The Rise of the Curator in Marketing

The exponential growth of online content is a given. Every month there are more people online, more tweets being tweeted, more blog posts being written, more Web sites being launched, and more videos being uploaded. On a daily basis, all of us are inundated with news articles, emails, tweets, and news feeds. Some have tried the zero inbox methodology, while others have declared content bankruptcy and just started over.

Why have we reached this state of affairs? It's because it is easier than ever to publish content these days. In the early '90s, to put content online, you had to know how to run a Web server as a prerequisite to publishing online. By the late '90s, with the advent of sites like GeoCities, you only needed to know HTML. In the beginning of the new century, with the growth of blogging tools, you could put your thoughts online as long as you could type them on a keyboard. And toward the end of the decade, with Twitter, you didn't even have to think twice, literally, to publish your thoughts.

The benefit is that we have so many more diverse voices participating in online discussions these days. On the flip side, the vast majority of content out there is irrelevant at best, drivel at worst.

So how do we wade through the clutter to find only the best and most relevant content? Many argue that Google is the solution. Aside from a smorgasbord of other factors, Google primarily ranks content that has the most inbound links. While it can get us part of the way there, Google is essentially a giant online popularity contest. It surfaces the most popular content, but not necessarily the most relevant.

Another approach taking center stage is content curation, the process of finding, organizing, and sharing the best and most relevant content. Curation is nothing new. It's something that art galleries and museums have done for centuries. But we are just starting to see its rise in the ways that we access content online.

In the online media world, some of the top media destinations, such as Yahoo!'s homepage, Reddit, the Huffington Post, and Digg, for years have had a strong curation foundation built on third-party content. Similarly, curation has revolutionized social media starting with the meteoric rise of Twitter, as well as by Pinterest, LinkedIn's Today section, and most recently Facebook's new Collections feature. E-commerce businesses are also dabbling with curation, with sites ranging from AHAlife, Svpply (acquired by eBay), and Etsy bringing forth the best and most relevant products from the enormous selection available online. Even search companies are opening up to human curation, with Yahoo!'s recent acquisition of Snip.it and Google's incorporation of Google+ posts into its search algorithms.

Lately, what's surprising is that it's not just the media, social media, e-commerce, and technologists who are embracing curation, but that marketers are doing it as well. These days most marketers are responsible for perpetually publishing content, ranging from tweets to blog posts to white papers on behalf of their companies, to attract a followership and promote their brands. But at the same time, many of these same marketers are overwhelmed, resulting in stale social media feeds and blogs that have not been updated in weeks or months.

As a result, increasingly marketers are turning to curating a substantial part of their content, rather than solely creating all of it themselves. Adobe runs a site called CMO.com that acts as a single consolidated resource for all digital marketing news for its target audience of chief marketing officers. Intel earlier this year launched a site called iQ, featuring interesting articles from around the Web that it crowd-curated from its employee base. FedEx, with a somewhat nefarious agenda, launched a site called BrownBailout, where it curated articles from mainstream media advocating against the FAA reauthorization bill, which would have bailed out its arch-competitor, UPS. By curating content, not only do marketers satisfy their own need to publish, but they also provide a genuine value-added service to help their audience get through the noise.

Pawan Deshpande is the founder and CEO of Curata, a business-grade content curation software company. He has previously held software engineering positions at Microsoft, Google, and other companies, where he was awarded patents in social networking and machine transliteration.

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