Media, organizations and brands curate content to drive social engagement.
What is Social Curation?
Social curation involves aggregating, organizing and sharing content created by others to add context, narrative and meaning to it. Artists, changemakers and organizations use social curation to showcase the full range of conversations around a topic, add more nuance to their own original content, and set the stage to crowdsource content from their community members.
The rise of social curation can be attributed to three broad trends. First, people are creating a constant stream of social media content, including updates, location check-ins, blog posts, photos and videos. Second, people are using their social networks to filter relevant content, by following others who share similar interests. Third, social media platforms are also curating content, by giving curation tools to users (YouTube playlists, Flickr galleries, Amazon lists, Foodspotting guides), using editors and volunteers (YouTube Politics, Tumblr Tags) or using algorithms (YouTube Trends, Auto-generated YouTube channels, LinkedIn Today).
As a result, a number of niche social curation platforms have emerged to enable people to curate different types of content — including links, photos, sounds and videos — into boards (Pinterest), trees (Pearltrees (video)), pages (Scoop.it (video)) and narratives (Storify (video), Cowbird). Some social curation platforms are focused on specific niches; for instance, Learni.st(video) helps people curate lessons and Fancy helps people discover cool things to buy.
In addition, media organizations are using social curation to add depth to their programming and media entrepreneurs are creating new media business models around social curation. News media organizations are curating conversations around popular topics (The Guardian #smarttakes) and important events (Al Jazeera War on Gaza, Facebook and CNN Election Insights, Current TV Politically Direct). Entertainment media organizations are using social curation to amplify the participation around sports and entertainment events (GRAMMY Live, Oscar Buzz, E! Entertainment’s GRAMMY Heat Gauge (video), Fox MLB Playoff Hub,Turner Sports Ryder Cup, Fox Sports’s Survival Sunday, ESPN NCAA Tournament of Tweets, I Heart Radio’s Twitter Tracker) and shows (X Factors USA, ABC’s Pretty Little Liars Suspect Tracker, American Idol’s Fan Wall). Media organizations are also creating hubs to enable fans to connect with anchors and stars (NDTV Social, CBS Connect Lounge). Media entrepreneurs are building new types of media platforms around posting excerpts from the most relevant stories from around the web (The Drudge Report, The Huffington Post) or linking to them (Techmeme, mediagazer, memeorandum, WeSmirch, Alltop (video)).
Finally, changemakers, artists, entrepreneurs, and organizations are using social curation in many meaningful ways. Changemakers are curating stories to put a spotlight on important issues (ViewChange (video), Human Rights Channel(video), Amnesty International: Free Pussy Riot Map Project, Global Voices Threatened Voices, ) and provide support during crisis situations (Japan earthquake, Haiti earthquake (video)). Artists and storytellers are curating social content to create new types of artifacts (Band of the Day (video), The History of Jazz (video), On the Way to Woodstock (video), 7 Days in September(video)). Entrepreneurs and organizations are building curation-driven communities around specific professional niches (Venture Maven, MuckRack); sports leagues, teams and athletes (Olympic Athletes’ Hub (video), NBA China, MLB 140 Club, FC Barcelona, Team Great Britain, NY Giants); artists ((MTV Music Meter (video), Billboard Social 50 Chart); and even countries (Curators of Sweden (video)).
Some of these curation initiatives have gained significant traction. For instance, Pinterest has more than 40 million users and Huffington Post is amongst the top 25 websites in the US with 39 million unique views and 37 million social actions per month. The popularity of these platforms shows that social curation is an increasingly important model of social engagement for social networks, media platforms, and organizations.
How does Social Curation work?
Typically, social curation platforms can be classified across four dimensions: the interplay between creating, curating and co-creating content; the method of curation, through themes or people; the visual representation of curated content; and the possibilities for participation.
Most standalone social curation platforms (Pinterest, Storify) are built almost entirely around curated content, but others (Cowbird) use a combination of original, curated and crowdsourced content. Social curation platforms created by media organizations typically aim to amplify participation around their original content (including news reports, TV shows and sports events) through curation and co-creation, but some, like Al Jazeera War on Gaza, focus almost exclusively on curation. For many changemakers, the value of social curation lies in showcasing diverse point of views. For many artists, social curation is only the first step in creating original artifacts with well-crafted narratives.
Most social curation platforms search for and filter content by keyword, then group relevant content into themes, and sometimes highlight the most influential people talking about the themes (Current TV Politically Direct, Grammy Live, Oscar Buzz). Other social curation platforms filter content by people and organizations, then highlight the most popular content created or curated by them (Venture Maven, Olympic Athletes’ Hub, NBA China, MLB 140 Club). Some social curation programs are built around serial curation, with a number of people contributing or curating content in sequence (Curators of Sweden).
Social curation platforms use different visualizations to showcase content. Streams continue to be the most popular visualization (Venture Maven, Oscar Buzz), but dynamic grids are also becoming popular (GRAMMY Live). Some platforms filter content by location and plot them on interactive maps (Al Jazeera War on Gaza, I Heart Radio’s Twitter Tracker). Some platforms are organized as directories to search for and find people (Olympic Athletes’ Hub, NDTV Social). Many platforms use sophisticated social data visualizations to display content (E! Entertainment’s GRAMMY Heat Gauge, Current TV Politically Direct). Increasingly, social curation platforms are mashing up different visualizations to create rich, interactive dashboards (Facebook and CNN Election Insights).
Finally, different social curation platforms offer different possibilities for participation. Some platforms merely make it easy for people to make sense of the curated content. Others also enable community members to follow people, vote on options, share content, add comments or updates, and upload photos directly from the interface. Still others add gamification elements to the platform (Pac 12’s Battle of the Tweets), or give community members access to special content based on the level of participation (Mission Impossible Flock-To-Unlock).
Social Curation for Brands
Almost all consumer brands, and many organizations, have started experimenting with social curation, by showcasing their own social content, or social content about them, on their websites.
Other brands have created social curation hubs around events they are participating in. KPMG created the World Economic Forum Live dashboard to showcase the most important conversations and trends emerging at Davos in 2012 and 2013. TaylorMade created a social hub to help fans connect with athletes during the 2012 US Open Golf. During the 2012 London Olympics, GE tied up with NBC to track Twitter conversations around the Olympics.
Another opportunity is to use social curation to create niche communities around a shared profession, passion, or purpose. For instance, in 2009, Microsoft created a unique B2B community called ExecTweets, where people could find and follow top business executives from different sectors and engage with their tweets.
Now, several brands are pioneering powerful branded content programs by integrating original content, curated content and crowdsourced content. Pepsi Pulse has transformed the Pepsi homepage into an interactive pop culture dashboard driven by social media, as part of its #LiveforNow campaign. The dynamic grid dashboard is a mashup of original articles about pop culture and live performances, content from Pepsi’s many celebrity endorsers, and relevant fan content, including content tagged with #livefornow. Secret Mean Stinks Gang Up For Good uses a similar dynamic dashboard to mash up original videos and tips on stopping teen bullying with fan conversations and photos from a series of social media challenges for teens. iQ by Intel uses a sophisticated social curation system to mash up Intel’s own original content with content created and curated by Intel employees to showcase technology’s impact on our lives.
Finally, many brands are integrating elements of social curation into their co-creation communities, and the boundary between curating content and co-creating content is blurring, especially in the context of short-term campaigns.
Social Curation Case Studies
Throughout the year, we have tracked the conversations around a number of crowdfunding platforms and branded crowdfunding programs in our weekly insights reports and quarterly magazines; here are a few highlights.
Social curation platform: Pinterest
Pinterest is one of the largest social curation platforms with 40 million users. Pinterest enables people to upload, curate and organize images on theme-based boards and embed or share these boards on their blogs and social networks. People can also browse through other curator’s boards, like or share images, re-pin images to their own boards, leave comments, follow boards for updates and follow curators who share similar interests.
MSLGROUP’s Gaurav Mishra noted:
“Pinterest’s goal is to connect everyone in the world through the “things” they find interesting, through their shared tastes and interests. Pinterest combines two powerful ideas: curating social interactions into stories (Storify) and connecting people based on their interest graph (Hunch).”
For instance, blogger Joe Murphy uses Pinterest to discover new things:
“I browse what others pin in common areas such as books, travel, or products, for ideas to inspire my activities, books to read, places to visit… [For Christmas,] I watched people’s pinboards of products they love or want very carefully for ideas to add to my shopping list or wish lists.”
Pinterest has received media attention and, indeed, new users, for its focus on visual content and for structuring content in boards as opposed to streams. As Pinterest super-user Drew Hawkins said:
“With the rise of platforms like Pinterest and infographic sharing etc., it’s becoming more obvious that people don’t like to read. If a story can be told with visuals, it has more impact right now. Pinterest offers that story-telling capability using different boards that many other social networks don’t exclusively offer.”
The social curation platform has also attracted the attention of marketers. As Huffington Post contributor Joe Waters pointed out:
“The heavy presence of women 25-44 on Pinterest is what distinguishes it from other new social media platforms, which are generally populated by men 18-24. Here’s a site that already has the audience everyone wants: women and moms who make most of the household buying decisions.”
Brands have used Pinterest to convey their brand message (Whole Foods), to encourage people to ‘pin’ their products (Barneys New York Valentine’s Day Wish List), to engage with prospective customers (bmi Airlines Pinterest Lottery), and to engage with Pinterest influencers (Kotex Women’s Inspiration Day (video)).
Social curation platform: The Fancy
Fancy is a social curation platform that also serves as a commercial marketplace. People create catalogs of things they want to own, sell or buy, and ‘window shop’ or shop by scanning streams of photos and searching by category, price range, color and curated gift guides. Then, people can make their purchases within the platform itself.
“The Web is very much about spearfishing and people looking for things they already know they want—that’s why Google has been so successful… These guys are supporting the other audience of shrimpers out there who are just looking for cool things to discover.”
Fashion blogger Elizabeth Canon noted:
“The Fancy allows merchants to “claim” products that are posted and sell them directly on the Fancy. This provides the Fancy with a revenue stream, the user with a more seamless transaction experience and the merchant with a higher likelihood of purchase intent.”
Fancy earns a fee of 10% for all products sold through its platform.
The platform further marries social curation and e-commerce with offerings such as the Fancy Box, a subscription-based monthly gift box featuring some of the most fancy’d items, curated by the fancy community; an embeddable buy button for bloggers and publishers; and an affiliate program that rewards curators.
Fancy also incorporates social networking elements such as a like button (called ‘fancy’), notifications and the ability to follow people, and gamification elements such as badges and rewards to encourage people to upload more content, explore partner stores on the platform and invite friends to join the community.
Fancy crossed 2 million users and $200,000 in weekly revenues in October 2012.
Social curation program: Curators of Sweden
In December 2011, the Swedish Institute and VisitSweden launched Curators of Sweden and invited ‘a new Swede every week’ to run the tourism board’s official Twitter account @Sweden. Curators were nominated online and selected based on their profession, interests and their personal tweets.
Jeremy Stahl, social media editor at the Slate, noted:
“The hope of the campaign is that every new curator will share his or her personal experiences of what it’s like to be Swedish, while illuminating something about the broader culture.”
The program has attracted plenty of attention, both positive and negative, for the Swedish tourism board’s open-mindedness and democratic approach, for the curators’ unique stories and provocative debates, and for the curators’ choice of ‘inappropriate’ language and topics. Melissa Agnes, a thought leader on crisis management, noted:
“In terms of social media transparency and creativity, this campaign definitely takes the lead. With 69,000+ followers, its proving to be wildly successful since, like a reality show, the world is sitting on the edge of their seats to see what happens next.”
The program has been recognized by the PR industry with two Swedish Golden Eggs and an international Gold Clio, and has also given rise to a new format of engagement on Twitter called Rotation Curation, employed so far by 70 countries, cities, people and cultural groups, and causes.
Brand program: Pepsi Pulse
Pepsi Pulse is a dynamic website that is updated in real-time to showcase “the most inspiring Now moments” in pop culture, including music, sports and entertainment, based on social popularity. In addition, Pepsi shares real time original content, including celebrity challenges and behind-the-scenes videos from live events, and invites consumers to add #Now or #LiveForNow to their tweets, instagrams, and pins to be featured on the Pulse.
Pepsi’s partner NewsCred claims that it is “reinventing news – for publishers, brands and their audiences” by licensing and curating full text articles, photos and video from publishers and creating customized content experiences for brands.
According to Fast Co.Create’s Joe Berkowitz, Pulse “embodies the marketing shift from ad messaging to continuous engagement.”
“Pepsi is learning, as every business in learning, that if you want to remain relevant with this new type of consumer, you have to be where they are, you have to talk their language… [and keep] them feeling like they want to be part of your brand.”
Marketer and blogger Blair Smith believes that Pepsi can go one step further, and showcase original content to engage more meaningfully:
“For Pepsi Pulse to be successful it has to go beyond reorganizing existing content and fill the channel with original content. Pepsi has to bring together its sponsorships, events, contests and other unique assets around the world into Pulse. But beyond that it needs to somehow make itself indispensable to its key audience, finding space amongst all of the other social channels we use.”
Brand program: iQ by Intel
iQ by Intel spotlights how people use technology in inspiring ways, to showcase technology’s impact on media, life and the planet. The iQ algorithm sources content on technology’s impact on society from vetted online sources based on social popularity. Then, it crowdsources the most popular content amongst Intel employees based on what they are sharing publicly, and publishes links and excerpts from them, with original content from sources like Intel Free Press and Intel’s Creators Project on a touch-optimized interface.
iQ was inspired in part from thought leader Tom Foremski’s notion that “Every Company is a Media Company.” Foremski believes that we are witnessing a major business transformation and that companies “must learn how to publish, listen, and converse in a very fragmented media world”:
“Every company is a media company because every company publishes to its customers, its staff, its neighbors, its communities. It doesn’t matter if a company makes diapers or steel girders, it must also be a media company and know how to use all the media technologies at its disposal.”
iQ is Intel’s answer to this challenge of creating a consistent stream of compelling content. With iQ, Intel focuses on content that communicates the power of technology and not the product itself. In his review of Intel iQ, social media thought leader Shel Israel noted:
“All content includes technology but the focus is not. This is an end-user publication and would not appeal to deep technologists. I would assume a great many of the topics being covered involve products powered by Intel, but on the surface, that appears to be besides the point.”
Blogger and social media professional Michael Kieran highlighted the benefit of this model:
“At a time when we’re all drowning in content, there’s real value in having customers organically share content that’s aligned with your company’s marketing messages.”
As a next step, Intel is building its own customized social curation software based on its proprietary monitoring technology called Social Cockpit (video) and hopes to involve 5000+ employees in the curation process.
The Future of Social Curation
We believe that social curation will change how media organizations and brands tell stories and engage their communities in 2013.
We expect news and entertainment media organizations to experiment with new business models tied to social curation.
We expect news media organizations to tightly integrate original content, curated content, and crowdsourced content to add depth to their stories and increase social engagement around them. Steven Rosenbaum, CEO of video curation platform Magnify.net and author of Curation Nation, argues:
“The most successful curators include sites like The Huffington Post, that embrace the three-legged-stool philosophy of creating some content, inviting visitors to contribute some content, and gathering links and articles from the web. Created, contributed, and collected — the three ’c’s is a strong content mix that has a measurable impact.”
We expect lifestyle and entertainment media to go further, and add a social commerce layer to this three-part strategy, to create new business models like Fancy that blur the boundaries between media and commerce players.
We also expect more brands to create more powerful social curation programs. Many brands are already active on Pinterest and we are likely to see new types of social curation programs on Pinterest with the launch of Pinterest business accounts and Pinterest-focused content marketing tools like Curalate. Specifically, we will see many brands use Pinterest, and niche Pinterest-like social curation platforms, for social commerce.
In addition, we will see corporations and brands that are already committed to serious long-term branded content programs (LVMH Nowness, Coca Cola Journey, American Express OpenForum, Qualcomm Spark, Cisco Network, IBM Smarter Planet,HSBC Business Without Borders) to follow the example of media organizations. We expect them, and many others, to design branded content programs (like Pepsi Pulse, iQ by Intel and Secret Gang Up For Good) that have specific strategies for creating long-form original content artifacts, using them as provocations to curate and crowdsource short-form content, then creating new long-form content artifacts from such short-form content.
Finally, we expect a number of startups to create social curation products for brands and media organizations. Products like Storyful (video), NewsCred (video) and Swift River (video) focus on media organizations and specialize in curating and syndicating the most relevant content. Other products like Percolate (video), Mass Relevance (video), CurationStation (video),Olapic (video) and PublishThis (video) target entertainment media organizations, corporations and brands, and offer features to drive social engagement.
To address this big opportunity, we are creating our own proprietary social curation software that will source the most relevant stories on a topic from vetted sources, rank them based on social popularity on a private dashboard, and enable human curators to publish them on social networks, email newsletters, mobile apps and touch-enabled dynamic web magazines, and drive social engagement around them.
This is the sixth report from our upcoming People’s Insights Annual Report titled “Now & Next: Future of Engagement,” to be published in February 2013 as an interactive iPad app. The report will highlight the ten most important frontiers that will define the future of engagement for marketers, entrepreneurs and change makers: Crowdfunding, Behavior Change Games, Collaborative Social Innovation, Grassroots Change Movements, Co-creation Communities, Social Curation, Transmedia Storytelling, Collective Intelligence, Social Recommendation and Social Live Experiences.
In each of these reports, we start by describing why they are important, how they work, and how brands might benefit from them; we then examine web platforms and brand programs that point to the future (that is already here); then finish by identifying some of the most important features of that future, with our recommendations on how to benefit from them.
Do subscribe to the People’s Insights email newsletter to receive each report and also an invite to download a free copy of the interactive iPad app.