We've talked a lot about curation this season on Unemployable. And with good reason: a curation marketing strategy has proven to be an effective way to build a successful online audience and business in an age of content overload.
But we also know that many of you are wondering just how viable it is for someone who is just now getting started. Aren't big companies like Amazon, Facebook, and Apple at a major advantage because of their audience and reach? And haven't many of the best niches already been gobbled up by existing curators?
These are good questions. And as you'll discover in this episode, the answers to these questions suggest that right now is still a great time to get start with curation marketing; in fact, it's still early enough for you to experience a first-mover advantage, much like in the early days of blogging, podcasting, and other once-burgeoning strategies that have now reached stages of saturation.
As Brian Clark and Jerod Morris discuss in this episode, there are major benefits to establishing your curation positioning in the market now and building a human brand that will be able to grow and evolve as technology does.
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- Surrendering curation and promotion (Seth's blog)
- Here's What Replaced Know, Like, and Trust (Unemployable podcast)
- Follow Brian Clark on Twitter
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The Human Brand in an Age of Algorithms
Jerod Morris: All right, you ready?
Brian Clark: Sure!
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Jerod Morris: So, Brian, in last week's edition of the Unemployable newsletter, you recommended that everyone read a specific post by Seth Godin. That post was called Surrendering Curation and Promotion.
This week's episode of Unemployable is going to be the payoff for that suggestion that you made for people, because we are going to talk about that post and talk about this idea of curation.
I suppose just to set this up in terms of the big picture, what was it about this post in particular that caught your eye and made it something that you think everybody should read?
Brian Clark: Well, first of all, technically, Kat told people to read that post. Are you saying I'm tinkering? Am I tinkering?
Jerod Morris: Did I not say that? That's what I meant to say.
Brian Clark: It's funny, because without knowing that you and I had already found it, Kat did find that in…
Jerod Morris: Did she really?
Brian Clark: Yeah, and she quoted from the post, that part was her. And then I said, “Read this before next week,” because I did the opening to the newsletter before I put in Kat’s curation. I'm like, “Oh, how handy.”
Jerod Morris: Oh, look at that. Good to know we're all on the same page here. That's good.
Brian Clark: I mean, it's right on target for especially what we talked about in the Connection Is the New Content Marketing episode, which was one of our longest episodes ever. It was the most popular episode of the year. Most people listened to the whole thing. That's amazing.
Jerod Morris: I had someone call me and said he listened to it twice. He liked it so much.
Brian Clark: Yeah, that's a good sign. I mean, I guess people are curious when some guy who was at the forefront of content marketing is basically saying, “That's not quite what I'm doing anymore.” That's going to catch attention. But it certainly wasn't done for sensationalism. It's the truth. I'm running four businesses, including turning around Copyblogger according to these principles, so it is the here and now, not the “what used to work.”
A Human with Something at Stake
Jerod Morris: Yeah. So, let's talk about this post a little bit, and hopefully everybody read it.
The basic gist of the post is that a lot of the big technology companies (Seth even mentions them right off the bat — Facebook and LinkedIn, Google, Apple, Amazon), as he says, have very little ability to promote a specific idea or creator. They're obviously good at getting a lot of eyeballs and getting a lot of people to the site, but they essentially sloughed this off to an algorithm, which isn't how things used to be. And it provides a real opportunity.
The line that really jumped out to me, Brian, that really I just haven't been able to stop thinking about since I read it comes in the paragraph where he's talking about Apple. He says, basically, “98% of all their content is driven by the algorithm, not a human with something at stake.”
That really spoke to me, because, obviously, what we're teaching people, what you have been talking about is how to become this human with something at stake that can step into this void now and really become a trusted, depended-on voice for a specific audience around a particular topic or a particular industry.
I loved that phrase. And Seth often has these phrases that just kind of stick with you like this – “a human with something at stake.” What more could you have at stake than obviously building a business, creating the freedom that you want?
That's the path that we're moving toward here with this topic and what we're talking about is how to become that human with something at stake.
Brian Clark: Yeah, it's interesting, because that ties back to something I think Seth said off the cuff in the first show of this season, which was, “Who are you willing to take responsibility for?” I think that's what he means by “have a stake.”
So, yes, it's about us building the business we want and the freedom and the potential revenue and all that good stuff. But what's really at stake is that you've decided to serve these people to the best of your ability and that they will in turn reward you for that, because they now know, trust, and depend on you.
When you get those three, hey, they probably like you too. You've got it all as long as you remember that you're choosing people that you're taking care of, basically. It's like your extended family. “I'm taking responsibility for these people to connect them with value, with meaning, with things that are important to them that they may not have even known was something they were looking for.”
And I think that's something the algorithms have done. We got used to things coming to us, even though for many years now a lot of it's just been crap. It's been the sensationalism, the clickbait, the hate, the propaganda, the fake news, because the algorithms don't care. They're just going by what's popular, and the base nature of humans tends to not always be paying attention to the right things.
Also, I'd like to point out that the tech giants are the epitome of what was once termed “the long tail.” They can throw everything at you. And they don't care what's good or what's bad, as long as (like Seth said) you click on something, buy something, generate the ad, whatever the case may be.
Back when Chris Anderson coined the term “the long tail,” a lot of people thought that was good for the little guy. No, you get lost as the little guy and good stuff gets lost, because aggregators don't care about the particulars, because they know you're going to click on something, you're going to respond to something.
And that's no way to provide value, in my opinion, whatsoever. But the great thing is I think we're in a little unique window here where there's an opportunity to position yourself in a very human way that can really be lucrative.
Window of Opportunity
Jerod Morris: Okay, so let's talk about that. Why is that window still open now? Because I look out there and I see some people that are doing curation. There are obviously some successful people that we've talked about a lot on the show, the Dave Pells of the world, others. Obviously, you've got all these big sites out there that are attracting so much attention.
Why is now still a good opportunity for someone to step in to becoming a curator and becoming this person with something at stake?
Brian Clark: You’ve got to realize that every smart business decision is made within the context of the times. So often I hear people say, “If I had only gotten in early on this or that or the other… if I would have started blogging in 2004, if I would've got on Twitter in 2007…” It's always, “If only I was early.”
But those opportunities are around all the time, you just have to be able to read the context. So what's the current context?
Right now, we're on the cusp of really powerful artificial intelligence. I mean, I know it's hyped up and talked about every day, but don't be fooled just because the algorithms have let us down now. But they have, and that's the context that we're in.
We're looking at an opportunity where people are very, very down on the tech giants in general, if you notice, even though we're so dependent on them. But algorithms in general. And so almost the hype of AI is not helping, because most people have not seen their lives up-ended or enhanced necessarily by this technology.
What they've seen, once again, is clickbait and fake news, and tribalism, and just all the downside of algorithms in a way that makes people turn away from that. And some will just say, “It's social media in general,” and to some degree, that's true. But it's the platforms themselves. It's the context of the platforms, as well as the overall context of the world that we're in right now.
When people are wary of something, including new technology, that is a moment. You don't have to come out and say, “Tech is bad. Algorithms are bad. AI is bad.” What you have to say is, “I'm a human being and I'm here to serve your interests.” I mean, you don't say it in those literal words, but that's your positioning.
I think some people like Pell, like theSkimm, like The Hustle — incredible success because they started early (early adopters), and then the context changed around 2016, 2017 to where people were like, “Yeah, I'd rather pay attention to what a human being thinks may be valuable to me than to rely on these tech giants and their algorithms.”
So it's not too late for that. In fact, I think the timing is perfect, because almost everyone now understands what happened and what's happening with the algorithms.
You've got kind of a mass point similar to 2010 when social media went mainstream. That means it's an inflection point, but don't expect things to stay the same.
So this really is, I think, a moment where it's time to run with the idea of connection curation, and, yes, the right kind of content. Certainly, not mindlessly cranking it out. That's not going to work at all.
What People Crave and Aren’t Getting from Media
Jerod Morris: Would it also be fair to say that the opportunity here is also a response to the current media environment and the incentives that have driven the media?
And look, these incentives have been driven a lot by the tech giants, by the ad platforms that they are and what drives clicks, and all of those things. Seth actually has a post about this five or six back in his archive previous to this one, about kind of this reality TV culture almost. And the fact that a lot of what is promoted and a lot of what is put out by the media (news media and entertainment media) is about just getting eyeballs and being sensational and trying to cut through the noise by being the loudest and craziest.
It's not necessarily about really getting the trust and the investment from an audience. And to me, that's what you get from curation like this is over the long term, as you mentioned, building that trust, building an audience that really depends on you. Because instead of just being the loudest and just trying to drive a click, you're actually trying to drive understanding and build that context.
So it is about the tech giants and these big companies, but also, I think, a response to what people crave that they're not getting from the media that they've been told to trust and they want to trust, but they can't always trust, because of what they're being given, if that makes sense.
Brian Clark: It makes perfect sense, because it's all one environment. Social media, old media — it's media. This is where we're at. Digital media outlets in particular (which is everyone now) rely on the platforms for distribution. So, of course, it's all influence.
But, trust me, as a curator, there is wonderful stuff out there. You have to look for it though.
Again, I think number one, people are busy and don't have time to look for stuff like someone who's made that part of their job. Number two, like I said earlier, I think people have been conditioned to wanting the stuff that matters to reach them.
But you hit on a key point, which is they're craving something different than what they've been getting. And I think that's the crux of the opportunity.
Connecting as Part of Your Tribe
Brian Clark: In this very short post here that we're kind of talking about by Godin, he mentions Oprah, and Oprah is the ultimate connector. She's the reason why I think personal branding took off like it did, because she's such an example of probably one of the most powerful personal brands in the world.
Now, I think that's a little delusional to model yourself after Oprah. I mean, I'm all for aiming high, she is a good example. But I have not changed my mind that you should create a brand that stands for something meaningful to the audience, because you, as the person behind that brand, your personal brand is going to work itself out just fine. Don't worry about that.
I don't want you to think about personal branding, because I don't want you to be thinking about you other than the fact that you are a member of the market, the tribe, the group, what have you, that you are serving. You have to be a member of the group before you can lead it.
So with Unemployable, with Further, with Copyblogger, and with Your Boulder, I am a member of all of those communities first and foremost. But I also have worked my way into a position of trying to serve those markets as well. So just don't lose sight of that. Oprah is — and that's what we need more of in the world — Oprah-like. But not necessarily trying to make your name the centerpiece of everything, that's egocentrism. That's not good. Don't do that.
Jerod Morris: Yeah, and that's not necessarily serving the audience. I think when you boil down the elements that make a successful curator, humility is one of the most important ones. As you said, ideally, you want to be part of the group that you're serving, because that's going to help you really be able to understand those people. And I think promoting something around your personal brand can help you lose sight of that.
It’d be like if Further was just The Brian Clark Newsletter, instead of a newsletter that is oriented around the people and the audience that you're actually serving. I think it works out a lot better that way.
Brian Clark: Exactly, that’s exactly right. Yeah, great positioning is about the audience, not you.
The reason I bring up the fact that I think it's important to be genuinely into the topic, the industry, the movement, what have you, that matters. It's going to matter for your own sanity when it's late and you haven't got done what you need to get done, to keep going during the early days when it's a little slower.
There are entrepreneurs that can just spot an opportunity and jump on it whether they give a damn about it or not. I am not one of those people. I’ve got to care somehow. I either have to be passionate about what I'm talking about or have a sense of purpose in the serving of the audience. Ideally, both. And I think that's important, because it comes through and you're never going to dig deeper into something at the level that will really cause people to depend on you until you kind of geek out about it.
I am definitely geeking out at Further every week. I started Further writing it for myself, to kind of change aspects of me and my behavior. And I still write that way even though it's much more about the audience now, because sometimes I'm like, “Should I write about exercise again? Well, I'm in danger of slipping up, so maybe other people are too.” And that's kind of my cue, and it connects that way.
Jerod Morris: It's funny that you mentioned that example, because the most recent edition that you sent out about the power of exercise and how that's so important, that's like that's part of your work, because you work better and here are all these benefits. It was so perfectly timed for me personally, just as someone who subscribes to that. So that's funny that you use that as an example.
Providing Focus and a Through Line
Jerod Morris: Something else I've been thinking too — when you think about being a curator, being this human with something at stake and what your role is, I think the role that curators really provide is we all, I think, struggle with distraction and struggle with so many options for what to read and what to do, and here's this and here's that. And just really trying to focus. I mean, that's why the ability to focus and the ability to direct your attention is one of the most powerful skills that you can have in today's day and age.
I think the value that readers get from a curator, and I think a way to view your role as a curator, it actually goes back to something Brian (and you may remember this). Remember when we went to Rock The Room out in California? Victoria Labalme, the big presentation conference that we went to?
One of the things that she talked about all the time… the very first day, she talked about the through line and understanding what your through line is. Your through line essentially going through your entire presentation, but always coming back to that and making that the heart of your presentation.
I think that's what a good curator does. Whatever your audience is, and whatever the goal is, the transformation that you're trying to help your audience achieve, when you show up with your curated material, understanding the through line, reminding them about that through line, providing resources that help keep them on that. I think there's a lot of value to that, because people get so distracted. And you can forget something as fundamental as, “Oh yeah, okay, this is why I need to exercise, because it's actually going to make me sharper. It's going to do all of these different things. Good reminder, now I'm back on track with that.”
When you can be someone who helps people stick with a through line like that, I think that's the role of the curator. And I don't know if people will ever think about it in those terms, but I think that's why people really value the role that a curator can play. It comes back to “depend on.” It's basically a different way of saying the same thing. But I think that's so important.
And it was just funny. I started thinking about that today, which is a shared experience that you and I both have, but it makes a lot of sense in this context too.
Brian Clark: Yeah, the through line is really the important thematic element. And I think that goes back to what Godin’s trying to get across in this post.
He's saying Google, Facebook, Apple, they're not going to tell you what's most important. They may tell you through the algorithm what's been clicked on the most, but that's not the same thing especially to these discreet groups, these small communities within larger industries, what have you. And really an act of what to leave out is more important to some degree.
For example, everyone's like, “Okay, I can only put, let's say, seven things in my newsletter. So I have to choose the seven most important things.” But then, at least in my practice, it goes another step, which is: what's the most important thing? What's the headline? And that's what Godin’s saying, that's what we're missing. You need a human being to do this, at least at this point.
The Human Algorithm
Brian Clark: Here's the thing that I want people to understand. The algorithms are deficient right now. That presents an opportunity for you to position yourself as the human algorithm, the person that is trusted and depended upon to connect certain people with things that are important to them, whether they know it's important to them yet or not.
That's crucial. You're not pandering. In fact, a great curator opens doors of enlightenment through understanding the audience as well as they do.
But really, Dave Pell calls himself “the human algorithm” as a joke. It's not that crazy, because we are the most sophisticated algorithms. The human brain is unparalleled. It's going to take a long time for AI to ever challenge our neural capabilities. But I'd say in five years they're going to get really, really good.
And here is the key to remember — create the brand, make it very human, have a voice, provide value, build your audience. Then you go from there by figuring out what else they need, what you can charge money for. Selling the right things is a form of value provision. Do not ever think that selling things is somehow bad.
People want to buy the right things. What they don't want to do is be bombarded with stuff that are the wrong things. So it's again — what's important, what matters, what should I leave out? What should I say no to?
I think we've got a window here, about five years. I hate to make predictions like that, but I think it's reasonable where you can build a human-based brand that is known, trusted, depended upon and liked, and you're set. Because as the algorithms get better, you, as a curator, are going to employ that technology before the average person realizes that they can now rely on these things.
So we will continue to use technology platforms to reach more people and to do bigger things, even if there's just one of us or it's me and you, Jerod, and a bunch of freelancers. But it's the technology that's going to augment the human aspect that we put first and foremost. So by the time the algorithms get good, the algorithms are working for us and our human brand survives.
Think about that, everyone out there. Think about that carefully and realize maybe you are at a point where you won't have to say, “I wish I would've started doing X back then.” Right now is now.
Steps to Take to Employ This Strategy
Jerod Morris: Yeah. In closing, Brian, for someone who is sold on this idea, they've been listening to these episodes, they believe in this, they think it's the right thing for them to do, beyond what you just said, which is basically think about these things that you just mentioned.
What is a step or two that those people can take to move in this direction? What would be the next step for someone to actually start employing this strategy?
Brian Clark: I think you’ve got to care (we talked about this). When it comes to copywriting, we've talked about it in so many different contexts. But you're not really going to serve the audience until you truly care enough to dig deep, be discriminating, and therefore, develop exceptional taste, because that's what it really comes down to.
I mean, taste, we tend to think of in terms of, say, art or decor or cooking, but it's really about everything. And taste is relative and contextual. It's about: what's the appropriate selection of value within the context of this audience? Not some broad market or niche or industry, it's really going to be the audience that you serve.
And maybe this is frustrating, I don't know. But there's a ton of research you can do to get started. Once you get going, the data that you can collect from your audience in a trusting manner (not a creepy manner) and learn the act of doing it itself is the best thing that you can do.
So, counterintuitively, the best thing you can do is get started, because there's no pressure at the beginning. And once you figure things out, that's when you can start ramping up.
Brian Clark: We're going to keep talking about that aspect of it, because I know you're a fan of the Japanese concept of Kaizen, which is basically continual small improvement day after day after day after day. I mean, that's really at the heart of this methodology.
It is a process. It is something that anyone can follow, because there are fundamental aspects of it that will provide the insights that you need to build the audience, figure out what they want in terms of products and services. And in the process, you're also figuring out how best to communicate with them. You don't dream that stuff up, you discover it through the audience itself.
So stay tuned. We’ll try to provide you with some more guidance on that.
Jerod Morris: Yup. The other step, of course, is to go to Unemployable.com and make sure that you're subscribed to the Unemployable newsletter so that you get that. And you can see curation in action.
And then, Brian, I don't know what level of detail that we want to give away now, but we will have something pretty interesting, pretty special coming and that will be announced… We'll talk about it on the podcast, of course, but that'll definitely be announced on the email list. So you definitely want to be subscribed there so that you get all the details of that as well.
Brian Clark: We're both kind of frantically working on stuff. It’s cool. It may not be what you expect. Maybe it is, I don't know. But we care, I'll tell you that much. Or Jerod and I wouldn't quite be working so hard.
Jerod Morris: Yes. Further from Millennials by Jerod Morris coming.
Brian Clark: That's not it.
Jerod Morris: Well, thank you for listening. Again, Unemployable.com, subscribe to the newsletter and we'll be back again soon with another podcast episode as well expounding even more on these ideas.
Brian Clark: Take care, Everyone.
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