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By Scott Abel, The Content Wrangler

First in a series of articles on content curation and social networking strategy by Social Networking Choreographer, Scott Abel, The Content Wrangler

Social networks are changing the way consumers obtain information about products and services. Nearly everyone — except for Prince, who has declared the internet dead — is tying to get in in the action.

Consumer research indicates that members of social networks are more likely to purchase products and services referred to them by their friends, fans, and followers. In fact, 90% of consumers say they trust recommendations from people they know; 70% trust opinions of unknown users. 71% claim reviews from family members or friends exert a “great deal” or “fair amount” of influence on what they purchase, while the same number of consumers don’t believe the claims made in traditional advertising messages at all.

As a result, social networks are like magnets to marketing, public relations and advertising professionals. Social communities like Facebook and Linkedin, and ‘socially-enabled’ message sharing sites like Twitter, are loaded with hundreds of millions of information-seeking consumers hungry for advice, recommendations, news, reviews and more. It’s no surprise that companies and non-profit organizations are trying to tap into these networks. They’re viewed as goldmines full of potential customers just waiting to be delivered a marketing/sales pitch.

Unfortunately, nothing could be further from the truth. Members of social networks, online communities, and messaging sites don’t want to hear your sales pitch. They want unfettered access to information about subjects that interest them. And, they want to hear it from people in their extended networks, or from family, friends, and co-workers. Not from you.

They don’t care about you, nor your latest press release, partner program or dinner special. And, the louder you shout, and the more you chase them, the more they tune you out.

Engagement is Key to Audience Development

To be successful at social networking you have to be able to engage your audience and attract and maintain their attention. Doing so involves a variety of tasks, the most important of which is to share interesting and relevant content, frequently.

In this world of always on, on-demand information, it’s not enough to set up an account on a social network and then publish content when you have time or when there’s something your boss thinks is important to say. In order to develop an active and engaged audience, you have to publish as much interesting and informative content as possible — as often as possible!

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They don’t care about you, nor your latest press release, partner program or dinner special.

That’s because the half-life of a post to a social network is measured in minutes, not years. The average Twitter post loses its maximum potential to attract attention in less than 13 minutes, say some analysts. Others are less willing to predict the lifespan in minutes, but data from Sysomos shows a tweet loses its power to attract attention, including retweets, in less than one hour.

This is because social networks are constantly updated. The most current information is featured at the top of each social network users’ news feed. Each post made after yours gets its turn at the top of the feed, moving your post down a notch each time a new post is added to the feed, until your post is no longer front and center, nor easy to find.

Add to the mix the sheer volume of tweets, posts, and updates being made every hour on socially-enabled sites around the digital globe, and you’ll soon realize the best strategy for getting noticed is to publish as often as possible, 24 hours a day, especially if you are trying to reach a global audience.

[Note: Reaching global audiences via social networks also involves: selecting the right social networks, communicating in the right languages, using the right words — words that resonate with your audience — and many other variables. We’ll talk more about global social marketing strategies and related issues in a future article.]

Enter The Content Curator

Because most organizations don’t have enough original content to publish an update every 15 minutes, 24 hours a day, a little creative thinking is required in order to load your social network properties with interesting information.

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Lady in a Gas Mask by Banksy

Creative thinking is abundant in the art world. When we think of creativity, we usually think about artists, galleries and art museums. But the business success of art is directly influenced by the decisions made by another creative type — the curator.

Curators who work for galleries and museums scour the planet for art they believe will interest and engage their patrons. They cull these offerings together into collections, aka exhibits, shows, weaved together by a common theme (e.g. Native American artists) and often displayed in interesting ways (e.g. watercolor paintings displayed in Moscow train cars).

By extension, organizations hoping to attract attention to their brands must become both curators and publishers of content collections. They must become the ‘go-to source’ for relevant information in order to differentiate themselves from the competition.

Case Study: My Twitter Feed

Shortly after establishing my Twitter account I began to see some of the many ways Twitter could prove valuable to me and to my clients.

First, I used it as a news source; a place to read the posts made by the people I follow on Twitter. I quickly discovered all sorts of valuable information — news, events, quotes, statistics, links to entertaining, informative and useful content. I also found it a rich source of competitive intelligence information (of interest to my clients), as well as a great place to research topics and locate information for use in presentations, reports, and articles.

Second, I began using Twitter to develop ‘audience’. I did so by using several techniques. I invited my existing email newsletter/mailing list subscribers to follow me on Twitter. I searched Twitter for people I knew, and I followed the people Twitter suggested I might be interested in knowing.

Third, I began publishing content as often as possible. But, scouring the digital world for content of interest to the audience I was hoping to attract, and posting it to social networks proved to be a time-consuming process with numerous manual tasks involved. In order to capitalize on the benefits of social networks, I quickly realized I would have to streamline, and wherever possible, automate my social networking efforts. I decided what was needed was a way to curate content and publish it to social networks automatically.

The Content Curation Process

In order to curate and deliver content to Twitter in the most efficient manner possible, I performed a quick examination of the typical tasks involved in acquiring and posting content, in hopes of identifying tasks that could be eliminated, made more efficient, or automated. After mapping out the high-level tasks and developing a basic workflow, I developed this process I call The Content Curation Process.

[Note: The Content Curation Process relies on several technologies, content standards, and third party services to make it work. The services I chose to utilize include GoogleReader and dlvr.it. GoogleReader is a free RSS Feed Reader I use to wrangle all the RSS feeds from my favorite publications, news outlets, bloggers and social networks into a single RSS feed from which I can review and approve content for later distribution by dlvr.it, a free tool I use to route approved content to various social network properties. You may find that other tools can accomplish the same thing for you.]

Before You Begin

Making the process work involves planning and pre-work. Before you can curate content, you’ll need to find the RSS feed address(es) all of the known news (content) sources that cover the topic(s) you plan to establish as your turf — your area of expertise. Then, search the web for more. Find as many as you can. In this case, more is better.

[Resource: RSS in Plain English (Video)]

The Content Curation Process: Making It Work

    1. Set-up a Google Reader account. Add to Google Reader the RSS feed addresses from the news sources, blogs, social networks, listservs, etc. you wish to monitor. Google provides some additional help locating feeds containing content about which you may be unaware.
    2. Set-up and configure your dlvr.it account. Add to dlvr.it your Google Reader feed url and set-up your content routing and delivery preferences.
    3. Return to Google Reader. Click the “share” button under each listing you want to share. Shared content will be routed to dlvr.it where it will follow your preferences (rules) for routing content to your Twitter followers.
    4. Visit your Twitter page to validate that posts are now being made automatically following the rules you set up in dlvr.it.
    5. Return to dlvr.it periodically to check out the statistics on each post. Make adjustments based on what you learn.

Tips and Tricks

      • If you notice links to certain types of content (topic-based, video, etc.) get more hits, try including more of this type of content in your feed.
      • Be aware that posts made on certain days of the week (and specific times of the day) may get more attention than others. Experiment with this. Use the statistics collected by dlvr.it to educate your decisions.
      • Remember that this is the World Wide Web. If you are hoping to attract an international audience, you may need to distribute your messages multiple times each day (to ensure your potential audience isn’t sleeping) and in multiple languages. You may even find that you’ll need to localize the messages to account for differences in social-economic, cultural, regulatory, religious and other reasons.

Content Curation Process: Help Getting Started

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Social Networking Choreographer, Scott Abel, The Content Wrangler

      The Content Curation Process can help you see the value of curating content from trusted sources and make it easy for you to make that information you curate available to your social network contacts quickly by taking advantage of automated social networking software tools. This process is not limited to use with Twitter, although, due to differences in the way various social networks work, it works better with some social networks than with others.

While the process itself is straightforward, it is wise to start your adventure into social networking with a trusted guide to lead the way. Consultants with social networking experience can help you avoid the pitfalls, streamline your processes, and automate pesky manual tasks. They can also help you understand the social networking marketplace (training and education), prepare you to take over the tasks yourself (knowledge transfer), and make recommendations for how you can continue to take advantage of the fast-paced, always -changing world of social software (develop a business social networking strategy).

If you are interested in developing a social networking strategy and/or in adopting the Content Curation Process and need help, contact me.