Social curation: shaping the user experience

MELBOURNE -- What does the emerging trend of social curation and the rise in user-generated content mean for businesses and consumers today? An industry report.
Written by Lieu Thi Pham, Contributor on

MELBOURNE -- "It's creating scarcity from abundance," Simon Goodrich, managing director of digital studio Portable, said on the topic of social curation. "We as a society usually live the other way around, but now we’re at a point where so much is happening, it's more about how can we create something of value when we can get anything all the time."

Goodrich, along with Quynh Mai (a New York image creation consultant), Hilary Peterson (head of business development for fashion aggregator Lyst), Emily Bidwell (a merchandising specialist for Etsy), was part of the L'Oreal Melbourne Fashion Festival Business Seminar segment which looked at the emerging digital trend of social curation and user-generated content.

In a series of broad brush strokes the speakers painted the digital landscape for brands and businesses in today's user-led marketplace.

Goodrich said that sharing content is not enough to cut through the clutter of today's river of information -- we’ve reached a point where we need to synthesize this information, and this is why curation has become increasingly important to consumers, as well as brands.

The Australian described this as part of our internet evolution, which he says is in its "fourth wave." The first wave featured the dawn of the internet and our discovery of websites (consume); the second was publishing (growth of blogs); the third was sharing (Facebook, Twitter); and the fourth, which is happening now, is curation (LystFabFancyPinterest).

Lyst's Hilary Peterson said today many corporations are recognising social curation as part of a corporate strategy. She said a recent study showed that 73 percent of Fortune 500 companies have a Twitter account, 66 percent have a Facebook page and more than 80 percent of executives believe that social media leads to increased brand awareness and sales.

Goodrich reported that by 2014, it's predicted that 53 percent of all retail sales (both on and offline) will be driven by the internet, as people use it to research products before purchasing. He said 53 percent of people on Twitter recommend companies and/or products in their tweets, with half of this amount delivering on their intention to buy the product.

In this increasingly common scenario, Goodrich said that getting people to talk about your product is an important marketing tool, citing the statistic that consumer reviews are 12 times more trusted than descriptions from the company or brand.

Mai, founder of the New York digital content and marketing agency Moving Image and Content, stressed the importance of a distribution strategy for all brands, adding that the age-old adage "If you build it, they will come" is outdated. She reported that on average consumers look at a mere 30 websites a month.

Mai said marketers and businesses will need to put aside their egos and run after their customers as much as possible, and to go where they are, namely; Tumblr, Pinterest, Twitter and Facebook.

This proliferation of content sharing via social media channels means that brands are competing more than ever for consumers' attention.

Mai, along with her panel cohorts, said that technology's enabling force has resulted in a tremendous amount of growth in user-content and ecommerce. This means that brands and businesses need to increase their social curation capabilities in order to engage with their customers.

But how is social curation defined? Is it just another buzzword? How does it affect brands? These were the opening questions posed in the one-hour-long session, hosted and moderated by Karson Stimson, the director of WeAreDigital, a Melbourne digital agency.

Mai described social curation as the act of turning to people who are like-minded for guidance. She cited a Buzzmedia study which reported 80 percent of the 18-34 year-old demographic ("Millenials") believe in the advice of their friends and peers over trusted brands.

Mai, who has produced immersive content including fashion films, web documentaries and video for luxury labels such as Burberry, Thierry Mugler and Diane Von Furstenburg, argued that social curation mimics what we’re already doing in the real world. “Human behavior has not changed but the medium has,” she said.

Hilary Peterson described social curation as a way of confining the messaging and personalizing how this is received. She said her company Lyst does exactly this. The shopping site brings products from thousands of brands and retailers together, combines this with fashion blogs and magazines, and enables users to customize their experience.  She cites Bergdorf Goodman and Net-a-Porter as other good site models.

Similarly Mai encouraged businesses everywhere to think about developing a long-term digital strategy which worked across multiple social platforms and channels in order to sustain a personalized two-way conversation with their consumers on and offline.

Emily Bidwell, who is responsible for guiding the team that creates shopping content for Etsy, defined the act of social curation as pulling together and organizing content, and aggregating it around interests and themes. She suggested that the retail and fashion industries are uniquely positioned to use this medium for visual merchandising and visual curation, as evidenced by social content-sharing platform Pinterest, a top source of traffic for Etsy.

“Social curation is using diverse content from across the web and crafting an inspirational experience and a voice for your brand. Social curation begins to help shoppers to discover more of what they love -- not sell products to or at them,” she said.

Today Etsy has 25 million users, 18 million listed items, 1.8 million Twitter followers and 1 million Facebook “likes” -- Bidwell explained that this is the the kind of content that the community is actively aggregating and, as an Etsy curator, she has to provide a filter for this.

Bidwell said it was all about brands acknowledging their consumers as their equal. “As tastemakers and consumers become curators in their communities, we need to support platforms and ways for them to share their content,” Bidwell said. “As brands we should join the conversation as peers, and connect to these communities more directly by telling more stories as well as our own.”

And for those brands who refuse to join the conversation, Goodrich issued this warning: “We’re at a point where others are doing a lot of the work for you and for your brand, so even if you’re not engaged in the conversation, other people are going to be doing it for you anyway. But as a brand if you get involved, you can help shape and shift that conversation.”

Photos: Lucas Dawson

Updated 5 April 2013.

This post was originally published on Smartplanet.com

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