Lessons Learned From Top Curating Sites: Adobe’s CMO and Intel’s IQ

by in Content Marketing.

In the first article in this series on top curating sites, we discussed tech giants Techmeme and Daring Fireball. Then, in the second article, we looked at sites that focus on politics and news with The Huffington Post and The Drudge Report. This time, we’ll round out the series with a look at two offerings from the corporate world: CMO from Adobe and IQ from Intel.

CMO

This is one of my personal favorites, CMO.com, run by Adobe. What I really appreciate about this site is that Adobe did what few other large corporations have managed: they saw the value of strategic content curation as a means of establishing thought leadership and drawing their target audience to them, and they went forward, investing significant time, effort and resources into creating a trusted online destination.

The folks at Adobe targeted their audience with laser-precision: Chief Marketing Officers and similarly titled marketing executives. And they chose to curate, rather than create, at the outset. Here’s how CMO describes their thought process when curating:

There are thousands of digital marketing blogs out there that cover blog marketing—that is, the marketing of blogs—and blogs about Web marketing strategy using blogs. CMO.com has trimmed this number of online blogs down to the 40 or so most interesting, useful, and influential Web blogs and we bring the best of the best to you. — Read more

The clean and comfortable site is packed with information, navigable through several focus-narrowing sections and subtopics.

CMO.com's Home Page

Following suit with Techmeme and The Huffington Post, CMO offers several methods of narrowing down the vast amount of content they provide. Here’s how the breakdown is explained on their About page:

CMO.com has four major sections, shown on the top navigation bar:

  • News: Headlines, trends, announcements, and other information about digital marketing and key players in the digital marketing space
  • Insight: Articles, reports, surveys, statistics, and commentary from industry experts that have a relatively long “shelf life”
  • Blogs: Selected posts from influential bloggers, other CMOs, and industry publications
  • CMO Perspectives: Interviews with leading CMOs, findings from surveys of marketing executives, and a listing of industry events for CMOs and their staff

Selected articles from these sections are shown on the CMO.com Home page. Additionally, each section has an “index page” that lists all articles belonging to each section. Drop-down menus allow you to browse articles that deal individually with over 70 specific digital marketing topics. – Read more

While aggregating “the best of the best” worked very well, and still comprises the majority of what we find on CMO.com, this note shows that Adobe saw additional benefit in including content creation in the mix beginning last year:

In addition to aggregating the best and most meaningful news and insights from around the Web, in early 2011 CMO.com began creating our own content—mostly thought leadership articles, feature articles, and slide shows. – Read more

Clearly labeled as CMO Exclusives, CMO’s original content is placed at the top of the home page and the individual category pages as well, so there’s no mistaking the value they place on the content they’re creating. But, the curated content is available just below and this is one of the main reasons loyal readers keep coming back.

While the Alexa rank of this site is only #45,239 (which is actually excellent, but pales in comparison to some others we’ve discussed), the real value here is that CMO.com isn’t designed to appeal to a mass market audience. And, it’s not really designed to appeal to the end users of their products (designers, primarily). Rather, it’s designed to appeal to the economic buyer of many of Adobe’s products: marketing executives who are generally in a position to make a buying decision. Which is why all those discreetly placed ads for Adobe products probably generate significant income in the long term.

CMO’s continued efforts to provide high-quality curation of valuable content from a hand-picked group of quality sources combine to make it one of the best examples of successful curation available in the corporate world.

IQ

Silicon giant, Intel, has been focusing extensively on content marketing efforts over the last few years. And, as highlighted in this interesting blog poast by Lee Odden, referencing a presentation Intel did at Content Marketing World 2011, it’s a complex task to coordinate a content strategy throughout such a huge, global organization.

The latest example of that effort is “a new social publishing model” called iQ. iQ’s Mission Statement is impressive:

We created the iQ platform to spotlight how people are using technology in inspiring ways. It’s a discovery tool that narrates technology’s impact on “Media”, “Life” and our “Planet”. iQ is here to remind us on how fast we’re moving as a global culture, to be cognizant of how far we’ve come and to reflect on where our planet is headed.

The iQ page is designed as a destination to be bookmarked and returned to repeatedly.  The page is constantly changing based on the audience’s reaction to various stories that appear there, since social media shares comprise a significant portion of the algorithm Intel uses to automagically populate the page and highlight various stories.  Here’s how they describe the process:

The experience is comprised around social algorithms that curate content shared by Intel employees, blended with original and industry content, all surfaced through a touch optimized design.  It’s our next step in our social media journey, and represents a new model for branded social publishing.

IQ is initially populated primarily through an automated content aggregation algorithm. Basically, Intel has set up software behind the scenes that goes out to find stories that fit their chosen parameters.

Social Algorithm – iQ sources content from across the web. We’ve developed several layers of curation that filters content based on freshness, relevancy, shares, clicks, employee interaction and deviance from the norm… just for starters.

Next, iQ utilizes a layer of employee curation to further filter the stories.

iQ crowd-sources what our employees share publically online. We hope this offers a unique glimpse into what is grabbing our attention and leverages a valuable filter for insight and knowledge sharing.

Intel has taken notice of the fact that their own employees are already active on social media sites such as Twitter and Facebook, and are knowledgeable about the kinds of topics iQ is designed to cover. So, using a unique crowd-sharing method, the company is leveraging that qualified team of “curators” to provide variety and relevance to an otherwise automated process. To some extent, this bridges the gap between aggregation and curation for the iQ project.

There’s also another level of human editorial oversight as well in the form of “The Intel Social Media Center of Excellence“, a team of nine employees dedicated to this and other social publishing efforts the company has undertaken.

The design is fun and easy to navigate, optimized for touchscreen devices in response to Intel’s accurate appraisal that more and more users will be viewing the site on phones and tablets going forward.

They have kept the main categories limited to three, and they’ve color-coded the story blocks to make it that much simpler to choose what you’d like to view.  Of course, each category has its own focused page with just that category’s stories displayed. 

Although Intel is constantly creating original content on various blogs, there does not appear to be any marked effort to highlight original over curated content. And the ratio is heavily favoring curated content at the time of this writing: out of 47 stories appearing on the home page, only two are original Intel posts.

Of course, IQ is still a very new publication, and is likely to evolve quickly as Intel continues to experiment. But it’s already generated significant buzz in the content marketing community. And it’s just different enough, and valuable enough, to be a long-term contender.

In Conclusion

So what have we figured out after all this?

Here are a few takeaways you may want to think about:

  • Curation is already a proven traffic magnet – All these sites have proven to be highly successful in that unavoidably important online metric: traffic. The only exception is IQ, which is still too young to have reliable traffic data. But it’s made up for it with a healthy dose of that all-important other online metric: buzz. Don’t fool yourself by thinking that only original content will bring an audience to your door. Quality curation, done well and done consistently, can be just as effective.
  • Curation strategy needs to include a win-win for the creator – As exemplified by The Huffington Post, when curation straddles that line – benefiting from someone else’s content without offering sufficient attribution or sending readers to the source – it can lead to negative press and potential disaster for the culprit. Of course, HuffPo is too big to be stopped by a little bad press, but your site probably isn’t.  Don’t risk it.  As Matt Drudge has maintained right from the beginning, it is possible, even probable, to keep people coming back just by sending them away.
  • Quality curation requires a human element – While purely automated aggregation is possible, and technology continues to smooth the edges of the end result, these top curating sites have all come to rely on the human element to guarantee their audiences truly get the best-of-the-best.  In the case of Techmeme, this was a conscious decision after the site had started generating traffic, for the others, it’s always been part of the mix.  Some, like DaringFireball and The Drudge Report, rely on a single human expert whose voice reaches directly to their target audience. For others, such as Huffington Post and CMO, a large corporate team of contributors have a say in what makes it to the reader. And Intel’s iQ has a unique and interesting crowd-sourced social curation strategy that relies to a large extent on their employees’ social sharing trends, combined with the oversight of a small editorial staff.  Whichever method works best for your site, don’t try to squeak by without taking time to filter and add value to the content you curate.
  • Design factors into the value you create – While the popularity of The Drudge Report proves that flashy sites with bells and whistles aren’t required, there is still plenty to be said for ease of use and your site’s visual appeal. CMO intentionally keeps their original content at or near the top of the page where it’s sure to be seen, along with eye-catching Adobe ads. The Huffington Post adjusts positioning, headlines, images and leads based on click-through rates, always working to maximize the impact. Techmeme and CMO both offer various methods of locating stories based on popularity and timeline. And iQ offers a touchscreen-optimized design with prioritization based on employees’ social media sharing. Again, experimentation is the key.  But when considering design, always start with the site’s main goal and move out from there, keeping things as simple as that goal allows. Then test, test, test.
  • There is no right answer – Perhaps the most powerful lesson this three-part series has taught us is that there is no “right answer” when it comes to how curated content can be used on your site.  There’s no doubt that quality curation is a beneficial strategy that you should start making use of if you haven’t already. But to what extent?  And how should it be presented?  Only time and testing will answer that question for you.  So don’t waste any time in getting started!

 So now it’s your turn:

What sites do you rely on for solid curation and aggregation? How do you make sense of the information flood? Let me know in the comments.

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This is a guest post by Justin P Lambert. Justin is a content marketing specialist and freelance copywriter. He is also a ghostwriter, speech writer and consultant.