Create or Curate? One Marketer's Struggle

It’s a big loud web out there. As the marketing person for a small company in a corner of the bustling social media space, I have learned firsthand that it is very difficult to be heard. It is partly a numbers game in the sense that there seems to be people talking about social media than there are insects in the world. But it is also a time game because business doesn’t stop just so you can write something original and good.

Being heard is an art form these days, one that I can’t claim to have mastered. One thing I've noticed is that people who are often heard practice both forms of the art: create and curate.

To curate is to sift through a lot of content created by other people and pass on the few items that either best say what you wanted to say but you didn’t have time to write or that inspired you so much you had to share.

To create is to produce your own original content. Granted, Vanilla Ice and many others would argue that combining existing content into something new is really creating new content, but for arguments sake, I’ll limit creating to truly original content.


Curators For Life

We all want to be curators in one way or another. Who doesn’t relish the idea of creating that perfect playlist on iTunes? It hasn’t changed since the 1980’s (for me) when I wanted to make the perfect mix tape to impress that girl. The way you collect good content says a lot about you, your sensibilities and your thoughts.

In terms of today’s social media frenzy, those who curate great content the fastest earn a reputation as a source of information. Some people (Guy Kawasaki) have made a life out of it. For most, curating content is a necessity, because no one can produce enough good content fast enough to stay on top. OK, Seth Godin excluded, no one really can.

So, for most, it isn’t a question of “Should I curate?” but rather “How do I curate?”


Man or Machine?

I think most people agree that automated curation is not the answer although, like those 1950s visions of robots that do everything for you, it sure seems like a nice idea. The problem is, automated curation doesn’t accurately enough reflect your personality or sensibility to seem right.

That leaves good old-fashioned curation by hand, which takes time to do. Let’s assume you can spend time to curate some good content by hand, remembering that you probably also want to create some good content of you own, and you also have a job to do, and let’s not forget your life outside of work, and….

Yeah, it can get pretty hard to pull off.

And don’t forget that every other guy out there is trying to do the same thing you are.


Point of Diminishing Returns

There might be a point where it just doesn’t pay to be in the race to be heard. Even if you have devised a plan to be able to do your curating and creating while not getting fired from your job and your family, who’s to say the content you’re putting out there hasn’t already been curated or created by someone else? Do you get any credit for referring the same article that David Armano pointed to? Does it serve anyone’s best interest to receive multiple references to the same content? Sure, like Yelp, multiple positive reviews indicate something good, but then you have to ask yourself, how many positive reviews is enough?

There is less value in being the 103rd guy to say that an article is really good.


Consequences of Being a Curator

Assuming you have what it takes to be a good curator, what does it mean for you? Some say that being a consistent pointer to good content before everyone else in the world has discovered it marks you as a good resource for information, and that people will likely return to you again and again.

In this age of measuring influence, is that enough? I happen to be a person who refers to a lot of other content in my tweeting. When I look at my Twitalyzer results, I have a really high generosity score, but I am far from influential according to their measures. As tools like Klout and Twitalyzer become accepted as the source of influencer measurement, am I forced to change my habits in order to garner a higher influencer score? In my case, am I hurting or helping my ability to be heard?


If The Tree Falls…

…keep doing what makes you happy. Seriously! If you like being a curator, keep doing it. You are providing a valuable service for someone. Maybe more people follow Beth Kanter than you, but referring the same piece of content that she does is still useful to the few people who follow you that don’t follow her.


What About Creation?

The truth is you have to do it if you want to be seen as influential according to the general measurements. To really be a voice among voices, you have to have those original thoughts that set you apart.  Does that mean that you should just give up if you aren’t really all that creative?

No, it doesn’t. It just means that you have to recognize how far you’ll get with what you’ve got. Remember, you still have an audience who needs you, because there will always be someone who knows about you who doesn’t know about Chris Brogan. It won’t be as many people that know about him and not you, but still, that one person is counting on you to guide him in how to use social media to grow his business.


Fine, But What Is The Recipe I Should Follow?

Even if you’ve stayed with me this far, you might be asking yourself how much creating you should be doing and how much curating you should be doing to deliver the most value?

I don’t know. The right mix is going to be different for each of us, based on how good we are at creating and curating, and who is listening. To know the answer, you’ll need to listen to your audience for clues, measure how much interaction you’re getting with each type of content you provide, and most importantly, ask them what they want.

My personal conclusion (for today) is one tweet per day that refers to good content written by someone else, one tweet per day that refers to Social Agency’s original content, and one blog post per week. I keep an aye out to see how it seems to be working and make adjustments along the way.

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