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.
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...
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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
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.
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."
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.