Storytelling

July 7th, 2014

How to Use Curation to Create Unique, Original Content

When done well, curated content can make a real impact on curious Internet surfers and professional researchers alike. Following the concept of “Seek, Sense, and Share,” successful curators have changed how many of us view content by understanding what people want to know and how best to present the right content in an organized way.

It turns out you can engage your audiences just as effectively by curating existing work as you can by creating new material. Here are five specific approaches that you can take for curating content:

1. Create conversations by comparing and contrasting existing text

Lapham’s Quarterly publishes the works and documents of some of history’s greatest thinkers and presents shortened segments in brief articles. For example, here is visual artist Francis Bacon and author Joan Didion, separated by three centuries, ruminating on memory and notebooks. People don’t necessarily have the time to read dense historical texts; they want something easy to digest. Lapham’s Quarterly does this by offering a clear theme.

Given their constraint—focusing on content that already exists—Lapham’s Quarterly has been forced to innovate on presentation and context. In its Conversations section, the journal has turned to a technique familiar to most writers who have graduated middle school: comparison and contrast through textual analysis.

In content marketing, these conversations could show two sides of a debate and allow the reader to side with the writer who makes a more valid argument. It could also feature text that offers two complementary ways of thinking about a single problem.

For example, think about content marketing as a whole, a concept that basically boils down to the creation, publishing, and distribution of media. While branded content may not have an extensive history, you could potentially study the background of journalism and media to get interesting ideas for your own work. Or use biographies about media moguls from different eras—profiling, say, William Randolph Hearst and Rupert Murdoch. Comparing great thinkers throughout history will interest your readers with a truly unique hook.

2. Simplify dense text or transcribe speeches

Dense content isn’t always dated. Contemporary academic articles are usually written for precision, not for conciseness, which can cause some readers to turn away.

Recently, some students put together a site called Useful Science, which is a collection of links to academic papers summarized in tweet-sized one-liners. It makes concepts and implications simple for readers and instantly brings people value.

Useful Science, a crowd-sourced project anyone can contribute to, can be as simple as offering a link to a scientific article. In May, bestselling author Malcolm Gladwell tweeted, “A group of Canadian grad students have created a website that elegantly summarizes scientific findings. It’s genius.”

Each industry has its own studies, predictions, and set of articles that can be curated. Sometimes, if a niche is too narrow, intersecting with a larger niche can draw in enough readers. In the case of Useful Science, practical health or psychology tips carried more than enough substance. For another example: Maria Popova’s Brain Pickings successfully combined creativity and art.

3. Curate existing crowdsourced interviews

Reddit’s Ask Me Anything series has become extremely popular and spawned a new type of interview format: Multiple users can directly ask questions to subjects. Sadly, Reddit’s user interface isn’t necessarily the most conducive to viewing in-depth interviews.

Why not repackage it and present it in a classic Q&A format?

While Reddit has been a great platform for initiating and facilitating communication, Interviewly is a solution that fine-tunes the dialogue by displaying the content in a clean, familiar, and intuitive way. Even with all the disorganized content out there, there are plenty of possibilities for curating an interview with the right presentation—think StorifyQuibbInbound, or Growth Hackers.

4. Collect relics and put them on display

Relics don’t necessarily have to be old, but they do have to be remarkable and delightful.

The Book Cover Archive is one project in that vein that looks purely at book cover designs and designers. Designers and writers can both find inspiration without having to go to a library. The archive contains more than 1,000 books, and the curators also run a blog that focuses on covers and designers. Although the site is a great fountain of inspiration, the minds behind the Book Cover Archive don’t appear to be as active as they once were. Now imagine if a book designer, design agency, or publisher were to create a similar collection in order to generate more inbound leads from authors or agents.

5. Appeal to nostalgia

Using nostalgia to appeal to an audience is usually a smart move. Dig up photographs, text, tapes, or any other media that you can find from a specific decade, and sit back as users project their own experiences onto your content.

Retronaut, for example, collects tens of thousands of pictures and presents them in a linear timeline. By displaying everything from past advertisements to modern-day buildings, the site gives viewers a glimpse into previous generations and a more holistic view of the world we live in today. While Google Images might have more clutter and fewer curated images, Retronaut’s high-quality snapshots are presented in a distinctly attractive manner. It also promotes engagement, since you never really know what you’ll find from a collection of photographs that spans more than two centuries.

Because curating one item takes less time overall than creating one item (e.g., discovering a photo vs. scouting locations, taking a photo, editing it, and uploading it), curation opens up the possibility for brand publishers to create a larger project that contains audio, visuals, and text. Doing so could make it simpler for publishers to distribute these various types of content to the right audience, such as audio to Soundcloud, visuals on Pinterest, and text on Twitter.

Closing thoughts

Regardless of the size of your content marketing budget, curation can serve as a scalable option to engage readers without breaking the bank.

Don’t overthink it. Create entirely new content experiences simply by curating existing content and presenting it in ways that will please your audience more than the original source.


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