Future of Engagement #6: Social Curation

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 playlistsFlickr galleriesAmazon listsFoodspotting guides), using editors and volunteers (YouTube PoliticsTumblr Tags) or using algorithms (YouTube TrendsAuto-generated YouTube channelsLinkedIn 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 GazaFacebook and CNN Election InsightsCurrent TV Politically Direct). Entertainment media organizations are using social curation to amplify the participation around sports and entertainment events (GRAMMY LiveOscar BuzzE! Entertainment’s GRAMMY Heat Gauge (video), Fox MLB Playoff Hub,Turner Sports Ryder CupFox Sports’ Survival SundayESPN NCAA Tournament of TweetsI Heart Radio’s Twitter Tracker) and shows (X Factors USAABC’s Pretty Little Liars Suspect TrackerAmerican 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 ReportThe Huffington Post) or linking to them (TechmememediagazermemeorandumWeSmirchAlltop (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 ProjectGlobal Voices Threatened Voices, ) and provide support during crisis situations (Japan earthquakeHaiti 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 MavenMuckRack); sports leagues, teams and athletes (Olympic Athletes’ Hub (video), NBA ChinaMLB 140 Club, FC BarcelonaTeam Great BritainNY Giants); artists ((MTV Music Meter (video), Billboard Social 50 Chart); and even countries (Curators of Sweden (video)).

Ushahidi Haiti Earthquake

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 (PinterestStorify) 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 DirectGrammy LiveOscar Buzz). Other social curation platforms filter content by people and organizations, then highlight the most popular content created or curated by them (Venture MavenOlympic Athletes’ HubNBA ChinaMLB 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 MavenOscar 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 GazaI Heart Radio’s Twitter Tracker). Some platforms are organized as directories to search for and find people (Olympic Athletes’ HubNDTV Social). Many platforms use sophisticated social data visualizations to display content (E! Entertainment’s GRAMMY Heat GaugeCurrent TV Politically Direct). Increasingly, social curation platforms are mashing up different visualizations to create rich, interactive dashboards (Facebook and CNN Election Insights).

The Olympic Athletes’ Hub

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.

Some brands have started creating short-term social curation hubs to curate the conversations around their own events, like fashion shows (Victoria’s Secret) and product launches (Ford Fusion).

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.

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 Nationargues:

“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 the platform, 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 NownessCoca Cola JourneyAmerican Express OpenForumQualcomm SparkCisco NetworkIBM 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 PulseiQ 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.

iQ social publishing

Source: iq.intel.com

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.

Storyful – It’s all about people

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.

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This is a chapter from a MSLGROUP report titled “Now & Next: Future of Engagement” that I wrote with Pascal Beucler and Nidhi Makhija.

The report highlights the ten most important frontiers that will define the future of engagement for marketers, entrepreneurs and changemakers: CrowdfundingBehavior Change GamesCollaborative Social InnovationGrassroots Change MovementsCo-creation CommunitiesSocial CurationTransmedia Storytelling, Collective Intelligence, Social Live Experiences and Collaborative Consumption.

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.

Future of Engagement report on SlideShare

Future of Engagement slide deck on SlideShare

Future of Engagement video infographic on YouTube

Future of Engagement infographic on Visually