The Role of Content Curation in Community Development and Commerce

by in Content Marketing.

GeorgeBowersGroceryCraftBeer

How does content curation affect a business and community, offline?

I know firsthand the value of using online content, some of it curated, to build the brand of a new brick-and-mortar business.

Curation is a tool that gets a lot of play online, for obvious reasons. Serve up related content on your business website or blog, and you’re offering visitors one-stop-(information)shopping, while building your brand at the same time. Content curation on the Web plays an important role in offline business building, too.

Although counterintuitive to most, my husband and I have always considered our neighborhood grocery/café/beer garden as much a media business as a place to find craft beer or artisan cheese. That’s because all of us today are capable of producing media, and people expect it, even from a two-person “micro-business” like ours.

When you start looking at a business, any business, through the lens of a “media business,” you begin to understand how content is a necessary element to build a brand, foster trust, and, ultimately, make sales.

Since every business should rightly consider itself a “media business,” content curation, as it relates to media selection and placement, is a viable marketing path. It is also a key sales tool.

Why?

Content Demonstrates Your Personality.

CEB research shows that 57% of all purchasing decisions are made before a customer even talks to a supplier. According to CEB, “The research found that top performers don’t sell more effectively — they sell completely differently.”

“Different” can mean demonstrating personality and connecting one-on-one. Content is a wonderful vehicle for that.

As an example, two years ago, we ran a fun series on vintage kitchen gear, such as this video demonstrating an electric hot dog cooker.

Before sharing the hot dog video, we selected (curated) approximately a dozen other “funny” cooking contraptions, ranging from 1890′s era appliances for the “modern wife” to the plasticized, “future-fabulous” gear marketed to homemakers circa 1960. The content was comprised of links to archival photos, videos, and print advertisements of yesteryear. Together, this content made a statement about changes in the home kitchen and our society in general. Our comments after each bit of curated content demonstrated our personality as individuals, as well as made a statement about our views as a business.

Although we shared this content on our website and on social media — all digital — this content affected conversations and sales offline.

For example, the most talked about section of curated content directly referenced our grocery’s assortment of local meats. By curating content around the topic of “regrettable food” — and specifically meat — we were able to draw a contrast between support of industrial food systems decades ago, and today’s support of localized economies. Using this content, we were able to draw a distinction between the industrial food model and the pasture-raised meat, cheese, and eggs we carried from some of today’s top local farmers.

Here, content shaped buying behavior by emphasizing buying differences.

The net result was leveraging content made by others to simultaneously demonstrate our shop’s quirky personality and some of our core beliefs as business owners.

Content Demonstrates Your Beliefs.

What does your business believe in?

That’s a crucial question you must answer regardless of whether your business is online or offline. The beliefs — the ideas and values — your business hold determine who will become part of your community, literally and figuratively. Our business stands for “local” (economies) and “independent” (commerce), and the content we choose to curate and share reflects these core beliefs and enhances this marketing message.

Businesses must convey a consistent brand voice, and content can do this through the curation process itself. You, as the business owner, can play the “curator of community cool,” or the “curator of friendly-priced wines,” or whatever topic, macro or micro, that makes sense.

Plenty of attention has been paid to how content curation works for huge media companies such as The Huffington Post. However, this is rarely discussed in the context of micro-businesses (defined by the National Association for the Self-Employed as having fewer than 10 employees) — of which comprise 95% of growing businesses in the United States.

No one talks about content curation for these offline micro businesses, though they should, especially given the stat above — that 57% of purchasing decisions happen prior to interaction with a business. If so many purchasers make decisions based on preliminary research — that is, through content discovered online — it follows that predominately “offline” businesses need to be in the “online content business” too.

Again, offline businesses should absolutely be thinking of themselves as online media producers. Although producing content has never been cheaper, it still costs time. Content curation is a solution for those short on time.

Content Creates Community.

Brick-and-mortar businesses can effectively use content curation in pursuit of community-building. These businesses can use curation tools to develop their own media/marketing engine. If you provide niche news to an audience that wants it, this will reflect positively on you, the business owner and content provider.

For example, in our business, we regularly curate and share news related to topics we consider part of our larger brand story. Specifically, we feel that our brand story represents a (re) localization of the food economy because we’re the re-imagined, updated version of a neighborhood grocery that existed at the turn of the last century. To align content with our brand story, we share news and information on:

• Walkable and bikeable communities.
• Independent retailers and lifestyle entrepreneurs.
• Localized economies, especially concerning food and beer.
• Microlending and alternative currency, e.g. time banking.

People who respond to these and similar topics self-select into “our people,” or “our community.” These also happen to be our most ardent customers.

Not only are these news topics interesting to us personally and affect our business philosophy, they also catalyze discussions among our customers on larger societal trends such as a move away from consumption to sharing, and a return to localized economies, for example. This is important to the people we serve because many of them have economic interests of their own concerning re-localized economies, as purveyors of localized goods and services.

However, using content to comment on social or other trends is not unique to our business or location.

Doing the work of observing trends on your customers’ lives and reporting back is a service. Highlighting, explaining, or curating relevant information allows your customers to look smart and stay informed. This builds customer loyalty and trust, which can ultimately translate into sales. As is said, the brand is the story, and the sale is the souvenir. Content builds the brand story.

Results

Not too long ago we shared on Facebook the happy news that a group of locals organized a surprise cash mob for a fellow indie business. The flash mob was hugely successful and became the talk of our shop. I suspect some customers came to visit us and talk about this event simply because we curated and shared that news first. Many of these visitors happily became customers.

Our local grocery keeps our customers informed about important news and trends through content and content curation. We share our curated news primarily through social media and occasionally on our blog. Curated content has helped us build a strong brand connection: One that turns online content into offline community…and sales.

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This is a guest post by Katie McCaskey, co-owner of George Bowers Grocery, a neighborhood grocery, café, and beer garden in Staunton, Virginia. Katie is also a freelance journalist who covers small business news and trends for Vistaprint, a leading provider of customized business websites and other marketing products for small businesses all over the world.