Curated Content vs Sponsored Content – What’s the Difference and Does It Matter?

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I have worked for several large content publishers, supporting both publisher and advertiser brands in traditional print and digital/interactive.  A particular subject has been receiving a lot of attention lately – Curated Content vs. Sponsored Content; what’s the difference and does it matter? First, let’s understand the meaning of each term:

-       Curated Content: content aggregated for “cherry-picked” topics intended for specific audiences.  The content is gathered by various means, but the two most prevalent are Search (a la Google & Yahoo) and the typical human review. Two good examples of content curation come from Flipboard for curated news aggregation and from YouTube for curated video content.  They each create a tailored experience for the audience based on topics of interest.

-       Sponsored Content: In the last year we have started hearing a lot more about sponsored content.  Another term used frequently is advertorial content.  Basically it is content that is produced around a topic with an eye toward an advertiser to support the effort.  Have you ever been reading an article and at the top it says “paid advertisement”.  It could be an article in print or online that is covering the launch of a new vehicle.  This is content that the advertiser is paying for (note: not all advertorial content carries the “paid advertisement” statement; sometimes the grey lines between the two get fuzzy or even fade away entirely).

Both ways of delivering content to an end user have merit.  Curated content is not associated with advertising dollars, however the sources for content are not always 100% relevant and could possibly cause harm to a brand if the content isn’t closely monitored for the particular audience.  On the other hand, curated content can be a great way of providing depth into specific topics. The person responsible for curating the content must be careful not to claim ownership of the content.  He/She must provide appropriate links, credit, and/or attribution.

Sponsored content might seem tainted or biased to some, but it’s not always the case.  There is a great deal of sponsored content that is very valuable. The author of the sponsored content may be “speaking from the heart” or exactly the opposite, by giving unwarranted, favorable comments and attention to the paid sponsor of the content.  Whichever the case, sponsored content should be clearly identified.

Consumers today expect transparency from brands; they also want to be entertained!  Creating great content around unique topics may require specific focus and most likely needs to be contracted out.  The hired curator needs to work hand-in-hand with the brand, i.e. when creating an entertaining video on certain topics related to the brand.

Content creation by a curator is a specialized field.  The curator must be adept at finding unique and original content and developing sponsored content in a way the brand’s target consumers expect it.  The key to providing successful content is quality of each pursuit.  I read this great interview of Jim Farley, Ford Motor’s CMO, by Digiday.  Below are some excerpts I pulled to validate what I am saying.

Farley spoke to Digiday about how the carmaker is approaching digital, particularly in its focus on creating shareable content.

Have you figured out social media yet? We’re getting closer to figuring out the cadence in the social space. We’ve made a lot of progress. We’ve committed a lot of resources to our digital spend and the human capital to promote the company and our products. We developed a lot of new muscles. We learned a lot about how to make social make sense for the company and still be authentic and not interrupt people’s natural interactions. In social, we learned how important content generation is. At first, we didn’t understand how much content we needed to produce. That’s the currency of the social experience.

Why is content so important?
What we found is that shareable content is something you have to be professional about and quick to develop. You can’t do it by content alone. You have to have paid advertising. But it’s best to start with a running start. If you’re doing pre-launch on the Fusion, start with Ryan Seacrest’s fan base. If you want to have a conversation about Ford, start with Mustang. You have to find something that starts the dialogue and is compelling. You have to have great sharable content, which isn’t easy to produce.

Content keeps coming up. Brands have always created content. How is it different now?
If I walked through the agency three years ago, the team was mostly working on broadcast advertising. There were a couple people in other areas, including the Web. They’d be working on banner ads or our own cool videos the banner ads would link to. When I walk through today, one person is working on a Ken Block video, the next is working on an animated figurine doing comedy, the next is working on Ryan Seacrest videos. It’s almost overwhelming. We’re not used to entertaining people. We’re used to informing people. Entertaining people means taking risks and making cultural judgments. Take Doug the puppet. He had a press conference where he had to be funny, but if he was too inappropriate, it would be bad for our brand. Those are new creative muscles.

Full Interview http://www.digiday.com/brands/why-fords-cmo-has-content-on-his-mind/

Having a content strategy is critical as it relates to pursuit of existing and new audiences for a brand.  What constitutes a content strategy ten years ago is vastly different in today’s brand community.  There is an expectation from the audience that not only the brand should be the expert but they should also identify other reputable sources of content to further bring robust information on a topic.

This article helps with the discussion of this topic.  http://spinsucks.com/marketing/curating-content-and-community/

So in today’s world a consumer realizes the differences between original content, curated content and sponsored content.  They are looking for the best overall experience and want to be informed and entertained.  The need for print, video, digital, apps etc. requires the use of many sources of content.  Content experts now and in the future cannot be one dimensional.  We should never think of curated and sponsored content as a bad thing.

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