Curation, Influence & Lethal Generosity

January 3, 2011 · 8 comments in Lethal Generosity,social analytics,Social Media,tech business

For me, it was like a perfect storm.

I was reading the pre-publication version of  Curation Nation, Steve Rosenbaum’s impressive book on web curation as a business strategy. My friend Aaron Strout [l] has suggested I post a blog on the very same subject.

Simultaneously, I’m still pondering how people are influenced on the Web and I’m seeing curation as just about the most effective way to do it.

Curation can guide people through the perfect storm they face when looking for stuff that is valuable and interesting to them at a particular point in time.

Let’s back up.

Time was when the word “curator” referred to an old and probably eccentric guy in a museum. He found interesting and useful stuff to display for museum visitors. The best museums enjoy that status, because–among other reasons–they have the best curators. But then there are others. They have always been there. There’s your computer buddy who advises you on the best stuff to buy and how to work around annoying bugs. There’s the neighbor who helps you with home improvement problems.

You have friends who help you with movies, theater, music and restaurants. Each of them is a topical curator. They examine stuff and recommend it. They probably have more influence on what you buy, where you shop, where you travel and even who you vote for than all the add and marketing messages that get inserted in front of your eyes or get shouted at you as you go through life.

That brings us to the internet, a place that has more stuff on display and more places to go than 1000 Smithsonians or all the airline routes in the world.

We all need curation, and that brings us to Rosenbaum and his book. His central point is that businesses would do better if they stopped trying to produce their own content all the time and just become a resource to point customers to cool stuff.

To me that goes to the real issue of influence. In almost every topic important to me, there are different folk who show me the way to good stuff. The better the stuff is, the more I return. The more I return, the more I trust them and the more loyal I become. When I can help them, financially or with information I have, I will jump through hoops to help.

Wouldn’t it be nice if your customers wanted to do that for you?

I used to speak a lot with Robert Scoble. He’d often tell the story of his first job as a salesperson in a camera store. He would often tell shoppers theycould get a better deal on a particular item through a competitor. He might lose the sale, but he would gain a customer, one who would trust him to curate them through the complex world of camera equipment.

In the long term, it pays off big time. Your prospects will visit your site before your competitor’s site. They will buy from you when it makes sense, and they will most likely come back and try to buy from you again–after you pointed them over to a competing site.

It is a form of what I call lethal generosity. Help your customer, even at your own expense by showing them the best possibilities for their needs and you will absolutely screw your competitor every time, even when the competitor gets the single sale.

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January 3, 2011 at 2:03 pm


Oliver Starr January 6, 2011 at 10:35 am

A reader requested a list of some of the most powerful curation toold – first check out this post by Steve Rosenbaum that appeared today on Mashable: This gives you some highlights of a few of the up and coming curation tools but here, below is a fairly comprehensive list:

There may be a few more that I’m leaving out but this list is reasonably good. More details about these can be found here in a Pearltree I’ve curated just for this topic:

Disclosure: I’m the Chief Evangelist for Pearltrees

Rusty Cawley January 10, 2011 at 3:26 pm

Thanks for the list, Oliver, and for the transparency. I’ve worked with and like it very much. Here’s a curation I made over the weekend: . It is very easy to use once you get the hang of it.

I’m also working with storify, which I find immensely useful and I’ve incorporated into my blog. I have a account, but find it frustrating because I have so little control over what it chooses to curate. Great idea, but the execution is lacking.

I will check out the others as time allows. Thanks again.

Rusty Cawley January 6, 2011 at 7:22 am

What are the best available tools for curation? Perhaps you or a reader could post a guide to curation tools, or provide a link to an existing list.. Thanks for a truly thought-provoking column. I’ve pre-ordered “Curation Nation” and look forward to studying it.

Sarah January 4, 2011 at 10:38 am

I have a feeling that book will be an interesting read when looking at it alongside DataSift.

I’m not sure if you’ve had a chance to play with the DataSift Alpha yet but it’s definitely something worth taking a look at if you are interested in an implementation of real time content curation including API’s to integrate the engine with your own apps and services.

Tinu January 3, 2011 at 3:00 pm

Hi Shel,

Happy New Year!

I think your friend’s book has a brilliant point as does this post. Curation sums up an effective social media strategy in one word for the busy smb owner who can’t figure out what to do.

It also doesn’t have to be just about pointing to competitors. Just collecting and sharing information on a closely related topic is helpful enough. Most people I know like to say they have “a guy” in some area or another – someone who they think of as a resource, rather than a merchant. A great mechanic, a car salesman with fair pricing…

The Scoble example intrigued me, because I was just watching Miracle on 34th Street this past weekend. And it reminded me of how loyal Kris Kringle’s recommendation made that first customer they showed, and how vocal she was about it. Amazing how the idea is still revolutionary, yes?

Oliver Starr January 3, 2011 at 2:39 pm

Shel, great post. I especially appreciated your comments about Robert because they are so on target. His popularity is directly related to the value he provides the community – which is enormous.

Beyond just complimenting your post, however, I wanted to add to it by broadening the topic a little. I think that we need to see curation with a bit more depth- both curating out of self-interest (I’m studying a topic and I want to pull together the best resources on that topic) vs. curating for your community – the world has a right no know and understand what has been released via WikiLeaks, for example and people are working hard to curate this information in a way that makes these huge number of documents mucn more accessible to the average person.

It is likely that no single tool will fulfill the needs for all curators or for all types of curation but I think this year we will see some very interesting developments in this space.

Finally, by way of illustration, here’s an example of a curation on “curation” done using Pearltrees: If you’re so inclined, please sign up to join my team here – I think you might find the process of collaborative curation to be both interesting and rewarding – btw, this invitation is extended to all your readers as well.

Finally to see how the world is curating Wiki Leaks using Pearltrees, take a look at this: – again this illustrates your point that topic experts that are providing value to a community by virtue of the work they are doing acrete value back themselves in the process.

Aaron Strout January 3, 2011 at 1:41 pm

Shel – glad I could be of service. And from a selfish perspective, I’m happy you went ahead and wrote this post. As I mentioned on Twitter, I’ve been thinking a lot about curation lately and 100% agree with your connecting it to influence. In fact, your example of Scoble is a good one not just from his camera selling days but his current role at Rackspace. One of the many reasons that people listen to what he has to say is that he is an incessant sharer… with no strings attached. Because he’s been “sharing” for so long, people have learned to trust his opinion and thus value his tweets, blog posts, videos and podcasts. This “sharing” has garnered the attention of companies like Google, Facebook and Twitter when they want to get the word out.

To that end, my favorite companies are the ones that make me feel like they’ve got my best interests at heart. That means the provide useful information, tips, classes and service. In the new world order where many products are quickly becoming commoditized, THIS is the new currency and the new differentiator. Just take a quick look at the companies with large Facebook followings for validation (hint: it’s not because they are religiously sharing their press releases and product updates).

Thanks for the stimulating thoughts and the book recommendation (I hadn’t heard of it before). I will be sure to head over to Amazon to pick up a copy.

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