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10 Steps to Ethical Content Curation

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To fill their pipelines with a steady stream of timely, relevant content that doesn't have to be created from scratch, a growing number of marketers are using content curation—the process of finding, organizing, annotating (contextualizing), and sharing digital content on a specific topic for a target market.

Compared with the creation of original content, curation can be a faster and easier way to generate content. But bad curation can damage your brand's credibility and potentially lead to copyright and legal issues.

Let's be clear: good curation is not piracy, and it's not unethical, because good content curation properly credits sources and adds something new to the conversation instead of ripping off other people's content.

Below are 10 tips to from our latest e-book to help you curate ethically. (Disclaimer: I cannot offer specific legal advice. These are simply guidelines. For more specific guidance on copyright law, you will want to consult an intellectual property lawyer.)

1. Read a variety of sources

Relying on one or two curation sources isn't merely boring for your readers, it also violates the spirit of good curation because it could well mean you're profiting off of the original creator's work.

To prevent this curation pitfall, make sure you're reading both the A-listers in your niche and the newer (but credible) upstarts. Also mix in a few other sources that may be only tangentially related to your topic, because you can always make a stronger connection to your subject by adding your insights and interpretation during curation. This approach offers readers more variety in the opinions and ideas you share, and it positions you as an in-the-know expert.

2. Credit the original source

Ethical curators give credit where credit is due by properly citing and linking to the original work. Make sure you're not linking to merely another curator who's sharing an article! It may take a few clicks to track down the original source, but it's worth the extra clicks to credit appropriately.

We've noticed a few other attribution practices that undermine ethical curation: burying links at the bottom of a post, disguising links in the same color font as the rest of the article, or making the font microscopically small. Avoid such sneaky practices!

3. Don't use 'nofollow' links

HTML "nofollow" tags deprive the original content creator of SEO credit. They were initially developed so that links in comment spam would not get the same weight as a link in an actual blog post. Using nofollow links could negate some of the goodwill created by linking to the original creator, so avoid them.

4. Keep quotes short

Quoting a short section of the original piece can give readers a taste of the full article and generally falls under the category of fair use. But if you quote extensive passages, readers have little reason to click through to the complete, original piece. Extensive quoting could also blur the lines between fair use and copyright infringement.

Quote only short passages from the original and write the rest of the curation piece in your own words so you're adding value to the conversation. In fact, the sections in your own words should be longer than any sections you're quoting.

5. Write with a point of view

Summarizing or merely regurgitating pieces from other sources isn't really curation; it's closer to aggregation. Good curators explain why a topic matters, how it impacts readers, or what they expect to happen in the future.

A robot can aggregate content, but only a human can formulate and express an opinion.

Curation not only brings you into the conversation but also gives you an opportunity to add brand-appropriate keywords that may not appear in the original piece.

6. Add context

If the original article leaves out something that would be useful or interesting for your readers to know, add it as you curate. If your company has survey data that relates to the topic of the piece you're curating, work in a few key stats. Other curators may also be sharing the original piece you're using, but adding context and value will help your curation stand out from the pack.

7. Stick to thumbnail images

Just as text is subject to copyright law, so too are images. Never republish the full image from the original piece without first getting permission. It's not always feasible to get permission to use every single image, so an alternative is to use a smaller thumbnail image or to find royalty-free images to use without potentially violating copyright law.

Find images that are available under a Creative Commons license using Flickr or Google's advanced search option. Also check for image licensing issues using TinEye's Reverse Image Search.

8. Let readers close an iFrame or share bar

Some curators place Share Bars and iFrames around the original publisher's content help maintain the look and feel of the curator's property while driving traffic to the original site. Using an iFrame or share bar is not illegal or unethical. However, some readers find share bars or iFrames annoying, so you should give them the option to close them and view the original article directly on the publisher's site without an extra headers or frames.

9. Write a new headline

Instead of copying and pasting the original headline, write a new headline. Retitling ensures that you're not competing with the original author in search results. It also lets you emphasize aspects of the piece that the author may have downplayed, or to incorporate words or phrases that will resonate with your audience.

10. Claim Google authorship only when appropriate

Google authorship is a way to link your content to your Google+ profile and make a thumbnail of your photo appear in search results, boosting your credibility with readers. If you're applying the ethical curation steps described above, then go ahead and claim Google authorship for your curated content.

However, if you're simply summarizing without adding your own commentary and a new headline, then you haven't authored anything new and you shouldn't claim Google authorship.

Are there a few that you follow that I haven't listed? Post a comment below.

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Pawan Deshpande is the founder and CEO of Curata, a leading provider of content marketing software. He is an accomplished entrepreneur, marketer, and technologist.

LinkedIn: Pawan Deshpande

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  • by Dan Linstroth Mon Dec 9, 2013 via web

    Fantastic post and very useful. I am a one-man shop, running a brand new eCommerce site. I produce original content but in order to keep things rolling and guide my own content production, I would like to start curating content for my early followers. I have been hesitant to do so because I did not know the rules, both written and unwritten, and was fearful of stepping on toes and certainly did not want to be improperly using other people's content. This post, along with the eBook will be a great resource to get started. Thank you.

  • by Randy Milanovic Mon Dec 9, 2013 via iphone

    You've touched in a topic that's a bit personal for me Pawan. I'm continually reaching out to websites that "borrow" my infographics and then put an embed link : BACK TO THEIR OWN SITE! I see it often. These people steal hard earned links.

  • by Kari Rippetoe Mon Dec 9, 2013 via web

    Great tips! Don't forget a recent development from Google: according to Matt Cutts, "content stitching" is bad-quality content. This, according to MarketingLand, "is the practice of taking snippets of content from other websites and pasting them on your own site, with citations."

    So this obviously affects content curation to a great extent. Here's the full article from MarketingLand:

  • by Kari Rippetoe Mon Dec 9, 2013 via web

    Sorry - that article was from Search Engine Land, not MarketingLand.

  • by Pawan Deshpande Mon Dec 9, 2013 via web

    Thanks for your kind words everyone. Glad you've found the article helpful, the ebook dives more into tactics and additional components of curating content the right way.

  • by 'TC' Teresa Clark Mon Dec 9, 2013 via web

    Hey there Pawan,
    Completely love this article! It is very informative and agree with you that we need to add context to our content and always credit the original source. Here is a little something that I like to do when curating quality content.

    I create content that comes from the people that know the most about why someone buys, the customer. Consumers are a vital source when creating content to help improve your businessís success. Not only will they share stories about their experience with you, they will also have quirky antidotes that can help boost the morale and performance of your business.

    Thanks again,
    'TC' Teresa Clark

  • by Robin Williams Tue Dec 10, 2013 via web

    Love the post. Especially about content being king. Itís the biggest factor in driving organic search results to a website.

  • by Randy Milanovic Tue Dec 10, 2013 via iphone

    "TC" good point. We curate infographics on our site, and always work to include a dialogue discussing a key point in it. The curious thing is that ONLY ONE of roughly 50 creators has ever reached out to engage with us about their work. (And not one has thanked us for the PR5 link back to their original. )

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