New research finds content curation vs. creation sweet spot

Should you create your own content or pull from others? New data has the answers.

Whether you’re on a first date, meeting new people at a dinner party, or making it rain on Twitter, it’s not a good idea to talk on and on about yourself. It’s awkward.

Conventional social media marketing wisdom suggests that brands should avoid being overly self-promotional. Brands seek to “be a part of the conversation” by sharing links that are relevant to their followers but often not specifically about the brands’ products or services. This act of finding good content and sharing it is content curation.

Contrast this with another nugget of conventional social media marketing wisdom: “Content is king.” This means that the best thing a social media marketer can do is create content that people think is valuable enough to share with the world.

But isn’t promoting your own content akin to talking about yourself? Isn’t that rude and 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 came from a sample of customers’ activity on Argyle Social, a social media marketing software provider. (Full disclosure: Argyle is my employer.)

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.

Examining typical sharing behavior

The graph below shows the sharing mix across all companies in our sample:

In short, 30 percent of the companies in our sample focus on curation, as 75 percent or more of their posts link to third-party websites. On the other hand, 13 percent of companies focus on creation, as most of their posts link to their own websites.

These companies use a broad range of strategies, but they tend to use those dominated by 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 companies be doing? What is the optimal content strategy, creating or curating? To measure that, let’s look at the impact of content strategy on click and conversion rates.

When you look 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—the very best content on the Internet is typically not going to live at yourcompany.com.

However, if you want to drive conversions, 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 sense, since conversions happen on your website. If you’re not driving people to your website and giving them good content to read, they’re not going to convert.

But the choice isn’t really between creation and curation—you should be doing both. The question is 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, let’s revisit the behavior segments 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. They get a lot of clicks, but very few conversions.

Balanced: Companies that link to third-party sites 50-75 percent of the time.

Companies in this group employ a balanced strategy of creation and curation. Their clicks-per-post are lower than the curators, but they have significantly more conversions.

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 an increased conversion rate doesn’t make up for it.

The data proves that companies in the “balanced” category achieve the best results overall. Balanced companies generate 20 percent fewer clicks-per-post than curators, but their conversion rate is 10 times higher. I’ll take that trade any day.

The creation and curation sweet spot

We already determined that linking to your site 25-50 percent of the time creates 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 is so effective?

The top five companies in our sample that create 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 is a pretty solid sweet spot.

Takeaways

The optimal balance for most companies is to link to your own content between 25 and 50 percent of the time, with 40 percent being the most ideal.

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

My favorite example of an account that breaks the mold is one of our customers, TiqIQ. TiqIQ publishes deals on sports tickets via social media. Almost every one of the company’s posts links to a site where visitors can purchase tickets from it; TiqIQ almost never curates. However, its click and conversion rates are off the charts because its audience is specifically following it to receive these deals.

If you’re new to social media marketing, a 40 percent content creation rate is a good place to start. But make sure you measure your efforts and find what works for your company. Tristan Handy is the director of operations for Argyle Social. Follow him on Twitter @jthandy. A version of this article originally ran on the Convince & Convert social media strategy blog.

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