True, marketers love false dichotomies… but a lot of things do boil down that way. (Not all dichotomies are false.) For example: all of your web traffic does fall into Paid and Unpaid buckets, no matter how you’d prefer to slice and dice the data in detail.
Well, this is another place where things boil down neatly.
When you’re developing a content-marketing strategy, there are really only two ways to produce the content you’ll need: Creation and Curation. As you’ll see, these tactics aren’t exclusive—we have our own fusion here at theCLIKK—but we’ll explain later why blending them can be tricky, and until then, we’ll get you acquainted with the specifics of each path.
For today’s Part I, let’s discuss the Creation path!
A few different approaches count here:
Old-School (starting with a blank page). There’s no substitution for good ol’ OC, or Original Content. It’s definitely not easy, but you won’t be able to avoid it completely—and on the plus side, this stuff can generate the biggest wins when it’s given a little TLC.
Updates & Adaptations. The single biggest mistake of the common content marketer is using content once and only once. You should always be looking for ways to renovate, revitalize, and refresh old content—partly for its own sake (drawing full value out of your existing work), but partly also for the ways you can build new stuff upon it. Ask yourself:
🦓 Can I somehow update, re-work, or expand this piece into a Totally Different Animal?
👉 Does this piece of content “point to” topics that my audience would want to read more about?
💿 Would this piece of content adapt well to a different format? (Audio interviews can be transcribed into features; videos can be spliced into photo galleries and recaps; information of all sorts can be morphed into charts and infographics.)
Commissioned (pay an outside creator). Assuming you want quality content as a result, this choice essentially trades the creative elbow grease for project management. You’ll need to scout and test candidates, articulate your vision and needs, and then see them through to completion (including payment). All of this can be managed on a platform like Upwork but, though that streamlines things, it’s still work and focus required of you—even if you’re diligent enough to establish an ongoing relationship with a reliable contractor.
Commissioned might seem like a third category—and in some ways, it is—but we include it under Creation because it’s just one of the ways you can wind up with content that didn’t exist before you started.
The difference with Curation is that you’re not starting from scratch at all. Quite the opposite: you’re starting with the finished work of others, an entire Internet’s worth, and finding the best stuff for your target audience.
The two main goals of curation are (A) to select the best stuff available and (B) to present it palatably, in a way that adds value for its consumers.
⚠️ Note that aggregation is not the same as curation, and the above two goals underscore the difference. First: aggregation is powered by algorithms which vaguely approximate quality, whereas curation is powered by intelligent human beings who can assess quality. Second: aggregators can only display what already exists, whereas curators add value both to individual pieces and to the whole collection.
Curators don’t create the art, but they do create the art museum… and a museum takes a lot of work!
In keeping with the two goals of curation, the two main roles of curation are Selection and Presentation—so let’s examine the requirements of each.
🔍 Selection first requires you to have some degree of proficiency in the subject matter you’re reviewing. If you don’t feel like you’re 100% there, rest assured that your knowledge will naturally evolve over time, certainly by reading and especially through hands-on experience (where available).
Second and appropriately, Selection requires you to regularly get your hands on a LOT of source material, and for the same reason you might need to turn over a lot of rocks before you find gold. (As a rule of thumb: we skim 300-500 headlines a day, open 30-50 of them, and wind up covering 5-10 of them.)
Third and finally, Selection requires you to know your audience. In other words, it’s not quite enough to separate the sterling from the scrap; you also have to know what will appeal uniquely well to your audience.
🖼 Presentation is where curators still have to do a little creating of their own. This is the work many curators don’t anticipate, though this creative work is decidedly easier in a few ways. (To name two of the ways: you don’t have to write nearly as much as your selected sources did, and you also have greater freedom to riff on the content in your own way.)
When a curator presents a piece of content, their key objectives are…
⛳️ Providing a sharp summary. Curators need to make it known, quickly and unambiguously, what the article is about (and in many cases, where it comes from). This is the What.
📐 Framing a clear and compelling angle. Curators need to be discerning of details and (somewhat) opinionated about which details are the most important. Which ones “ring” or resonate above the others? This is a rotating mixture of Who, When, and Where.
🎖 Spotlighting the content’s value. You find a great piece, boil down the main idea, and start pointing to the parts your readers should notice. Cool… but what’s the reason your target audience would actually want this? You should be able to answer in one of two ways: Why they’d want to see this or How this might help them.
Context and Parting Principles
Sure, creation is hard—but that doesn’t make curation any easier. Because it’s always an effort to create quality new content from scratch, it seems natural to infer that curation is the secondary and inferior (and easier) option. Content marketers fall under the faulty impression that (to adapt a saying we hate) those who can will create, and those who can’t will curate.
To be clear: that impression is dead wrong, potentially also an ass-backwards attitude (just like the insult to teachers). It’s wrong twice over: first for implying that original/created content is necessarily better, then (as we discussed yesterday) for inferring that curation automatically requires less of the mind.
It’s very easy to overthink the Creation route. The main reason is fairly intuitive: the more you’re required to do something, the likelier you are to overdo it. Writing requires a lot of thinking, and everybody knows this; if we expect a tremendous cognitive struggle, our brains can overcompensate and use way more power than they actually need.
But there’s the second reason it’s easy to overthink Creation: we tighten up at the threat of difficulty and that only makes the feelings harder to manage. There’s a sort of zen paradox in these creative challenges, where the best way to manage discomfort is to relax (like when you’re sitting in the dentist’s chair). The alternative is a vicious self-fulfilling prophecy where the more you squirm, the more reason you have to squirm.
It’s very easy to underthink the Curation route. As we noted yesterday, curation is commonly mistaken for aggregation, which is simpler; the former requires your intellectual insight while the latter just requires you to narrow the playing field. You could say that aggregation is part of curation, but only an early stage; there’s a lot more thinking and presenting still to follow it.
A final, somewhat cruel irony: when curation is done well, it’s easy to mistake for something completely original, which only reinforces the (wrong) idea that curation is necessarily the second-rate, pale comparison to original content.
How does theCLIKK approach Creation and Curation in its own content-production strategy?
Switching back to first person…
We do both, but we’re definitely Curation First. In our content workshop, the goal is to pack the maximum possible reader value into each and every mail we send. Curation is the better starting point for us because (A) our subject matter is fairly wide in scope and constantly evolving, which means (B) there’s a steady stream of great, share-worthy, specialized info that no single publisher (including theCLIKK) could ever create on its own. In our case, curation is the only way to keep the content’s value as dense as possible.
But there’s more to it for theCLIKK. Curation isn’t just a production strategy for us; it’s the main service we provide through our content, since no single reader could ever parse all the info by themselves either (especially not if they’re novices in the subject matter). You literally don’t have time for that… but we do have time for that because it’s our job!
Where we create original content, it’s usually “connecting the dots” in a bigger-picture way. You can think of the content we curate as stars in the night sky—individual points of light that we identify for you—and then think of our original (created) content as the lines which form the constellations.
We try to explicitly “draw the lines between points” in a lot of our original content, just to help all of the info stick together in your mind—but more broadly, this process of “drawing connections” is how we identify most of the topics on which we’ll create any kind of original content. 🤓