What is a Curator?

Pretend for a moment you are the director of the Smithsonian, responsible for discovering, preparing and presenting exhibits like dinosaur fossils, Dorothy’s red slippers, Davy Crockett’s musket, and the first chunks of rock to return from the moon. Chances are good you’re not an archaeologist, cinema historian, anthropologist AND geologist, all at once — yet there’s a reason you’ve been chosen to build comprehensive exhibits that run the gamut of industries and fields of study: you are a Curator. Now imagine, unlike the director of the Smithsonian, you have not thousands of artifacts from which to weave a narrative but billions, and visitors numbering in the hundreds of millions, every month. Such is the power in storytelling, in positioning truths and persuading minds (even by proxy), that the Curator archetype wields in the realm of social media, sometimes even reaching beyond.

The Curator has, first and foremost, an incredible intuition for value. They don’t have to be an expert in a certain field to know when an artifact, ie content, is worth capturing and presenting to any given audience. But make no mistake — rare is the autodidactic Curator, as at least some education is a definite prerequisite. This isn’t just your Uncle Mickey, whose book, movie and music recommendations are mostly hits and sometimes misses, or an actual, accredited expert in exactly one or two things — and not a thing more. The Curator, instead, gathers molecules of data and insight, and builds ecosystems of content, where even oft-conflicting information comes to life. There is a singular vision, even in the broadest of curator stock. This agenda could be benign, if perhaps biased: think Huffington Post, or the Daily Caller. Or, it could be highly charged, veering into the shadow realm of the Mobilizer at times; Curators appear in the camps of such disparate and yet despicable groups as ISIS or the Aryan Brotherhood, knitting patchwork quilts of faulty logic to veil their malignant skeletons.

Secondly, the Curator has an innate ability to contextualize information or content for a particular audience. Curators have a natural ability for metaknowledge, able to quickly catalogue and use information even if they have only a scant understanding of that content (not unlike most people’s ability to drive a car, despite having a very limited understanding of the mechanics at play). Discerning is the phrase: to perceive or recognize; to identify as distinct; to detect with senses other than that of sight alone. The immediate, if abbreviated and disjointed, vehicle that social media presents the Curator should prove irresistible. Almost every social media platform lends itself easily to the Curator — Facebook, Twitter, straight through Pinterest, GoodReads and Reddit, all the way to back to Instagram (#ReGram says it all…). But to be a successful Curator means knowing the value of content, at the right time to the right audience, in the right way.

Lastly, a Curator seamlessly connects events, individuals and ideas with audiences seeking (even unconsciously) cohesive threads of content, woven into the custom tapestries we’ve come to expect, even demand, from those myriad of producers upstream of our “feed”. Here we find the real double edge to the Curator’s sword: an audience’s ability to completely insulate itself, taking in only a warped, lopsided perspective of the world, forever myopic and unyielding. The true test between a Curator and a mere ideologue is that of reason: is the connection drawn between facts and opinions clear, and ready to withstand scrutiny? Does a collection of notions actually compose a thesis, an overarching theme serving as continuity? If a purveyor of collected content can craft its delivery in such a way that it is naturally appealing — tasty, satisfying — to its audience, substance can be lost in the sensation, and that is the challenge of the Curator.

Vala Afshar, CMO at Extreme Networks, rides the high road with the best of Curators. His Twitter account bursts with information, couched in expectant joy, even the bad news. Why the bad news, too? Because Afshar’s agenda is one of understanding, in sharing in the great debate that transcends industry and speaks to the heart of the matter of being human. The funny part? He didn’t even especially want to be on social media. Extreme Networks uses Chatter, an internal chat program, and Vala’s distinct humor and intellect had made him an Influencer in that microcosm. The CIO of Extreme Networks made a deal with Afshar: one month, doing the same thing on Twitter as he was on Chatter. The month came and went, so did the year, and suddenly Afshar, who had transitioned from software engineer to customer support officer, had a surprisingly large following, and a book deal that resulted in The Pursuit of Social Business Excellence and a secondary career as contributor to the Huffington Post and Inc. magazine.

His Tweets illustrate the diversity of content that can be pulled, yet all driving towards the concept of improvement — in business, in social media engagement, in human relations. Generally, the Curator does not create content, and Afshar certainly does write some important pieces which are occasionally included in his posts. Yet they’re unobtrusive, given no more weight than a New Yorker cartoon that tickled him, or the results of a social media survey of Fortune 500 CEOs. Key themes arise, as one follows Vala Afshar’s Twitter: Disruption of the norm; Innovation over time; the collaborative trend in technology today; inspiration to be found in positive global engagement. His lists are not really original content, even if they don’t link out — Afshar’s brief collections of salient points behind a larger statement are derived from his curated sources. Edited, as it were.

His engagement is heavily public and broad, rarely direct tweeting. The Curator is for the masses, not a conversationalist as much as an originator of conversation topics. As a good Curator, Afshar varies the type of content; quotes, graphs, links to content in magazines, videos and books, as well as cartoons and the occasional quietly inspirational thought. All of these push the Curator’s agenda — in Vala Afshar’s case, exploring the connection between people, business and technology, all informing and improving the other. Follow Vala Afshar for a truly captivating curated business, tech and life experience, and read about the other Archetypes of Social Media Engagement.


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