Curation Is The New Aggregation

As 2010 comes to a close I’m betting many marketing communications professionals have had a challenging year hitting their goals. Organizations that I work with all express a desire to attract more customers, members, engagement, donations, etc. in 2011. One strategy that keeps coming up as a means to accomplish this is to bolster efforts to become the ‘go to’ place on the web for all the information stakeholders need about a product, service or issue. What this generally translates to is a bigger, richer, denser website–full of information, media and links, created, collected and fed from around the web.

This is all well and good, but it isn’t necessarily going to help reach the goals listed above, even if the effort is undertaken with more gusto next year. There are organizations that envision themselves as central content hubs, with others providing them funds, attention, time and patronage as needed because of their hub status. The danger of this worldview is that it's at odds with the realities of a society that’s both energized and exhausted by social media and connectedness. As Seth Godin points out in Linchpin, being the information hub is no longer a differentiator because anyone can now find and learn almost everything–and then some–on the Internet. Plus, other organizations are just as busy generating and collecting content based on their own needs and interests; creating a glut of information on the web, much of it overlapping and all of it competing for people’s attention. Web 2.0 technologies have given organizations the ability to collect and share content easily. This can be stimulating, but it can also become repetitive and tiresome.

Smart brands know that they must figure out how to integrate to be relevant in a socially connected world but not overwhelm or fatigue their constituents in the process.

One way to do this is to take a step back and analyze the usefulness of the content being aggregated. Mechanized “more” is not necessarily better–it’s far more powerful when organizations use their expertise to make selective choices about what’s relevant and what will engage their core audiences. This is where the art of curation comes in. If aggregation is about collecting content somewhat indiscriminately, curation––very much a human, and sometimes time consuming, endeavor ––is about choosing content; it’s condensing overwhelming complexity into easily digestible, enjoyable and useful chunks. Or as Tom Foresnki puts it, “curation versus aggregation represents human web versus machine web.”

As the web evolves, people will increasingly look to the people behind the organizations that they have relationships with and trust them to make choices about what content they get to see based on the things they care about and the depth of their interest levels. The organizations that have success in 2011 might just be those that can delight their constituents by being good curators for them. One caveat about curating: the right to deliver anticipated, personal and relevant messages to people who want to get them has to be earned. It's power comes with permission.

Aggregation will still have its place, (any organization that hasn’t developed the expertise needed to set up the automated collection of specific content on their website should make it mission critical for 2011), but to have added value, there should be a layer of curation over it so that it's more selective and customized; as the web evolves, it’s part of what customers will come to know and trust a brand for.

Regardless of whether it’s aggregated or curated, all website content requires a strategy that aligns with the larger organizational goals. It's critical to know why content is being put together, who will use it and how they will use it; whether constituents are able to get it somewhere else; what the internal staffing implications are for managing it and what the potential outcomes might be.

Natalie Zensius is a marketing communications strategist with experience in both the for-profit and non-profit sectors. Learn more about Natalie at

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