Who’s king? Content, curation, search? Try none of them

There are too many integral components in today’s world of information to declare any element supreme.


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There’s an uprising taking place in the kingdom. Whoever the monarch may be, there are insurgents who would topple the throne and assume power. The ruler has it all wrong, and if only the insurgent could take charge and assert his view, peace and prosperity would reign throughout the kingdom.

It’s good to be king, we keep hearing, so everybody wants to be king:

  1. Content should be king.
  2. Context should be king.
  3. Relationships should be king.
  4. Curation should be king.
  5. Search should be king.

The power struggle is enormous. It consumes blog posts, panel discussions, journal articles, hallway conversations. One blogger even devised a poll in an effort to gauge sentiment among his peers.

The debate is completely misguided.

Think about it: How many true monarchies exist in the world today. I’m not talking about countries with monarchs. (There are 47 among the world’s 195 nations.) I’m talking about nations ruled by a monarch. If you’re looking to wield power in England, for example, would you want to be in line for the throne or a member of Parliament?

I frequently rail against those who proclaim this or that is dead. But trust me on this: Monarchies are dead. The Web is no monarchy with one king to rule all. The Web is an ecosystem. In an ecosystem, remove any one element and everything else suffers.

For the “content is king” crowd: Great content is powerful stuff, but people have to find it, an increasingly difficult chore considering the avalanche of content that leads so many to proclaim the end is near. (That is, we’re about to hit the threshold of message meltdown or information overload.) If you’ve built solid relationships, those with whom you’ve established those connections can spread the word for you, building buzz. SEO and SEM will also bring your content to the attention of the right people.

Content curators who serve as trusted guides to content relevant to their audiences will separate wheat from chaff. Without these things, though, your awesome content very well may remain unnoticed, unused and ineffective.

For the “context is king” crowd: Providing context to existing content is a noble and selfless act, but let’s face it: You need content or to what would you add context? Without relationships, to whom would you direct your observations, your enhanced links, your analyses? How would people find you to begin with? Sure, you might rely on SEO techniques, but again, without other ecosystem elements supporting your contextualizing, you’re dead in the water.

For the “relationships are king” crowd: For months, I’ve been writing and rewriting a post about the whole idea of relationships. At its most basic level, the word embraces any state of connectedness, which leads you to wonder about the criteria you must apply to a relationship before it rises to the value level so many people attach to it.

Too many of the examples I see aren’t really relationships at all; they’re encounters. Not that there’s anything wrong with a positive, affirming encounter, but still, building a truly valuable relationship—one in which the other party will stand up for you when the chips are down—takes far more than what most organizations have shown the desire or ability to do.

Even if a true relationship is your goal, how do you establish and maintain it in the social space? Ideally, it will be with content of some kind that fulfills a need and deepens the connection. The value of that content is directly affected by its findability and the kind of context that has been added to it, whether by a curator adding the piece to a collection, a blogger linking to or embedding the content, or commenters adding their own perspectives.

For the “curation is king” crowd: Let’s get real. I’m a huge fan of curation. I’ve been telling anyone who will listen (and more than few who won’t) that curation must become a core communication skill. I’ve undertaken some curation efforts of my own in order to learn more about it. But without content, there’s nothing to curate. Without relationships, there’s nobody to pay attention to your collection. And your collection is still just another URL, another site that needs to be discovered.

For the “search is king” crowd: What am I searching for if not content? The context of search arises from the search engine’s algorithms, which assess the meaning behind those who are linking to any given piece of content.
Among media properties, there has been a shift away from search engines providing the connection between consumers and content and toward social sites; a recent study found Facebook responsible for more referrals to big media sites than Google.

As the volume of content continues to grow, people will rely more and more on curation, because the automated collection of links that define Google and other search engines won’t be able to deliver results as relevant as people focused on a niche will be able to deliver using curation tools.

My goal here is not to minimize any of these critical categories. Conversely, I hope to elevate them all to the same level—a level of interdependence. Communicators need to think about social media as the ecosystem it is, considering how each will affect the outcome of any given process, program or campaign.

Miss one, and you lose.

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