When a person is just getting started with social media, it’s almost inevitable that at some point they’ll think to themselves, “Man, this original content stuff is hard. I bet I could get a lot of traffic by aggregating other people’s stories. I’ll be the next Matt Drudge. It’ll be awesome and totally easy.”
I hate to burst your bubble. But it’s not. After working the daily e-mail newsletter beat for almost three years now, I can tell you that curating the right stories every day is about as tricky as it comes. And while the work never gets easier, there are at least a few guidelines you can follow that’ll help you connect with your audience faster and keep you out of trouble.
Whether you’re writing a blog roundup, creating a newsletter, curating a collection on a site such as Instapaper or even just tweeting links, here’s what you need to know before you get involved in the aggregation game.
- Know your audience. I mean really know them. It’s not enough to say they like politics or animals or technology and then aggregate content around that. There are already too many general interest aggregation sites for most topics. But that doesn’t mean you can’t still make your mark. If you want to be the go-to source for aggregated news on a topic, you need to get granular: Offer a very specific slice of content for a very particular crowd. If you have an existing audience from another platform that you’re hoping to entice with your aggregation efforts, do some market research to see which angles they really care about. If you’re starting from scratch, look at the competitive landscape and try to find a constituency that’s underserved and aim to help those people. Check in with your readers frequently to see if you’re offering them the news they really need.
- Keep it fresh. You’ll never see an article in a SmartBrief publication that’s more than 14 days old when the newsletter goes out. Most of the time we don’t come anywhere near that theoretical limit. If you want your readership to be engaged, you need to be pointing them to fresh content, things they won’t have had a chance to see anywhere else.
- Mix it up. Don’t rely on the same four or five news sources when you’re searching for stories. Your readers can do that on their own. What they’re looking for from you is a mixture of the really big news of the day and the deep cuts — the little stories that would slip through the cracks otherwise. Develop a large, diverse list of sources you’re checking. Don’t forget about local news sources and blogs — they can often break news well ahead of even the most well-known national news sources.
- Don’t be afraid of bad news. There can be a temptation to focus on sunny stories when aggregating. After all, who wants to read about bad news? It turns out that the answer is lots of people, if the news is relevant to something they care about. People like knowing that trouble is coming, because it helps them prepare — or at least not feel completely caught off guard. Pass on the whole story to your readers. They’ll appreciate it.
- Be consistent. Is your publication daily? Weekly? Are you tweeting every hour? Twice an hour? There’s no definitive right answer. But you do need to be consistent. Pick a frequency and stick with it.
- Let technology help — but not too much. You’d be surprised how much help something as simple as an RSS reader can be when it comes to sorting out the day’s news. Google Alerts and other filtering tools can be helpful as well. But they’re not a replacement for a human filter. The greatest assets you have are 1) the ability to read a lot of content and quickly suss out what matters and what doesn’t and 2) a well-plugged-in social network of other people who are constantly feeding you story recommendations. Remember that your audience could set up an RSS reader too, if that’s what they wanted. They’re coming to you for the human touch.
- Less is more. Don’t pass on everything that you see. Just the best stuff. Ask yourself if every item in your daily roundup is really must-have. Because if something isn’t essential, then its just a distraction from something more important. And that totally defeats the purpose of aggregating in the first place.
- Don’t be evil. I don’t want to go all Journalism School 101 on you — but the second that people start looking at you as a source of information, you start to have a responsibility to them. Take it seriously. Don’t plagiarize work — there’s a big difference between highlighting a story and acting like you wrote it. Give the original author full credit. Don’t lie. Don’t pass on news from sources you know aren’t trustworthy. Don’t put stock in rumors and innuendo. If it turns out that a story you passed on later turns out to be false, then let your readers know. If you include a mix of news and opinion pieces, let the reader know which is which. Don’t hide any conflicts of interest. Be honest, be faithful, be diligent.
How are you curating content for your followers?