Content Curation: Innocent Sharing or Just Another Pile of Digital Marketing Bull Chips?
GRUMPY AND GROUCHY RETURN TO THEIR CURMUDGEONLY WAYS IN THIS DISCUSSION OF CONTENT MARKETING...
Preface: This is the 22nd installment of He Said He Said, produced after a brief hiatus during which we received a large number of requests to return to the format. Truth be told, Jim Murray and I agree that writing this series is about as much fun as two straight guys can have together, and so we're continuing to do it. For the record, the process is pretty much real time live, with each of us writing quickly and off the cuff, although we do consciously pick topics that are likely to provoke disagreement and discussion. For to us, the exchange between us and our readers is what it's all about. So please feel free to read and join the conversation.
PHIL: An article that appeared a few years ago in the digital magazine EContent defined ‘content curation’ as, "… the act of discovering, gathering and presenting digital content that surrounds specific subject matter … Unlike Content Marketing, content curation does not include generating content, but instead, amassing content from a variety of sources, and delivering … [it] to readers in a mash-up style.”
In my experience, “curated content” is used mainly in the service of “Content Marketing” ― and frequently without the consent of the original creator.
It, therefore, seems to me that content curation is the epitome of predatory content theft.
Whether it is a form of theft that rises to the level of plagiarism and/or violation of copyright is a complicated question. But the bottom line appears clearly to me to be that it is theft, plain and simple.
Yet, content curation is not only tolerated in today’s digital publishing world, it’s widely accepted as standard practice, even lauded.
Do you think, Jim, that we’ve just become too lazy to create original content for marketing purposes, or that we’re just too cheap to be willing to pay even the pittance it would take to purchase rights to original content? Or is content curation, like Rap “music”, the devolutionary adaptation to seriously waning levels of available creative talent?
JIM: Well since you asked…I believe that the whole concept of Content Marketing is bullshit. I always have. As are the notions that people need to know all kinds of stuff about you before they make a purchase decision…that content management programs are designed to get people to warm up to your brand…and that people no longer believe the claims that advertisers make in conventional advertising.
This is all crap. All you have to do to understand that is read Bob Hoffman’s weekly newsletter, which I have been doing for the past year.Bob has done a lot of industry research to basically demonstrate that content management programs without the aid of paid media advertising are literally 99% ineffective.
So what does this all have to do with curation? Well, once you come to the realization that Content Marketing is mostly, and by mostly I mean close to 100% useless, you also start to realize that that curation is a rather pointless activity.
Whether this constitutes plagiarism is a good question. For this, I would refer to the good old 80/20 Differential, which IMHO would put plagiarized or partly plagiarized content in the 80%. Because let’s face it, most of this stuff is cranked out by propeller heads whose main skill is skimming cutting and pasting. They're not writers. They're hacks and the stuff they produce is mashed-up crap for the most part.
All of this is the brainchild of the digital marketing industry whose main objective is to get you into a content management program that they will gladly manage for you, mostly with content that they harvest from content banks populated with skim, cut and paste junk on whatever topics fit your product.
It’s a scam that a whole lot of companies bought into and legitimized. But these days you’re starting to see companies like Proctor & Gamble reducing their content management program by 75% due to under-performance. Other companies have already started pulling back and more will soon follow.
This is why I have avoided it for years and choose to write op/ed stuff instead. Op/ed is the best kind of content for a writer to produce anyway because it’s a little personal and therefore more difficult to steal because all it primarily promotes is your writing skills and industry knowledge.
I know you have had problems with plagiarism in the past. But you have to admit that hasn’t been chronic. In fact, you could probably file it under ‘shit happens’.
PHIL: Well, that’s just great, Jimbo, just great. I ask you to join me in trashing content curation and content curators… and you immediately divert off to trashing Content Marketing.
But okay, let’s take a step back and talk first about what Bob Hoffman is saying, namely, that Content Marketing, in and by itself, is almost totally ineffective.
Personally, I’m inclined to accept Hoffman’s claim. Indeed, I’ve found that most people, who use the term “content”, do so with the attitude that it is a generic commodity, dropped into one's blog page or website or other marketing vehicles, for the sole purpose of disguising a sales pitch as the “delivery of value”.
That purported delivery of value is supposed to build credibility for one’s brand, and win the loyalty of potential customers. Which is precisely why almost all Content Marketing fails.
Most of those who buy into Content Marketing as a strategy invariably fail to understand that it matters what you provide as content.
For example, if you are thinking about outfitting a home workshop, you might give preference to a tool and equipment firm that posts consistently interesting, informative and believable content about tools and machinery, woodworking and welding, and so on.
What is not going to impress you as a prospect in such cases are cat memes, weather reports for the Colorado ski slopes (unless, I suppose, you’re getting ready to go skiing in Colorado), or the latest “fun facts” about using WD40 lubricant for all manner of non-standard applications. And because firms don’t understand that the nature of the content delivered matters, they see Content Marketing as a cheap way to brand and build sales.
The situation is reminiscent of when a firm feels it can’t afford a decent advertising budget, so decides to take cheap advertising space in publications that don’t have genuine circulation. When a firm does that, it is simply because it wants to feel comforted by advertising somewhere. Never mind that somewhere is often a useless venue, and they’d be just as well, or perhaps better off not advertising anywhere.
JIM: Hold your horses there, boat boy, I have to take a bit of an issue with your allegation here. IMHO, (hardly ever H), I thought I did a pretty good job of connecting the dots.
I mean, if content curation isn’t one of the main activities of content marketing, then something is definitely amiss. You can’t really discuss one without the other. And that brings me right back to the main issue which is that content marketing could, maybe on a good day, be generally improved by more thoughtful content curation.
But even in the best of all possible worlds, there is still a massive, constantly growing glut of content out there, which is a true sign that this medium, as become bloated and as such it is much harder to be successful, or even break through the clutter than it was in the early days.
But I don't think this is so much a result of laziness as is it of taking advantage of algorithmic technology to assemble (and consequently de-personalize) the content that a lot of pretty high-profile brands are putting out there.
Here’s what I mean. A couple years ago a friend of mine asked me to look at the content marketing program for a fairly high profile brand. They had created a Facebook page and had several different streams of content rotating through on an average of 21 postings a week.
Their ad agency’s digital marketing department charged them about $160,000 to do this over a 20-week cycle. And that was just for curating/managing the content. It didn’t include creative, photography, illustration, writing, art direction and posting, which added another $90,000.
What my friend’s client wanted to know was if they were getting ripped off.
Well, all you had to do to figure that out was scroll down the page, and check the actual engagement in terms of comments. It was pathetic. Most of the comments felt like they were written by 10-year-olds, and after a good deal of scrolling down their page, I had trouble getting the number of comments to add up to 100.
Obviously, the content was crap. But they paid through the nose for it. Close to half a million bucks a year. (for two 20 week cycles)
The point this that you can’t talk about content curation without paying attention to the results that the marketing it supports achieves. Not everybody’s results are going to be this pathetic. But even if you are being generous, it’s still a lot of bull chips and for most brands and pretty much a waste of marketing dollars, unless you are spending big in conventional media to drive traffic to the landing or content pages.
And even then, you have to have an incentive attached to that, which adds even more to the cost.
PHIL: I have to point out that the numbers don't seem quite as outrageous if we take into consideration the value of the Canadian dollar versus the U.S. dollar. [Smile]
Seriously, though, you and I are coming at this from two opposite directions. I am pretty much saying it is the poor content, created by content curators, that makes Content Marketing just a pile of bull chips.
You, on the other hand, are saying that Content Marketing is, if not an outright con, a bungled notion all on its own.
Perhaps, we can agree that however one comes at them, Content Marketing and its hand-maiden content curation are wrong-headed, both in terms of concept and execution.
I would say you've put your finger on the Achilles heel of Content Marketing, which is that nobody can be attracted to even the highest quality content until and unless they are first exposed to it. So even if you pack a website with the greatest, most attractive, most credible content available, you still have first to drive traffic to the website, before anything can happen. And you can’t do that by means of Content Marketing. Or can you?
What would happen if content marketers stopped taking the cheap and easy route of using second or third rate curated content ― which is concurrently available at numerous sites on the web ― and instead commissioned the creation of high-quality original content, then posted that content in updates and long-form pieces across numerous social media platforms?
I suspect that might just work to give a Content Marketing campaign the kick-start it inevitably needs to begin building brand recognition and driving initial traffic to a firm’s website or blog. Let’s call it Foothold- or Prelude-marketing.
Of course, to implement such an approach, content marketers would have to stop stealing via curation and start paying for the creation of credible original content.
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About me, Phil Friedman: With 30 some years background in the marine industry, I've worn numerous hats — as a yacht designer, boat builder, marine operations and business manager, marine industry consultant, marine marketing and communications specialist, yachting magazine writer and editor, yacht surveyor, and marine industry educator. I am also trained and experienced in interest-based negotiation and mediation.
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