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Jane is a retail and small business writer with a special interest in emerging companies and entrepreneurs. She covered the financial services industry before moving into general business journalism and has written for The Age and The Australian Financial Review.

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Rise of the social curator: Selling’s boring, so tell some real stories

Published 27 February 2013 21:45, Updated 10 April 2013 09:43

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Rise of the social curator: Selling’s boring, so tell some real stories

Fashion brands that have successfully navigated the social media web and attracted loyal “followers” include Celine, Lanvin and Alice and Olivia. Illustration: Tim Pearse

In a world where anyone with a keyboard or smartphone has the ability to be a brand ambassador (or killer), businesses are looking to social curators – individuals or companies with large social media audiences – to cut out “digital noise”.

The rise and rise of social media sites such as Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest and their tens of millions of users have made it more difficult for businesses to market themselves. Instead, consumers have become their own media outlets, producing masses of user-generated material and influencing large online audiences that many large companies could only dream of.

The good news is that brands that understand the role of social curation – the process by which a company or individual carefully filters social media content into a manageable stream for their followers – can benefit from and even do better business from the trend, Lyst head of business development Hilary Pertson says.

Pertson’s New York based “social commerce” company, Lyst, is a social curator of sorts, selecting retail products from hundreds of brands and acting as a filter, or a “Google” for international fashionistas. Pertson claims anyone, a company or an individual, can be a social curator but she is under no illusion as to who is in charge of what is fashionable.

“Consumers are really holding the controls,” she says. “It’s really the brand who is bearing the burden to constantly produce relevant content. For a consumer, it is very simple to filter out something you don’t like, even if you normally like a brand.

“Social curation is a filter based on your social [media] graph. It’s really about focusing on what consumers care about the most.”

In the fast-paced online, social media landscape, traditional media has become redundant. Consumer messages are created through an individual’s social network rather than by editorial content or through an advertising agency.

The hunter-gatherer

The founder of US content and marketing agency Moving Image and Content, Quynh Mai, sees the role of the social curator as a “hunter-gatherer”. Mai, who has worked in traditional and digital branding with fashion names such as Diesel and Juicy, has seen how traditional marketing and branding has changed. Instead of trying to please “a few key editors” with products, brands have thousands of would-be critics.

“When I worked for Burberry many years ago ... it was Anna Wintour and a few key editors that we had to make happy. You had to make sure you had something in that collection that she would like, so she would feel positive about your brand,” Mai, who is a guest speaker at L’Oreal Melbourne Fashion Festival’s business events series in March, says. “That has just multiplied to an infinity level. Now you’re dealing with bloggers, ‘power pinners’, people with a strong Facebook community of friends ... so the challenge is [identifying] who you want to please.”

Now you’re dealing with bloggers, ‘power pinners’, people with a strong Facebook community of friends ... so the challenge is [identifying] who you want to please.

Fashion brands that have successfully navigated the social media web and attracted loyal “followers” include Celine, Lanvin and Alice and Olivia. Those brands, Mai says, have deliberately taken the approach of “ignoring the noise” in social media, instead focusing on what they do well and trying to please loyal customers.

“They figure the people who love them will endorse them,” Mai says. “I think that is a really great approach, because you certainly cannot please the many, many critics you now have, due to the rise of social curation.”

Companies that take a generalist, mass-market approach to social networking also tend to fail. These brands claim to tweet and update their statuses every day, however their audience does not respond. In the world of social media, silence usually equates to failure.

A common mistake many companies make is to view social media as a way in which to communicate their product messages, or to “hock their wares”, Mai says. “There are only so many times you can say, look at this great new belt ... it quickly gets boring,” she says. Instead, companies should view social media as a way of expressing their culture and what they stand for.

Selling is a boring story

Online marketplace Etsy.com is one of the world’s greatest success stories when it comes to social curation. The brand is just as much to do with its culture and story as it is about selling its users’ products online. The major rule for its social curation is: “We’re not selling anything”.

Etsy merchandising specialist Emily Bidwell says: “As a curator or merchandiser, I see this is as an opportunity to not only move [online] traffic in different directions ... but to work together. I see there is no difference that I work for a brand ... we [Bidwell and Etsy members] share the same content and have the same sorts of broad goals.”

Her job is to create shopping content and “experiences”, which includes stories about sellers, experiences and suggestions of different products a shopper might like.

“We’re doing a million other things ... we’re supporting stay-at-home mums, we’re promoting a concept or a story or a person, anything other than just selling stuff, because that’s a boring story,” Bidwell says.

To be successful in a business sense, social media curation needs to operate from the top down, Portable TV Australia managing director Simon Goodrich says. While businesses need to have a strategy for executives and managers to understand the direction of the policy, an individual or group of people should be employed to curate a company’s social media presence.

A common mistake, Goodrich says, is that many companies view social media as “just one of many tasks” and fail to spend adequate time and resources developing it. “They spend a little bit of time on it but it’s time-consuming, so they stop and they are left with a legacy presence online,” he says. “That can be more detrimental than having nothing at all in some ways.”

Companies need to listen to what their customers want and give it to them, Goodrich says.

“Social curation is about being able to create messages above the [digital] noise. In an environment where everything is instantly available, the ability to curate information is so important,” Goodrich says. “The main question is how do you create scarcity out of abundance.”

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