The Identikit of a Professional Content Curator
30+ key skills, character traits, attitudes and abilities of professional content curators
“The detached analysis of an algorithm will no longer be enough to find what we are looking for.
To satisfy the people’s hunger for great content on any topic imaginable, there will need to be a new category of individual working online.
Someone whose job it is not to create more content, but to make sense of all the content that others are creating. To find the best and most relevant content and bring it forward. The people who choose to take on this role will be known as content curators.
Manifesto For The content curator: The Next Big Social Media Job of The Future (2009)
It’s true: To manage and make sense of all of this information we need something of an entirely new order of magnitude.
Search engines, open directories, and millions of bloggers are not enough.
To put order, to make sense and to surface the true valuable content gems available online, what the web needs is a specialized middle layer of editors that gather, filter and distribute relevant information on specific niches of interest.
A multi-layered, self-organizing approach that allows the filtering load to be highly distributed and the focus and depth to be guaranteed by the combined result of many highly focused individual efforts.
Stephen Downes saw it coming over 10 years ago:
“The layered mechanism works because at no point is the entire weight of the filtering process concentrated in a single individual or a single resource.
It means that individual agents can work without the need for central control, with the only requirement for a functional system being an open set of connections between the agents.
What RSS does best is that it allows an individual to scan, filter, and pass forward. That’s all it ever has to do.
The network can and will do the rest.”
This is why the content curator is the next emerging disruptive role in the content creation and distribution chain.
“The role of a great editor, curator, whatever we want to call this person is not to give people what they already know they are going to be into; it’s to get them interested in things they didn’t know they were interested in, until they are.
And the cat video is the editorial cop-out. You’re not doing your job if you’re not broadening someone’s horizon.”
- Maria Bustillos
What Qualities Does a Curator Need To Have?
Howard Rheingold: What qualities do you think a curator ought to have?
Robin Good: “He’s [the curator] got to be somewhat of a very curious person and a passionate person in the area where he wants to curate.
I don’t think you can just go about curating a topic because you wake up and that’s something you want to do.
You certainly can, and gain confidence with it over time, but it would be best that you go and curate something that you’re already very passionate about, that you have been exposed to, so that you have some sensitivity, some antennas, that allow you to understand what is good (not just what appears to be good) and what is not.
…also because then it becomes a point of, who are you doing this for? Are you just an artist painting something for yourself, or are you curating something for a specific audience, trying to intercept a specific need and fulfill it with that channel of information?
I would think that knowing the audience and being an expert on the topic helps someone curate whatever type of information items he has at his disposal. Those, I think, are the key elements.
Then you’ve got to be very transparent, and give full credit to whoever you’re gathering in, and expose actually, the best qualities of these sources and people.
And then add something of your own.
That is, the ultimate quality of the curator… is like the one for a DJ. I mean, what’s the difference between putting on a mixtape or having a live DJ?
I think those same qualities apply somewhat to a content curator. That is the ability to listen closely to what type of audience, at the moment, he’s serving, and then providing a proper “context” so that the type of information he or she is collecting makes sense to them.
You may have to change titles, descriptions, images, order, how you juxtapose things. But you have to customize the flow for the purpose, theme, and public you’re doing that for.”
Technology Is Not the Key
What are then the key traits, abilities and skills that great content curators have in order to gain their readers’ trust?
Most people to whom I have shown, explained or illustrated content curation, have missed to understand the value and potential of the process, by focusing too much on the technology aspect: how you do it, where you click, how you publish it on your site, and so on.
In fact, while technology does play an important role in helping a curator find, aggregate, filter, curate and re-publish existing content, it is in the expertise and skills of the curator the opportunity to create meaning, to make sense of disparate info and add to tangible value to any newly curated story.
What makes a successful “curator” is therefore not just the ability to maneuver freely with RSS feeds, aggregators and PHP includes, or having access to the latest search, aggregation and content curation technologies.
Curation requires, to be done effectively, experience, subject-matter expertise, as well as many other skills and competencies.
a) the level of passion (=interest) for a specific topic and the experience one has with it
b) the desire to share and help others make sense / get informed / learn
c) the ability to ask relevant questions
d) the ability to provide context and add value / meaning
e) an ethical and transparent approach.
Those who jump on the curation train, thinking that by reposting other people’s content that looks interesting from the title, without actually reading it, are in for some not so pleasing surprise: the greatest risk for content curators.
Credibility and reputation can be instantly squandered without one realizing it for a long time to come. And for curators, credibility is a primary asset.
But do remember that trust, is something we are willing to give to someone, who has repeatedly demonstrated subject matter expertise and consistent relevance.
If you are very knowledgeable at something I am interested in, and you repeatedly provide me with verified valuable news stories, links and resources that I didn’t know anything about, you gain lots of personal trust from me.
Not general trust in you as a person, but specific trust in you as an expert insider in that specific subject matter area.
The future of the social web will be driven by these content curators, who take it upon themselves to collect and share the best content online for others to consume and take on the role of citizen editors, publishing highly valuable compilations of content created by others.
In time, these curators will bring more utility and order to the social web.
In doing so, they will help to add a voice and point of view to organizations and companies that can connect them with customers — creating an entirely new dialogue based on valued content rather than just brand created marketing messages.”
Manifesto For The content curator: The Next Big Social Media Job of The Future (2009)
1) General Traits, Skills and Abilities of a Professional Content Curator
In my effort to help whoever else is interested in learning more about content curation I have attempted to identify and list what I think are all of the key traits, abilities, skills that a “professional” content curator should ideally have.
I have arrived at these elements by looking at my own personal experience as a content curator (of different kinds) over the course of thirty and more years. Thus, the set of traits I suggest is open to improvement, refinement and revision by others, who may have discovered more or differently than I did.
Here is my list of key traits, skills and abilities a professional content curator should have, organized into three distinct categories:
a) General Traits
b) Communication Skills
c) Technical Skills
Here they are in detail:
a. General Traits
- a1) Curiosity
- a2) Subject-Matter Expertise
- a3) Strong Ethics
- a4) Transparency — Disclosure
- a5) Empathy
- a6) Personal voice
- a7) Pattern Recognition
- a8) Organization
- a9) Attention to Details
- a10) Being Systematic
- a11) Patience
b. Communication Skills
- b1) Strong Editorial Focus
- b2) Effective Writing
- b3) Contextualizing
- b4) Synthesizing
- b5) Presenting
- b6) Visualization
- b7) Vetting & Verification
- b8) Comparing
- b9) Referencing
- b10) Crediting
- b11) Listening
c. Technology Know-How
- c1) Online search
- c2) Collecting
- c3) Archiving — Preserving
- c4) RSS Feeds
- c5) Online Publishing
- c6) Information Design
- c7) Social Media Publishing
- c8) Use of Digital Images and Video
- c9) Content Scheduling / Automation
*I have created a dedicated chapter for each one of these three sets and I will publish them separately in the coming days.
Curating content is a complex and challenging activity. To do it effectively it does require many talents, abilities and some technical know-how.
I have organized all of these skills, based on my experience, into three groups:
The first two groups are essential requirements, while I consider the third one an optional. One can be a great curator without having much of the technical skills I have outlined here, and relying on someone else to take care of those tech responsibilities.
Many of these skills can be acquired through study and practice, while a few may be more part of the general character of a person, and though modifiable, they are harder to work on (for example traits like “attention to details” or “patience” may take longer time to be adopted than others).
My goal in writing this is to highlight the complexity and richness of this professional role while providing an informative reference for those interested in understanding content curation and/or in introducing and explaining it to others.
Overall, the best path to become a qualified, trusted guide in a specific interest area (a content curator) is to actually curate as much content as possible on a continuous systematic basis while seeking critical feedback from a mentor or a more experienced person.
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