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Getting savvy with content creation

Getting savvy with content creation Rebecca Lieb

What's the biggest problem marketers say they face when it comes to content marketing? Producing engaging content is No. 1 (36 percent), followed closely by producing enough content (21 percent), according to the findings of a 2010 survey conducted by Marketing Profs and Junta42.

Small wonder. Consistently creating and publishing original content is a full-time job. It takes time, thought, and resources. That's why nearly half of marketing executives (48 percent) use content curation, according to a 2011 survey from HiveFire. Many more aggregate content to publish on their blogs, websites, and in social media outlets. They're doing it to establish thought leadership (78.9 percent), to elevate brand visibility and generate buzz (76 percent), and for lead generation (60.6 percent). 

Content curation and aggregation can be defined as a highly proactive and selective approach to finding, collecting, organizing, presenting, sharing, and displaying digital content around predefined sets of criteria and subject matter to appeal to a target audience. It's become essential not only to marketing and branding, but also to journalism, reporting, and social media.

Why bother? Tons of reasons. It's a big web out there. There are literally billions of sites, millions of blogs, and more video being uploaded per minute to YouTube and tweets being tweeted than you could watch or read in a lifetime. The problem isn't enough content, it's knowing what content merits time and attention.

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People rely on trusted sources -- friends, family, brands, companies, and experts -- to help keep them informed, educated, and even amused. Just as you probably have one go-to friend for car advice, another who can tell you what new books or films are worth seeing, or another who's got the lowdown on the latest places to eat, business are collecting, organizing, and filtering content around their own fields of expertise.

Content curation and aggregation can take many forms: feeds, "channels" (such as on YouTube), blogs, or even the links you upload to social media sites like Facebook. It can be an online newsroom, a collection of links, an assortment of RSS feeds, or a Twitter list. Whatever form it does take, it's around a topic, or a subject, or even a sensibility that speaks to the knowledge, expertise, taste, refinement, brand message, or persona of the person, brand, or company that has created the content channel.

Content channels can be as subject-specific as bee-keeping, or as amorphous as "what's cool." They all serve multiple purposes, ranging from informing, to engaging, to entertaining. In an era where marketing is supplanting advertising and storytelling is an ever-more essential part of the marketing message, carefully curated content -- well organized and presented -- is an immense brand asset, be it to a humble, over-caffeinated individual blogger or a Fortune 100 company.

Curation and aggregation needn't be merely collecting and cataloging a bunch of links, abstracts, and headlines, of course. There's nothing wrong with writing up a brief paragraph or two putting your own spin on an external article or story, or blending outside content with your own original contributions.

Pawan Deshpande, CEO of HiveFire, a company that makes a content curation tool, suggests perhaps one original piece per week, plus 12 curated items of content. Your mileage, of course, may vary.

Plenty of websites thrive with little to no original content at all. Google is a prime example. Search engines aggregate content from across the web, and they publish very little of their own. Travel sites such as Expedia and Kayak aggregate feeds from hundreds of hotels and airlines. Techmeme aggregates technology stories from across the web into one authoritative collection.

Of course, this model can also be applied to marketing. Purina's Petcharts aggregates pet-related content from across the web. GE's EcoPressed does the same thing with ecologically minded content, and Green Data News from Verne Global does much the same thing, but with a computer technology bent. Adobe's CMO.com is a collection of marketing stories and news targeted to this critical component of the company's target audience.

3M has a widget on its career page that contains articles highlighting the company's innovations and achievements, making it appear a more attractive place to work for job seekers. The tactic has also been embraced by the non-profit sectors. Organizations such as the Economic Development Council of Western Massachusetts have sites featuring content about business and economic growth in their region.

Of course, not all quality content is "out there." Many quality publications you might want to link to have content behind a paywall --  The Wall Street Journal, for example, or The New York Time. HiveFire's Deshpande doesn't see this as a significant barrier to publishing headlines, abstracts, or links to those pages.

"We do have customers [where] almost all the content is behind a paywall," he said. "Really, all they need to do is publish the abstract. Most of their clients have access to the full article."

Curated content does more than augment websites, blogs, or social media channels. It can also be a great tactic to keep email newsletters interesting and relevant. Curated content in online channels can be flowed into newsletters. Many marketers opt in to services such as SmartBrief.com, a company that creates subject-specific newsletters created entirely of aggregated content. Their clients run the gamut, and include thousands of B2B organizations and professional trade associations.

Finding content
Curating and aggregating third-party content obviously requires less commitment on the creation side than does conjuring a steady stream of original content. Nevertheless, there's still a commitment of time, resources, and setting up procedures to mine and sift through sources.

Step one is obvious: Scour the media and the internet for topics of interest. Set up RSS feeds for keywords and phrases to automate delivery of web content from blogs, newswires, and news stories that are potentially of interest. Read relevant trade publications, newspapers, and magazines -- and don't forget to subscribe to trade organizations and competiting publications to spark new ideas. 

Trade shows and conferences are another obvious source of both content and ideas. Conference programmers are tasked with keeping current on industry trends and issues. Aside from conversations and learnings gleaned at these events, just keeping an eye on agendas can be a big tip off.

Research and data are other sources of content and information. So are surveys, statistics, and reports. Mine numbers not only for potential sources of visual content, but for charts, graphs, and infographics.

Finally, don't forget mainstream news. How do larger stories impact your niche or vertical? Japan's recent disaster, for example, could be a point of departure for a myriad of issues: disaster preparedness, construction, building inspection, insurance, energy policy, alternate power sources, emergency medical services, grief counseling, homelessness, and search and rescue. The list goes on, and each of these cited topics is rife with sub-topics that might be relevant to a business' core competencies. Finding the relevant coverage and briefly adding a point of view or explanation of a relevant angle to your own target audience is a perfectly legitimate form of content curation.

Rebecca Lieb is an author, speaker, and consultant specializing in digital marketing, advertising, publishing, and media.

On Twitter? Follow iMedia Connection at @iMediaTweet.

Rebecca Lieb has published more research on content marketing than anyone else in the field.  As a strategic adviser, her clients range from start-up to non-profits to Fortune 100 brands and regulated industries. She's worked with brands...

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to leave comments.

Commenter: Michael FitzGerald

2011, April 28

Like to note, that the problems change as you become a trusted curator...at some point people will come to you with their original content rather than the other way around, because they see value in your specific company promoting and publishing it. At Submishmash, we build tools for experts and curators who have reached that point.

Commenter: victoria bianchini

2011, April 27

I agree with Nick that a mix of original content and aggregated or curated content works best in terms of helping to build your brand's story or message, and especially your credibility as a brand. However, at the end of the day I question if the reader really cares where it all comes from. What I think is most important is that it be relevant and from a trusted source.

Commenter: Nick Stamoulis

2011, April 26

I think there has to be a good balance between creating your own content and content curation. Pulling outside sources can lend credibility to your own content/blog, but relying to heavily on 3rd party authors doesn't do anything for your own reputation other than make you a trusted librarian of information. I find a mix of both to be the most effective.