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De-Mystifying the Content Creation versus Curation Paradox - 10/7/2011 -

While conventional marketing wisdom says itís not a good idea to use social media to promote yourself, an effective balance can be struck between content about and from your association and content that you want to share from other sources.


By Tristan Handy

Whether youíre on a first date, meeting new people at a dinner party, or making it rain on Twitter, itís not a good idea to go on and on about yourself. Itís just awkward.

Conventional social media marketing wisdom suggests that brands should avoid being overly self-promotional. Thus, organizations seek to "be a part of the conversationĒ by sharing links that are relevant to their followers, but often are not specifically about their products and services. This act of finding good content and sharing it is known as content curation.

Contrast this with another nugget of conventional social media marketing wisdom: that "content is kingĒ and the best thing that a social media marketer can do is create content that people find valuable enough to share with the world.

Is promoting your associationís own content akin to talking about yourself? And isnít that rude, and thus, ineffective?

This creation versus curation paradox inspired me to look for some answers in the data.

Analyzing 150,000 Social Media Posts. The data behind this analysis comes from a sample of customersí activity on Argyle Social, a social media marketing software provider. The selected sample included more than 150,000 tweets and status updates from more than 1,000 Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn accounts between November 2010 and July 2011. Our customers are typically professional marketers representing a range of company sizes across most major industries.

In short, 30 percent of the companies in our sample are curation-focused: 75 percent or more of their posts link to third-party websites. Thirteen percent of companies are creation-focused: most of their posts link to their own websites.

There are clearly a broad range of strategies employed, although companies tend toward strategies dominated by content curation, with two-thirds of companies linking to others more frequently than they link to themselves.

Which Works Best: Curation or Creation? The real question, though, is what should organizations be doing? What is the optimal content strategy, creating or curating? To measure that, letís look at the impact of content strategy on click rates and conversion rates.

When looking at clicks, curation clearly dominates. Posts linking to third-party sites generate 33 percent more clicks than posts linking to owned sites. This makes sense ó the very best content on the Internet is typically not going to live at yourcompany.com.

However, if youíre looking to drive conversions, content creation is the optimal strategy. Posts that link to your website have a 54 percent higher click-to-conversion rate than posts that link to third-party websites. This makes implicit sense, since conversions happen on your website. If youíre not driving people to your website and giving them good content to read when they get there, theyíre not going to convert.

But the choice isnít really between creation and curation ó you should be doing both. The question is really, what mix of those two strategies you should employ for maximum clicks and conversions?

Part of a Balanced Social Media Diet. To dig deeper into what mix of creation and curation works best, Iím going to revisit the behavior segments that I outlined above. What kind of results are companies in each of these segments seeing?


  • Curators = Companies that link to third-party sites 75 percent or more of the time. Companies in this group focus very heavily on curation and rarely, if ever, link to their own content. Their results bear this out: they generate a lot of clicks, but very few conversions. Stats: Clicks per post-47.8, Click-to-conversion rate- 0.2 percent, Conversions per post 0.10
  • Balanced = Companies that link to third-party sites 50-75 percent of the time. Companies in this group employ a balanced strategy of content creation and content curation. Their clicks per post are lower than Curators, but they generate significantly more conversions. Stats: Clicks per post-38.4, Click-to-conversion rate- 2.5 percent, Conversions per post 0.95
  • Self-Promoters = Companies that link to their own content 50 percent or more of the time. Companies in this group link to their own content a majority of the time. This negatively impacts their clicks per post, and this reduction isnít made up by an increased conversion rate. Stats: Clicks per post-17.0, Click-to-conversion rate- 2.4 percent, Conversions per post 0.41

Itís clear from the data that companies in the Balanced category achieve the best results overall. They generate 20 percent fewer clicks per post than Curators, but their conversion rate is 10-times higher. Iíll take that trade any day.
The Perfect Balance. We already determined that linking to your site 25-50 perfect of the time generates the best results. But what if we look at the practices of the top five companies in generating clicks and conversions? What are they doing that has been so effective for them?
The top five companies in our sample that generate the most clicks link to their own sites 37.9 percent of the time. And the top five companies in our sample that generate the most conversions link to their own sites 41.6 percent of the time. This feels like a pretty solid sweet spot.

Lessons Learned and Takeaways. After digging into the numbers, the optimal balance for most companies is to link to your own content between 25-50 percent of the time, with 40 percent being the ideal mark.

But beware the law of averages! Just because these numbers are true overall does not mean that they are the best numbers for your association. Outliers exist.

My favorite example of an account that breaks the mold is TiqIQ, a company in the business of publishing deals on sports tickets via social media. Almost every one of their posts links to a site where visitors can purchase tickets from TiqIQ, so they almost never curate. However, their click and conversion rates are off the charts, because their audience is specifically following them to receive these deals.

If youíre new to social media marketing, a 40 percent content creation rate is a good place to start. But make sure you measure your own efforts and find out what works for your organization.

Tristan Handy is the director of operations for Argyle Social, a social media marketing company. 


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