Content Curation for Communicating Science
In this post I’m going to share with you my approach for curating content to make your science communications more effective.
You will learn how to plan a curation strategy, select suitable technologies, deliver content, and analyse the results.
I’ll also justify it — modern marketing relies very heavily on data, so I’ll show you some that demonstrates just how effective curation can be.
To start with, not everyone working in science communications knows what content curation is, why it might be a valuable strategy, nor what the definition of ‘content’ in a modern marketing landscape is either.
Don’t worry — let’s have a quick recap. If you know this stuff already, just skip to the Getting Started bit.
A quick recap
Content is the fuel that makes your communications operations run. It is a single piece of communications which contains information that is then presented to a user, or consumer.
This blog post is a piece of content. It could be a podcast, or a video. There are many different types that you can probably think of. It’s all content.
In a perfect world you would have an abundance of amazing content, which you can send out to your audiences across all your platforms and it would be great.
In the real world, content takes time and skill to produce. Some people don’t have the time, others the skills, some neither. However you look at it, it’s difficult to produce great content consistently, unless you have a large team (or contributor pool) or a large budget to spend on outsourcing.
Even if you can produce lots of content, if you only ever have this on show it will come across like you are shouting about yourself constantly, which nobody likes.
To make sure you are putting out great, engaging content for your audience, you can share other people’s content amongst your own.
But why do this?
Firstly, it saves time and resources by not having to entirely rely on your own content production. Secondly, sharing content by others in your field is a great way of diversifying your content offering whilst leveraging their reputation to help build your own.
Here’s a great example — if you are producing and promoting content about the environment, you can also share content from leaders in this field, such as National Geographic, or Conservation.org. Your audience will be able to engage with this, and it will support your own content and, more importantly, your brand.
Does it work?
The short answer? Yes.
It’s difficult to get unambiguous data on every use case of content curation, but our own data, at Earlham Institute, gathered over 14 months shows us very clearly that our curated content has a 25% higher engagement rate than our own content. It also has 20% higher reach (or impressions).
To get an idea of the sample size for these figures, over 25 million impressions are involved — all in life science and related technology.
The main reasons for these increases are:
• It is often from organisations with lots of authority and trust, such as BBC Science or National Geographic. People engage better with what they trust.
• These organisations are often well-known brands, people engage better with what they are familiar with.
• The content from these organisations covers topics that are relevant to our audiences and often on angles and areas that we are not directly involved in, but rather within the same area — such as environment conservation or GM. This allows us to extend our scope without having to comment on areas outside our immediate area of expertise.
For a more detailed rundown of why content curation works, see Neil Patel’s blog post, How to Do Curated Content RIGHT: A Step-by-Step Guide.
I’ve taken this graph from Neil’s post, but it shows roughly where the clicks tend to be on content across the digital landscape.
Where users tend to click.
So how do you get up and running with sharing content?
There are four key parts of a content curation strategy: discover, read, share, and analyse.
To make sure all these parts come together, you need to use some technology — typically SaaS or software-as-a-service platforms. In this section I’ll go over how to find and store relevant, appropriate content for sharing.
Storing your found content
There are hundreds of millions of pieces of content on the internet — so it’s a daunting task to find the right ones to share.
Before we look at finding content, we first need to have a platform where we can gather it in one place. This will act as a content ‘hub’ that we can always draw upon.
Feedly is a mix of storing and discovery. It’s a simple, but powerful, RSS reader that allows you to pull in content from any site you like (so long as it has an RSS feed).
Quick recap: RSS stands for Rich Site Summary, more commonly known as Really Simple Syndication. It is a web feed that allows sites to push out regularly updated content into a stream, which others can connect to and get these updates.
The main Feedly dashboard.
You can create a free Feedly account, and then simply add in the URL’s of sites you want to pull in the content from. You can also use the Feedly Mini Toolkit Chrome extension, which lets you add a site’s RSS feed to Feedly from the page itself. If you like an article, you can then get all their content delivered to Feedly in the future.
The Feedly Mini extension for Chrome.
The Feedly Notifier is also a nice, free Chrome extension that alerts you every time a feed in Feedly pulls in something new.
The best starting place is to come up with 5 sources which are relevant to your area, but a bit broader in scope.
Before we get into identifying both content and whole sites as sources, let’s look at how to store these things. In Feedly you get the RSS feeds, and the content from these feeds is always available, but you can’t add one-off pieces of content.
Think of Feedly as your hub for your main content sources.
This is a more detailed view showing a summary of the content.
Pocket let’s you ‘save’ pieces of content, and even give them tags to keep them organised.
A piece of content saved to Pocket, under my tag ‘General Science’.
Try and tag your saved content to keep it organised.
Pocket can also recommend content to you, so make use of this time-saving feature.
Google Keep is a nice alternative to Pocket, but more focused on note-taking.
Google Keep and Evernote can also be useful, but they are more focused on note taking.
Now to actually find your content.
The best starting place is to come up with 5 sources which are relevant to your area, but a bit broader in scope. For science communications, you can start with these — which I got from ebizmba.com by searching for ‘science’.
Alternatively, just Google for “science websites” and use your best judgement.
The Atlantic Science
Add all these to your Feedly, and you are well on your way. Don’t forget that you can add one-off’s that you discover to Pocket.
You will also want to look at content aggregators.
These are online engines built to search for content. I use these all the time to find relevant, interesting content in niche sectors. These are in no particular order.
This is a fantastic tool and completely free to use. Not only does it find amazing content on whatever you put in the search box, but it also shows you key influencers for this area and the conversations on social media happening around it.Once you have found something you like, visit it, give it a quick scan to make sure it’s appropriate and high-quality (beware the whole ‘fake news’ epidemic going around) and simply add to Pocket for sharing.
Right Relevance content discovery.
Right Relevance showing key influencers.
Right Relevance showing real-time conversations around this subject. In this case, the keyword ‘biology’.
Medium is a blogging site made by the same people who built Twitter. It’s known for being high-quality and very clean in it’s presentation and functionality (little spam or ads).Simply use the search bar and look for relevant topics. Here I’ve simply searched ‘biology’. You can look at both individual posts as well as publications (collections of posts). If you want to see one I have produced, have a look at Earlham Institute’s Medium publication: Decoding Living Systems.
Content search in Medium.
This one is great for pure science. It searches journals for anything you want to look at, as well as showing boards, or collections, of publications from other users. It’s focus is on research publications, so papers, abstracts, and commentaries etc.
Sparrho publications search.
This is a modern tool used by digital marketers the world over. While it’s got some basic features available for free, the better stuff is paid, and is around £65.00 per month. For those new to digital, the free version will do just fine for now.Simply enter your search term and viola. All the details you need, as well as the performance of the content — social shares, engagement, links etc. Don’t forget to narrow the date down so it fetches the latest stuff from the last month and not the whole year.
BuzzSumo content search.
Similar to Right Relevance, this is another tool that lets you search the web for any content you need. It includes detailed social media stats too, which can help you decide which content might be the most effective.
The Epicbeat dashboard.
Fantastically detailed tool with a great interface. With Social Animal, even the free web app version, you can get some useful content suggestions as well as detailed insights into how that content term is performing. The free app only gives you a couple of searches a day, but the paid version is unlimited (priced at £395.00 per year).A search for biology pulls up plenty of content, plus some insights such as what content types do well in this sector, best times to share, best platforms, audience data, and much more.
The Social Animal dashboard.
Social Animal also has a wealth of data insights around content areas. Use these to drive better decision making.
A bit low-tech and not the prettiest interface, but the searching functionality is great. Make sure you are searching for blogs and microblogs and it will pull in everything that is happening online around that topic.
Social Mentions data.
The biggest search engine on the planet. A bit obvious, but there is no harm in simply putting your search terms into Google and seeing what happens.
I don’t think I need to include a screenshot of this one.
This one is a bit complicated, but can be useful to see the larger picture. IBM’s Watson supercomputer will search for your query in the news and pull in some rather scary looking data for you to enjoy.
IBM Watson News Explorer let’s you discover relationships between organisations, individuals, and companies.
Don’t forget about video, it’s one of the most engaging types of content and they are much more likely to be shared.
This thing is a real gem. Found a great piece of content? Get this Chrome Extension, hit the button and it will instantly give you five suggestions like it in a neat popup. Brilliant.
And just in case you want some more discovery tools, here’s 450+ more, courtesy of Robin Good.
Now you know where to look for content and where to keep it. Let’s move to part two. Reading it.
When working in science communications it’s important that you put out content, whether your own or 3rd party (in fact, anything) that is accurate.
That means scientifically correct.
Communicating science means making sure that the facts and not alternative facts come through.
Whilst it is sometimes necessary to summarise and present scientific concepts at a broader and less abstract level, it is never appropriate to misconstrue or present the science as something else.
This is the worst thing you can do in science communications.
It not only contributes to the abundance of ‘woo-woo’ around today, no thanks to pseudo-scientific frauds like Deepak Chopra, but undermines the point of talking about science in the first place — which is to be open and honest.
Thus, it is vitally important that you make sure that you are curating is scientifically accurate, so make sure you read or at least thoroughly skim what you are saving.
You will need to read less thoroughly for content from more trusted sources, such as BBC Science and The Atlantic, where brilliant journalists and writers, such as Ed Yong, go to great lengths already to present the science clearly and accurately.
You might need to support of a scientifically trained colleague to be sure, so don’t be afraid to ask.
This brings us to part three — sharing.
So now you have a load of wonderful content and you’ve checked that it isn’t dodgy.
So how do you get it out to people in a way that supports your organisation?
You can share straight from Feedly to several platforms. Pocket only let’s you share to Buffer, so I’ll cover this now.
Share straight from Feedly when you get started for the first time.
Buffer is a great tool for sharing content. It’s simple and has a free account. I’ll cover more advanced sharing options later, but for now this is one of the best places to start.
Go and make a free account now, and hook up your accounts.
When connected, you can now share your content from Feedly and Pocket directly by the ‘Share to Buffer’ option in those platforms.The icon you are looking for is this:
Look for this icon to share to Buffer.
What Buffer does is it acts as a social media queue, letting you put posts into it and it will auto-post them for you at certain times. You can configure these times manually, or let it choose them for you. I’ll cover more on posting times and other more advance social concepts in a later post, but feel free to check out the link back there for more on this. Here’s a quick one-stop:
Use this as a quick guide for when to schedule posts on social media. There’s more to it than this, but it’s a good starting point. Chart from TrackMaven.
It’s really as simple as that, in the beginning. You find your content, save it to Pocket or browse it in Feedly, then share to Buffer and it will post it all for you.
You can even use the Buffer Chrome Extension, which can queue content to Buffer from on the page itself.
You can add things to your Buffer queue using the Buffer Chrome extension.
The Buffer dashboard. You can tweak your sharing options in here, as well as posting times and analytics.
My favourite tool for social media management is Oktopost. It’s a professional, enterprise-level platform that has very advanced features. If you are serious about digital, it’s a vital tool, but it comes at a cost. A yearly license is £3,000 and upwards depending on your needs.
One of the disadvantages with Buffer is that you can’t share as part of a campaign. You can’t segment your sharing activity in any way, it’s all treated equally and in one batch.
This is fine for sharing, but difficult for analysing how your content curation is performing. Without analysis, you don’t even know if your approach is even working, let alone how to improve it.
Oktopost is campaign-based, which means you can share content segmented by campaign. You can also segment by what type of activity it is, such as curation, organic, or advocacy (paid, if you are wondering, is handled separately through platform native advertising tools, like Twitter Ads etc).
This means that I can find out exactly what is happening with our curation across our entire social output.
Oktopost has it’s own browser plug-in which you can use to share through the platform, much in the same way as Buffer does. You can see this below, including the option to add this curated post to a campaign:
Here you can see that I can share by campaign. Anything shared with this tool will also classify it as curation within the tool.
When I go to explore the data, I can now set filters for either ‘campaigns’ (I put all our curation into a separate, ongoing campaign) or ‘curation’, as a method of delivery.
Filtering the data by channel, here it pulls out all data for curated content.
Newsletters and aggregation
You might get your content from newsletters and aggregator sites, but you can also repurpose 3rd party content into your own newsletters. You can either make a “best of” list, which can be quick and interesting for your users (think “best of Environment News” etc), or you just combine 3rd party content with your own into a newsletter.
A newsletter can take many forms, you could build it yourself with something like MailChimp (my favourite) or Campaign Monitor, or use a tool which automates a lot of this process — like Goodbits, but drops some of the functionality of the previous tools.
You can connect your accounts to Goodbits to pull content in.
Here you can see some sources. Pocket and the RSS Feed are the most useful. The RSS Feed is on the paid plan only, but it’s not that expensive (£15–20 per month).
You can add URL’s manually as “bits” into “buckets”. Here I’ve made a bucket called “Content Curation”.
My Pocket ‘favourites’ were automatically added here, I just moved them across to the ‘Content Curation’ bucket to keep them organised.
It’s then a simple case of adding in your “bits” or content. You can style several options and then send it out.
There is a lot more to be said about emails, as email marketing is its own huge sub-sector of digital marketing, from things like optimisation, automation, and subscriber management, growth, and data protection, but this is just supposed to give you an idea. I’ll be covering email marketing in greater depth later on.
Goodbits is a great starter choice, or just really useful if you need something that works well and is both easy and fast to put together.
You can even get creative with sending your newsletter out. Don’t have many subscribers or a list to send it to? There is an option to make a URL out of it. Use this URL to share the web version of the newsletter across your social channels.
Another great option would be elink.io. This tool has a free plan (and inexpensive pro plans) which allow you to create all sorts of interesting things with curated content. Not quite as intuitive or nice to look at as Goodbits, but you might get some use from it. It also has a handy Chrome Extension too.
Add content, publish links, and track the data for how people interact with it.
elink.io is a suitable alternative to Goodbits
Now let’s look at what worked. Or didn’t work.
This is the difficult bit. With content curation it’s usually very difficult to measure your impact directly, unless you are using a more powerful and advanced platform such as Oktopost. Most people won’t have access to this level of software, so here are a few pointers to help you figure out if what you are doing is working.
Buffer offers some really nice, but simple, analytics in the free version. There are more analytics features available in their paid plans, but they still suffer the same problem. You can’t segment your data by curation.
The only thing you can do, without the more powerful solutions such as Oktopost, is estimate.
Most social platforms have inbuilt analytics functions, so get acquainted with these. Twitter has Twitter Analytics, Facebook has Insights etc.
You will want to look through your social posts on the platforms you use and look out for:
Increased follower growth
Look for increased follower numbers shortly after you begin content curation work. In the above diagram you would be looking for where the rate of following increases.
You want to look for these increases across all your platforms.
Look for more likes, comments, retweets, favourites etc. Pay particular attention to your curated posts. Note which ones are performing well and which aren’t. Always be focusing on the higher performing ones.
Quick tip: If you want to get more out of your curated content for minimum effort, tag your highest perfoming content in Pocket with something like “Engaging Content”. You can reuse this content in the future. You know it works, and the limited life of a social media post (particularly a tweet) will mean your audience won’t all see it. You can increase it’s effectiveness over time by drip feeding it.
Look for increases in engagement from your users, particularly tied around your curation posts.
Moving to something a bit more complicated, you will want to be using Oktopost — or something that allows you to segment your curated posts. You can then easily find out what is and isn’t working. This segmentation is how I know the content curation work at Earlham Institute drives 25% higher engagement rates and 20% greater reach than our non-curated, or organic, posts. I simply compared the organic against the curated and did the math.
I can even tell how much of our engagement comes from curation, which is particularly important for science communications — engaging with an audience is key to having the sought after “two-way dialogue”.
Curation as part of our overall social program
This might seem small, but consider that curated content accounts for only 5% of our overall impressions across all social media, and yet delivers 10.3% of all the engagements. These stats are scalable too. If we invested more time into curation, we’d see better engagement overall.
The next thing you want to look at is how curation affects your web traffic. This is a difficult one, as you are essentially sending people to 3rd part content, and thus 3rd party websites, meaning not yours.
What you want is for people to be attracted to your brand by noticing your curated content. They could do one of two things here:
1) Visit your website to find out more about the organisation sharing this cool content
You can track this by looking at spikes in visits to your site and see if they align with your curation activities. This isn’t a precise science here, so take this with a pinch of salt.
2) Visit the 3rd party content site, then visit your site
You can track this by looking at referral traffic from the sources of your content. If you share a National Geographic post, then notice several hits to your site from the previous domain of the www.nationalgeographic.com then you’re on the right track.
This is what referral traffic looks like. You can see if any of your sources are in here, as well as look at further metrics to evaluate success.
Both are trackable in Google Analytics, a free, web-based analytics platform developed by Google. If you don’t have an analytics solution for your website, read that post Ijust linked and then get it implemented on your site. It’s reasonably straightforward and free. I’ll cover more on this in a later post.
As content curation is mostly a way to build your brand by engaging your users in a broader, relevant way, don’t get too hung up on the metrics you can look at in something like Google Analytics. You should be more concerned with audience growth and their direct engagement on social channels, rather than what page depth they visited on your site, or what the exact attribution model for a session was.
It’s easy to over-analyse, but the key is to focus on your audience. Do more of what they are engaging with, do less of what they aren’t. Organise your content sensibly, use the right tools — and by all means experiment — different tools work for different people, so try them out and don’t be afraid to swap one for another if it works better for you.
Keep the science accurate by vetting your sources well, keep a healthy amount of content queued up in a 5:2:1 ratio (5 curated, 2 of your own, 1 promoted — such as an event or product etc).
Here’s a quick summary of the tools: