What is Content Curation (and why should Non-profits practice it)?

In mid-2014, we wrote that “Content marketing is king.”, and encouraged our non-profit friends to get on the bandwagon. Since then, we have received several requests to explore this topic in more detail. Happy to oblige! This article will form the beginning of a series – which we plan to turn into an e-book ultimately – on Content Curation for Non-Profits.

So, what is this thing called Content Curation? More importantly, why should non-profit leaders understand it and embrace it as a strategy?

Many readers may be familiar with the term “curation” as relating to museums. I had a nice visit to the St. Louis Art Museum recently with my visiting daughter, and noted that there are many different types of things that are considered “art”. Paintings from the Renaissance, ancient African tribal masks, 3,000 year old Chinese pottery, modern “found art” full-body costumes, colonial furniture, sculpture from all parts of the world spanning centuries of creation and much, much more were on display. For each and every item on display, there were probably several that are currently in storage, and certainly dozens of other examples scattered throughout the world in other museums and collections, or even resting on a shelf in some dusty attic, awaiting rediscovery! In a given year, a major museum might find or be presented with thousands of items which it might wish to add to its collection. The curator then becomes the invaluable party to any transaction or process involving current, or potential acquisitions.

One primary duty is to determine the authenticity of a particular piece. There is little value in a faked object, or a copy of an existing, established work. The curator must also ascertain the value of an item, particularly if a purchase is being considered. But beyond these important basic questions, the curator also needs to be able to establish relevance for the museum visitor, often done by researching the provenance of the item and telling a little of the back story for each thing that is on display. Once an item is in the collection, the curator needs to take care of it, making sure it is catalogued, labeled correctly, and stored appropriately. On the museum floor, the curator decides how to arrange or display artifacts. How can this painting be lighted to bring out the most important highlights? Which of these things should be logically grouped together so that visitors can see more than one work of art at a time and perhaps learn more or make important connections by seeing them arranged with like items?

It’s probably becoming obvious that a good curator will not only have a significant impact on the value of a museum’s collection, but does in fact contribute to the overall perception of the public of the value of the museum as a whole, both as a collector of valuable items, and as an expert in the areas those items represent. For example, the art museum in St. Louis has a respectable collection of Buddhist-related art, but nearby in Kansas City, the Nelson Art Gallery has an equal or better one. If travel were no object, I would go to the Asian Art Museum in San Francisco, the Sackler Gallery in Washington, D.C., or perhaps the Victoria and Albert in London.

So, let’s apply what we know about museum curation to the Internet, and the vast amount of information available on pretty much any topic we can imagine. If it’s true that content is king, then content curation is certainly the crown prince! And, just as a museum curator wears many hats every day, so does an information content curator do so in his or her relationship with all of the articles, documents, images, blog posts and even Tweets that might be encountered every day online. Content curators find information, validate or verify the information, assign value to it, determine its relevance to their audience, and make notes that help readers see what that value might be. The successful online content curator then catalogues the information so that it can be easily retrieved, labels it correctly, and stores it for future reference. In the public eye, the content curator brings together similar items to create an information synergy, allowing readers to move easily among bits of writing or data that are related, and to develop fuller understanding of the topic in question for knowledge, research and practical purposes.

Let’s explore an example. Suppose my non-profit is involved in a specific facet of healthcare, say Alzheimer’s disease. We want to solidify our credentials as a leader in this field, which affects so many millions of people – not just those who have this condition but also their caregivers. To become a content curator on this topic, my organization will want to scour the web for well-written and validated clinical research, articles in the popular press, personal accounts about those affected by the illness, and much more. We want to discover who the best bloggers are on the subject, what current treatment seem to hold the greatest promise, and where you can find easy to understand explanations of what Alzheimer’s is all about. We also demonstrate value by providing links to respected treatment providers, and connecting people who want to help make a difference with organizations (perhaps including ours) that would benefit from philanthropy. Are there support groups in your area? I want my organization to show you how to find out if there are and, if so, how to connect with them. Is the disease preventable, or are there things you can do to maximize your chances of avoiding it? I’d like us to help you learn about that for your future benefit.

There is likely to be tons of information we will uncover, some more recent or relevant that others. We will sift through this information, validate it, arrange it and present it to you so that you can gain the maximum benefit with the minimum investment of your own time – gaining greatly from the work we have done for you. Our readers will come to trust us as experts, and to see us as the first place to check when looking for answers to their Alzheimer’s questions. In this way we become the paramount content curators on this subject, and gain esteem and influence we could never purchase otherwise.

We’ll be coming back to this topic soon, and discussing more about the value of content curation to your organization in future installments. Stay tuned!