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Content Curation: Truths, Threats, Motivations and Opportunities

Jaimy Szymanski

This is a cross-post from Altimeter Group Researcher Jaimy Szymanski’s blog. Follow her on Twitter here.

Curation is taking over the digital content scene. With related applications and platforms multiplying, the act of collecting and sharing content has become second nature for most of us.

Take a look at your Facebook timeline, Twitter stream and blog. How many of your last 20 posts were 100 percent original content? What percentage was repurposed from somewhere else online? How many Spotify lists have you created? And, what about all that pinning?

The Basis for Curation

The foundation underlying the act of curation isn’t new in the digital space. I liken it to the well-known breakdown of how people interact online: the vast majority of individuals are “lurkers,” as it’s the safest way to contribute to the content creation ecosystem. Curation is similar; it’s far less threatening to share than create. When multiple people have a hand in the artifact, responsibility for its impact is shared.

Adding to that foundation is the issue of data management. It’s only logical that, when faced with a large amount of content online, that individuals will turn to curation as a way to manage (ie. bookmark) and then later reference or share relevant content with their networks. As the amount of content published online continues to grow, as will curators multiply in response to a need for organization and theme identification (with the ultimate goal of utility).

Related, this leads into my initial reaction to the trend itself. On first blush, the idea of curation just feels lazy. It's far less time-consuming and much quicker rewarding to curate rather than create. And, when talking data, it’s far simpler to look at all the content out there and curate, rather than analyze the gaps and create new, original content to fill them.

This brings up other unnerving questions as well:

  • With curation on the rise, what effect will this have on the creation of new, interesting, valuable and thought-provoking content online?
  • When (if at all) will curated content be accepted as unique content?
  • What happens when curators far outnumber creators? Will the amount of new content to be shared ever be so low that it affects public opinion, due to the same viewpoints being shared and re-shared?

You see where this is going: Curation gives way to a theoretical death to creativity, making way for the strengthening of the digital native's ability to pass off laziness as content creation.

But, upon taking a closer look behind the why of curation, I was a bit persuaded as to its inherent (and, potential) value.

Motivations Behind Content Curation and Sharing

After pulling some data from Trendstream, I found the following to be quite interesting:

  • Motivations behind curation are positive. People collect artifacts that they associate with positive experiences. You rarely find curation of negativity, or sharing of items that are associated with poor experiences. Related, the top motivators across all age groups for sharing content about products and services online are, in order of significance: to share a good experience, to help consumer pick out good product and to encourage company improvement. This is the warm glow around curation that I adore.
  • Millennials share content focused on "self." Millennials’ (16-24yo) secondary motivator behind sharing content is focused on self. Specifically, “Like to share my opinion.” As generations get older, secondary motivation shifts to a bigger picture though, to helping consumers. Finally, the next generation's (45-54yo) secondary motivation shifts again, to that of company improvement. This isn't too surprising, especially as Millennials have garnered a reputation for being an entitled (and dare I say vain?) generation. Add to that the fact that many have grown up recognizing technology as a platform for both utility and self-expression or promotion.
  • Fostering expertise is among lowest motivations. "To be an expert” is cited among the lowest motivations for all age groups, suggesting that when individuals share content they understand they’re not the “expert.” Dare I say that this lends credence to the notion that there is still some respect given to original content? That, in order to be recognized as an “expert,” unique content and thoughts must be present. Still, I found this data point surprising. I predict that curated content will increasingly be more accepted as "original" content over time, as long as it contains some unique insight or alteration.

Where Curation Opportunities Lie

Curation is here to stay, so how can organizations take advantage of this trend within their content marketing initiatives?

Let's jump back to an earlier thought posed: What will happen once curators significantly outpace creators, and the amount of original content to be shared is lessened to the point of near obsolescence?

Someone will have to fill the gap. And, that "someone" could easily be a company, brand, nonprofit or the like. Curation will prove to be a very positive trend for marketers who are looking to affect their audience via way of content marketing. If their key influencers are no longer creating content to the degree they once did, that makes way for branded (if even subtly) content to further shape opinion and markets. Alternatively, it’s quite possible that content curators will also begin to be recognized as influencers in their respective industries, and organizations will treat them as such.

Brands must take these changes into consideration when formulating their content strategy. What content is most easily shared, and where? How can an organization capitalize on the fact that content it creates will likely be curated to form something bigger or different? How should well-known curators be marketed to (or, is it more PR outreach)?

I’ll end with a few final thoughts as to the future of this space. I don’t have time to cover these today, but I expect three things on the horizon:

  • The amount of content curated will rise and fall in cycles, as shared content depends on original content creation to survive.
  • Organizations will weave curation into their content strategies, at the very least to ensure sharing of their content is as simple as possible for consumers.
  • Application development - both web-based and mobile - will continue to support the curation trend.

Next, stay tuned for a follow-up post where I discuss the connection between curation and the dynamic customer journey (DCJ) – one of Altimeter Group's newly released research themes. You can check out the three themes on our website here.

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