The Unanticipated Benefits of Content Curation: Build Staff Expertise and Reduce Information Overload


[Editor’s note: The following is an excerpt from an article in the June 2012 issue of

By Beth Kanter, Author of Beth’s Blog

Content curation is the process of sifting through information on the web and organizing, filtering and making sense of it and sharing the very best content with your network. Rather than another potential recipe for information overload, content curation can actually be a method to tackle this problem. With so much information coming at us from social networks, web sites, emails, and other digital sources, we can no longer afford to just whine about it—content curation can empower us to win the battle over too much information.

What is content curation exactly? It isn’t mindless consumption of online information. If you think about what a museum curator does, it is very similar. The museum curator does research, is an expert in the particular artistic style, selects the best examples, puts them together in an exhibit, provides important context with annotation on the labels, and so on. I also like the metaphor of a sommelier. They know the grapes, the winemaker and their techniques, and vintages. They taste many wines to find the best of the best to appropriately complement (even enhance) the food in the restaurant. They can answer questions about the wine to help diners navigate a wine list to make the best choice. The content curator does something similar, but with information.

One reason content curation is becoming more and more appreciated is because of the huge amount of information available on the web (the equivalent of cheap red wine). There’s so much of it that it is now measured in exabytes, which is equal to a quintillion bytes. The creation and sharing of content on social media and social networks is contributing to this information overload. The average user on Facebook shares/creates 90 pieces of content a month. With over 800 million global users on Facebook, if you do the math—that’s a lot of information!

We can’t blame it all on the amount of information. The problem is our information consumption —we’re indulging too much at the buffet called the web. We need to go on an information diet. And guess what? Mindful consumption of information is at the heart of content curation practice .

Benefits for Nonprofits

The act of content curation can actually reduce our information overload. I believe that sense-making, both individually and in collaborative contexts at work or networked projects, will be the key to navigating the digital information landscape and finding relevant content efficiently in the future.

In addition, there are benefits for both nonprofit organizations and the people who work for them:

  • Improve staff expertise: It used to be that we could be trained to do our work and we wouldn’t need to update and synthesize new information on a daily basis. That’s less true. One 21st century work place literacy is sense-making of information together and alone. A good curator can appreciate content that is not, at first glance, related to their subject. This skill is called “Transdisciplinarity,” or the ability to understand and translate concepts across multiple disciplines, another 21st century skill.
  • Improve Thought Leadership: If your organization is curating content on a particular topic, it can help with branding your organization as thought leaders in the space. If your staff is trained in the techniques of content curation, this process can be a form of professional development, building their expertise in a subject area that can, in turn, have significant returns to your organization’s programs. Better yet, this professional development is a self-directed activity – and it’s free! Not only are they learning on the job, but getting work done, too.
  • Content curation forms the base of your content strategy pyramid. It’s about curation, creativity, and coordination across channels. Your content strategy is essential to the success of an integrated social media strategy. Content curation can also help increase the shelf-life of your content you’re already producing.

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Don’t miss Beth’s upcoming free webinar on this topic, presented in partnership with the AdCouncil:

“How Content Curation Builds Staff Expertise and Reduces Information Overload”, Thursday, July 12, 2pm ET / 11am PT.