Why Social Curation fails for B2B Marketing – Curation Models Part I

There are several models for content curation as a part of a content marketing strategy.  Content can be curated by an editor/curator, by a crowd (social curation), or by a machine (algorithmic curation).  In this multi-part series, I will explore the strengths and weaknesses of each approach and which ones are most appropriate for each scenario, especially with respect to marketing.

Social Curation is a manifestation of the “wisdom of the crowds”.  Sites like Digg and Reddit are some of the most popular destinations online.  Other than comments, there is zero original content on these sites.  Rather the content is sourced by an army of users who continually find, group, organize and share the best content.  In concert, these swarms of users are essentially playing the role of a content curator as per its definition.

In the business world, many content marketing managers salivate over the idea that a swarm of users can come together and create a vibrant buzzing destination with fresh curated content.  A few brands have been able to pull this off and pull it off well.  For example, a few years ago, Dell launched IdeaStorm where thousands of users submit product ideas and only the best and more relevant are rated to the top by the collective user base.  In fact, the popular pre-installation of Ubuntu came out of IdeaStorm.  Since then, Salesforce has productized the underlying platform of IdeaStorm as a part of their offering.

Over the past few years, I have heard the desire of many B2B marketing executives express their desire for such a brand community.  The bad news is that for most B2B spaces, unlike Dell, it’s near impossible to gather a community of users who can continually curate and contribute content on a regular basis.  In most B2B markets which are narrow and specific, you will be successful if you get a few hundred users.  Furthermore, even if you do get a few hundred users, far fewer will be contributing content following the 1% rule.

Users don’t come to an online destination, unless there are: [1] other users there (as in social networks) or [2] content for them to consume (as in a blog). But social curation relies on content being gathered by other users.  In essence, social curation puts us in a chicken-and-egg loop: which comes first community, or content?

Content Community Cycle

As an example, take a look at Business Week’s Business Exchange. Here, Business Week has created hundreds of channels on very specific topics such has High Tech Channel Sales.  All the content on these channels consists of links to third party content submitted by users.  Though this has been often heralded as an innovative concept, it’s far from a success.  The average channel has few pieces of content and even fewer users.  By solely relying on a community to provide content, and content to build a community for extremely specialized topic areas, Business Week will continue to struggle to attract sufficient users or sufficient content.

In the next post in this series, we will explore how automation (algorithmic curation) can help break out of this chicken-and-egg cycle and shortcut the road to content.