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Curation is necessary for thought leadership, though not sufficient by itself

When I read Eric Wittlake‘s post Three Reasons Content Curation is Overrated I found myself in an odd position: I agree with the basic thesis, but I disagree with the arguments he uses to make his case and ultimately with the conclusions he draws.

Let’s start with the agreements. I agree that content curation is often misunderstood and, therefore, misused as a shortcut to thought leadership. And I have no quarrel with the point that you need to create your own content that articulates your vision in order to establish thought leadership.

However, I would say it differently.

Thought leadership is about demonstrating clarity of vision and in order to establish it you need to create content that expresses that vision. But you also need to show that you can recognize that vision in others. To my mind, thought leaders both articulate their own vision and identify it and tease it out of other people’s work. It’s not an either/or proposition.

And here’s where I think the author goes on to argue the case against content curation using arguments that are, for the most part, not true. For instance:

“When you just curate other people’s content, your audience doesn’t learn anything about your thinking.”

I think this is false. If you curate content effectively, you add your own opinion and context to the content you are sharing which can reveal very much about your thinking. Plus, just the choice of what you share and what you omit can say a lot about what you think is important and what is not.

Curation, by itself, is not enough to differentiate you. It just makes you one more source of links and similar perspectives.”

Don’t agree. If you are doing it properly, your content selection and filtering activities are unique and relevant to your audience. The fact is, none of us really has the same audience because we all have different social networks and, more importantly, different relationships to the people in our networks. Curation, if done well, leverages these differences. However, if you’re just copying other people’s curation, you will indeed have trouble differentiating yourself to your network.

Linking to others is “reinforcing someone else’s thought leadership.”

I believe this is true. But it’s not an argument against curation, as I see it.

This is where the “leadership” part comes into play. I think thought leadership is an inherently social concept. The community decides who its leaders are based on both the demonstration of vision and adding value to the collective understanding of an issue. Curating other people’s great content is part of the value-add that the crowd uses to ascribe thought leadership.

In the end, thought leadership is a product of both content creation and curation activities that add value and clarity of vision to a topic. Either activity, if done poorly or without the support of the other, will hamper your ability to build leadership around your vision.

Thanks, Eric, for helping me clarify my own thoughts on this topic.

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11 Responses to Curation is necessary for thought leadership, though not sufficient by itself

  1. Eric Wittlake June 12, 2012 at 9:42 pm #

    Hi Jay, great response, thanks for publishing this. You make some good points. I want to dive into two of them in a bit more detail:

    1) “When you just curate other people’s content, your audience doesn’t learn anything about your thinking.”

    What you share and the perspective you share it with DOES say a lot about you. In Enterprise B2B, I don’t believe it says nearly enough.

    When buyers are making big multi-year commitments (either multi-year in contract or in mindset), they need to know that your offering is the right solution today and tomorrow. That that three versions later, you are heading in the right direction for them.

    Curating content and including your perspective shows that you are intelligent and can react to the environment around you. It does not show that you can lead, only that you can react. It is a valuable part of the picture, but it isn’t enough.

    2) “Curation, by itself, is not enough to differentiate you. It just makes you one more source of links and similar perspectives.”

    I originally drafted that only a few marketers will successfully differentiate, that might be more accurate but I haven’t seen great examples of marketers curating and becoming a go-to resource. That said, if thought leadership is the objective, even if you do reach that status, you still need to take the additional steps of distributing your own perspectives and driving discussion around them.

    While we all have different networks, those networks are not owned, they are earned and re-earned every day. Using myself as an example, there are about 50 people on Twitter that I “listen too” carefully and another ~200 that are on lists I monitor regularly, out of about 1500 total that I follow. Making my list of 50 is easy. Staying there is harder.

    Once you have earned my attention through content curation, you need to turn that attention into something that differentiates you. If that is ONLY your content curation activity, I will turn to you as a path to information, and I will turn to the original information source for the perspective on my company’s direction and the solutions we are investing in.

    Can curation be valuable? Certainly. But I still do not believe it is enough.

    Thanks for the great response and perspective!

    – @wittlake

    • Jay Palter June 12, 2012 at 10:50 pm #

      Eric, I appreciate your clarifying response and note that while the terms we are discussing — “curation” and “thought leadership” — are the same, they may take on slightly different meanings for each of us due to our different context. Your context is enterprise B2B markets and mine is practice professionals (which is sort of a hybrid of B2B and B2C, as I see it).

      In general, I would agree with most all of your above comment. Curation alone, especially in your context, is not enough to establish leadership. It can attract attention and become the basis for building a vision for thought leadership.

      In the context of my clients and their target markets, revealing oneself as knowledgeable and trustworthy is as important a factor as establishing visionary thought leadership. Curation goes a long way to positioning professionals strongly within their markets and adding value to their existing client relationships. But nothing beats the clear voice creating your own content to give your vision substance.

      Thank you for contributing to my understanding of how this looks in your world.

  2. Thanks for the post and comments.

    Sharing content from others is a simple way to get comfortable using social media and start building an audience. This parroting isn’t enough to get hired.

    Creating original content (including blog comments) makes the difference. Since this takes much more effort than retweeting, a blend parrot and pundit is ideal.

    PS Consistency is also needed.

    • Jay Palter June 28, 2012 at 9:02 pm #

      Appreciate your feedback, Promod. But I would not consider “parrotting” to be curation at all. If all one does is repeat back what someone else is saying, they are not adding value. And adding value is essential to curating.

      Curating content is not forwarding. It’s not aggregating and it’s not parrotting. Curation implies that you know the subject matter, that you’ve immersed yourself in it so that you can identify information patterns when they emerge and that you can tell great quality from regular, everyday quality.

      I believe that curating great content in this information era is an act of value creation.

  3. Michiel Gaasterland September 14, 2012 at 9:31 am #

    Nice post & good points Jay. You’re absolutely right that the context makes all the difference. I curate stuff all the time (only the very best content, on very specific topics). Even blog about other people’s content, adding value by topping and tailing it with my own view. And yes it does help establishing yourself as an expert in your field.

    I think what Eric is ‘battling’ in his post is the magic of content curation that is often talked about, especially in the B2B arena. In that context I agree with Eric. Content curation is very much overrated. It doesn’t help drive people through their decision making process. Which is really what it is all about. In combination with a great content creation strategy, it does help support your Thought Leadership ambitions, helps build a destination and can even help with SEO. But content creation is what it is all about, especially for B2B!

    • Jay Palter September 14, 2012 at 2:37 pm #

      Thanks for your input, Michael. Over-rated, content curation may indeed be. But increasingly, I find it to be an essential part of any content marketing strategy. We could probably agree curation is necessary but not sufficient on it’s own to define thought leadership and drive people through the decision making process.

  4. Craig Badings December 17, 2012 at 10:27 pm #

    Jay I think the key between content curation that is seen as thought leadership vs that which is merely other people’s content is the insight and value you add to it that delivers further insights, something new or something of value to your audience.

    Only if you are doing this with your curated content could it possibly be construed as thought leadership by your audience. Two people who have done this exceptionally well are Malcolm Gladwell and Steve Pink.

    I think we probably are all in agreement as you yourself say: “In the end, thought leadership is a product of both content creation and curation activities that add value and clarity of vision to a topic.”

    • Jay Palter December 19, 2012 at 2:51 am #

      No disagreement there. Only to add that thought leadership, like everything, is a relative term. You don’t need to be a global Gladwell or a Pink to be seen as a thought leader in a vertical market space. You just need to be consistently pushing the envelope and adding value. Thanks for taking the time to share your comments. I really appreciate your feedback and attention.

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