During my corporate personal branding workshops, after I set the premise on the need for personal branding, the need and process of defining one’s own personal brand, and the basics of content to power the brand narrative, most participants faced a stumbling block.
The question usually is, “Okay, I got all that! But what do I really talk about?”.
It is not easy for most people to see a path from random pieces of content they post to their chosen/intended personal brand narrative. This is simply because they have not thought of their online presence on assorted social media platforms as having something to do with building a personal brand. They are more used to writing/sharing what comes to their mind then and there, on and off.
Fortunately for me, even long before I started considering the concept of personal branding seriously, I have been doing something—without calling it specifically with a term of reference—that has helped me enormously within the context of personal branding.
It’s called curation.
It’s funny, really – people only think of museums or art when they stumble upon the word ‘curation’. The basic definition of ‘curator’ is “a keeper or custodian of a museum or other collection” or “a person who selects acts to perform at a music festival”.
However, the act of ‘curation’, and by extension, the role of a ‘curator’ could be seen in a completely different—and powerful—context within the premise of personal branding. The other definition you would find online is this: “the selection, organization, and presentation of online content, merchandise, information, etc., typically using professional or expert knowledge“. This is usually called ‘content curation’, not just ‘curation’.
I’d argue that the need for professional or expert knowledge is optional. You can bring your interest and passion alone to your curation!
To explain, let me start with my own efforts in curation, and being a curator, since the year 1999. I have already spoken about this in good detail in my book. At the end of my experience, let me also help you understand how you can put curation to your advantage, for your personal brand.
Curation 1: ARRmp3 – A R Rahman (1999)
Way back in 1999, in the early days of the internet in India, I started a rudimentary website in Geocities, to curate the music of A R Rahman. Rahman debuted in 1992, with Roja, and since then I have been a big fan. Because it was the early days of the internet, and music was only being sold through forms like cassettes and CDs, music in mp3 formats was proliferating online. Rahman’s music was no exception.
But unlike other Tamil/Southern music composers, Rahman’s music had a pan-Indian appeal right from the beginning – his music seemed to be breaking the language barriers quite effortlessly. That he also chose to be multilingual early on helped too. His 2nd release was a Malayalam movie called Yodha. By 1994, he had a Telugu film too (Super Police), and by 1995, Hindi too – Rangeela, before doing more outside Tamil, his mainstay. This naturally made people curious to want to hear everything he had done outside their language. But there was no single source of all his music – you had to literally scourge the music shops in the respective states to get cassettes or CDs. I know better since I had done precisely that in Chennai, trying to hunt for the cassettes of Super Police and Gang Master, in vain, till a pen-friend (from Target magazine) :)from Chennai (she is still a friend, after all these years) got the cassettes couriered to me – all this in the mid-to-late 1990s while I used to live in Salem and Coimbatore!
So, I figured that I would build an online repository of all-things-Rahman’s music. I may call it an effort in curation, in hindsight, but at the very basic, it was a fan page! It hosted the latest articles and interviews of A R Rahman, and had almost all his songs, from every language, in mp3 format, for easy download. So yeah, I was a ‘pirate curator’ back then 🙂
I shut the website soon enough since Geocities was working actively to remove mp3 files.
Curation 2: ItwoFS – Plagiarism in Indian film music (1999)
Unlike the A R Rahman fan page, this one still exists, though I have stopped updating it after 2014.
This effort was to curate the instances of plagiarism, that is, which Indian film song was copied from which foreign song, in simple terms. This may seem mighty obvious in the days of YouTube, but back in the late 1990s, there was no other source like this website.
What I did was in a way part research, part curation. There were tons of online message boards and forums, and there was a lot of knowledge residing in them with regard to plagiarism. I used to trawl them for information, search for relevant audio files, edit the audio files to showcase the specific parts that were similar/plagiarised, and upload them as small real-audio format files (to avoid mp3-based shutdowns) for people to listen for themselves and understand the nature of plagiarism.
The idea was to build a single, predictable online repository to showcase plagiarism in Indian film music.
Curation 3: Milliblog – Multilingual music reviews (2005)
Given my interest in film music across Indian languages, I had a voracious interest in knowing what was/is worth listening to from the many film soundtracks that were released week after week across India. These days, you can sample music on Spotify, JioSaavn, or Apple Music, and for the same interest, but back in the mid-2000s, with streaming not having started at all, it was a really tough ask.
So, I started my music reviews website. But I am not musically aware – zero training in any form of music or instrument. I only had interest, not training. So, I tweaked my review to suit my lack of knowledge – incredibly short, common-man language, 100-word music reviews, across languages. It was more of a catalog for me to remember what’s good, and what’s not, from the many songs and soundtracks that were released every week across Hindi, Tamil, Telugu, Malayalam, and Kannada, among other film music-producing states of India.
What I lacked in training and musical awareness, I made up with consistency. The website, and the nomenclature of ‘100 word music reviews’ became reasonably popular. I also used to extend the 100 words to 200 or 300 when the music album was really good. That made fans of the website look forward to which albums of their favorite composers would breach the proverbial 100 🙂
Starting 2018/19, since most Indian films have eschewed the idea of a cohesive musical album or soundtrack and instead use songs only as marketing vehicles, I have moved on from the concept of music album reviews to make a playlist of new songs week after week. My Milliblog Weeklies is already 230 weeks old!
Curation 4: Beast of Traal – December 2008
The first 3 efforts in curation, above, were based on my personal interest in music. But my blog, Beast of Traal, was my first effort in curation based on a professional interest – all-things-communications.
You see, I chose corporate communications as my profession in 2000, and by 2008, when the internet and social media were making inroads into India, my field—public relations—was starting to change gradually. I observed that the world of communications was going to change dramatically very soon given my vantage point as an account director in one of the leading global PR firm’s operations in India (Text 100, now called Archetype). The blog was my attempt to curate what I was observing on an ongoing basis – the very early use of social media properties in print advertising, social media to bring interactivity to print and TV ads, the use of digital properties in PR efforts, and so on.
The blog still exists, though, it has changed with the times, of course, since you are reading this post in the very same blog 🙂
Curation 5: All-things-advertising – mid-2010s
Unlike the previous 4 efforts at curation, which were all on online properties owned by me (hosted by me), this was the first conscious effort in curation on a property not owned by me – on LinkedIn.
I was employed in Ogilvy, in the mid-2010s, possibly the most-celebrated advertising agency in the world. As someone who was from the world of corporate communications and public relations, I was a complete outsider who used digital creds to join the advertising agency. That meant I had to work harder than everyone already there to brush up on the world of advertising. That led me to the quest of consuming as many ads as possible from across the world and understanding the nuances.
While doing this, I thought, why should I do it only for myself – why not do it openly so that others could learn something from my learning too, if at all some people were interested?
This led to my curating my perspectives on creativity and advertising (besides instances of creative communications even beyond advertising – creative is everywhere, not just in advertising) every day on LinkedIn, and occasionally on my blog too. On any given day, if you visit my LinkedIn profile, I would have at least one or two instances worth your time, curated with care and interest.
Now, how can you use curation for your personal brand?
Here are some steps to start:
1. Find your focused theme
This goes back to the step about defining your personal brand. But a far simpler way to start on the curating exercise is to start with your profession/area of interest/expertise.
Use the 3-circle system I mentioned earlier.
The 2 inner circles would help you start on your curation journey.
2. Build your pipeline
For instance, if you work in HR, you could zero in on wanting to curate smart, interesting, impressive HR practices in other organizations. How would you get to know them? Well, you already belong to that industry – you would have your own sources, to begin with. Then you could build a content pipeline so that things land on you without you needing to go in search of them. How? Follow relevant hashtags on LinkedIn and Twitter, to begin with. Subscribe to HR industry newsletters and publications. Find out which newspapers cover HR industry news more often, and which journalists, in particular, write those stories (follow them on both LinkedIn and Twitter). This pipeline-building should perhaps take a week or so of tweaking, but once built, you would have tons of information coming in that can easily help you start. I also recommend using tools that help with the pipeline building activity – I use Feedly (RSS reader), email alerts, and Twitter Lists for this purpose and explain in great detail how to go about building pipelines in my corporate workshops, even help start building it in my one-on-one sessions.
Now, most HR people may complain: “But other HR people have access to such news too, right? Why would they want to read what I supposedly curate?”.
That’s precisely where the power of curation comes in. The pipeline you built is from assorted sources – not one predictable, easy source. Not everyone has the time or patience to build pipelines from multiple sources. If you did, you would have more information than others in your industry.
That helps you curate content so that others start looking up to you as a recognizable and predictable source of HR practices. In a way, you become a credible and identifiable repository of HR practices.
The same model could be applied to any industry.
Do you belong to the legal profession? Open at least 3-4 newspapers any given day and there is news about legal updates – full-fledged professional updates, or case updates across multiple fields – politics, movies, crime, civil, etc. Pick and choose things that interest you and become a curatory voice for your profession.
Or, if you look at a broader level, going beyond specific industries, it could be as simple as quotes from leaders. Business (and all other kinds of) leaders give interviews very frequently – any daily newspaper could show you at least a dozen, any day. Pick quotes on management style. Or leadership style. Or people management style. Share one quote a day, with your perspectives added.
Or, think even broader: you could be the voice for women in leadership positions in India. There is news about women leaders, either as interviews, features, or even industry stories, almost every day. But they are all scattered. You could become the curator.
There are 3 aspects to curation you should remember, however.
The first aspect is the need to be a predictable resource/source. Consistency is the key. If you are inconsistent, your audience will be too. Remember my recent post on ‘Showing Up’? That’s really the key.
The second aspect is the need for value addition. You could be a list-maker – that is, merely collect information from assorted sources and list them as is, as a convenient weekly resource for others in your industry (with links to the source). Or, you could eventually elevate the list by adding your own perspectives to some of the news in the list. This is what I did with my music reviews, instead of simply listing the songs that were released that week – I added my views on the songs, however rudimentary, given my lack of training/expertise.
The third aspect is to focus on themes that are
(a) in demand/need (there is interest in that topic) and,
(b) there is a LOT of it, frequently (so you don’t run out of it, for your curatory effort).
Remember the fundamental need for curation. We are awash with information from so many sources. We are drowning in information, really. Given that situation, people are looking for ways to cut through the clutter to get what they need, and are interested in. You can be that source, for your industry, even if you are merely collecting relevant information from assorted sources and presenting them in a predictable manner, consistently. That IS a very big help to a LOT of people.
You may have wished for such a source from others yourself, but you can become one yourself, instead!
If you consider yourself too senior to do such things, think again. Why do people need to curate, in the first place? Is it to build an audience? Is it to showcase your knowledge? No. The primary reason is to gain knowledge. The first audience of your own curation effort should be you. You gain, and you let others gain incidentally. If you don’t gain, and you do this merely as an audience-building activity, it would show in your effort, and you’d eventually lose interest in it too. Unless you find value for yourself in your effort, you will not find reasons to sustain the curation.
For context, I watch about 10-15 ads (if not more) every single day, throughout the day, whenever I get time off from my consulting work and work on workshops, and pick only those that work for me to write about on LinkedIn. If I share my perspectives on say 7 ads in a week, the total number of ads I would have watched that week would easily exceed 100+.
In essence, you are acting as a funnel and distilling the noise to offer meaningful value to a specific set of readers/audience who would gravitate towards you and remember you for that.
That’s quite literally the impact of personal branding – curation is just one way to get there!
So, what would you like to curate?