


  • Warren Whitlock's picture
    May 15 Posted 3 years ago Warren Whitlock

    Most of human communication is nonsense to all who aren't directly involved. Trying to put a channel or technology in to "nonsense" or "not nonsense" or calling it "content" instead of "nonsense" diverts attention from the real issue. 

    People who don't have anything to say can't dress it up with content, graphics, video, or a fancy font to make it meaningful. It's like putting lipstick on a pig.

    At a restaraunt, my conversations are nonsense to the next table over. So what? My audience is the peeople at my table. If I make noises that please them, I may not get left with the check. 

    Connection and sharing of stories is everything.. in business and in life. Without the connection, all content is noise.

  • May 15 Posted 3 years ago JoanDamico

    Good points, Barry. I think the most important is to identify why you're curating a piece in the first place. Doing so places the curated piece within context that is hopefully relevant to your audience. Otherwise, it's, as you put it, "noise." 

  • THINK_Lyndon's picture
    May 15 Posted 3 years ago THINK_Lyndon

    I agree Barry, most content curation under the guise of marketing is noise.

    In order to be an effective content marketer you need, above all else, to understand the fundamentals of marketing [the art of getting an audience to do do something on your behalf, willingly].  Content - both original and third-party - is just a tool.

    News is... something that is newsworthy.  It can be for public relations [with the intention of building a relationship with an audience] or publicity [informing an audience].  It can, in some cases, be used as a marketing tool - but it is the exception, not the rule.


    I agree with you on the need for focus, and quality over quantity - whether it is your content or somebody elses.  More people need to understand the value of quality over quantity.

    Best wishes,


    Founder, http://thinkdifferently.ca

  • Noya's picture
    May 15 Posted 3 years ago Noya

    Hmmm, good post, definitely got me thinking about whether curation is news or noise, but I think you had me at "it's mostly noise" and then lost me (sort of) when you started offering tips for "meaningful curation".

    I think that the tips you listed are great actually, but I wonder whether once you start adding your own spin and other elements to enhance curated bits of content, whether that's still "curation" or in fact blogging.

    There's not doubt that the content curation services you mentioned are definitely purely for curation, i.e. generating your own "news" feed made up of other people's content, but once you bring it into your own online real estate and "make it your own" by adding your own insight and enhancements, then your followers are experiencing this content in the context that you create for it and that's why they value it (because they value you).

    This line of thought presumes that people do/will use your great tips, but I think that the reality is that the vast majority don't/won't, which brings us back to "curation is mostly noise". Sort of like "most marketing email is SPAM", despite the fact that many responsible email marketers abide by the best and most current email marketing best practices.

    Still scratching my head about this one. Reminds me of this excellent lecture by Brad Frost called "Death to Bullshit" (really worth watching for anyone on a crusade to help rid the world of SPAM and/or noise): 

  • May 11 Posted 3 years ago Julie Steinberg

    Barry, Thanks a lot. You could have gone by without diatribes but thanks anyway.

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