NP Tech Podcast: Cut Through the Clutter

A few weeks ago, Hilary Marsh and I had the opportunity to sit down (virtually, of course) with fusionSPAN’s Justin Burniske to talk all things content curation.

The conversation was based on Hilary’s and my recently released whitepaper, Cut Through the Clutter: Content Curation, Associations’ Secret Weapon Against Information Overload. We discussed topics such as:

  • Why now? Why focus on content curation now, when there are so many pressures on association resources?
  • What new opportunities does a virtual work environment present?
  • What are the differences between active content curation and advanced search?
  • Is effective curation push, pull, or both?
  • What impact does a member paywall have on content curation strategy?
  • What skills do staff members need to do content curation effectively?

You can get the full recording on your favorite podcast platform, or at the fusionSPAN website.

Stop Trying to be Google

If an association wants to move beyond mere aggregation and serve your members by providing real curation, what should you do?

To quote my co-author HilaryMarsh: “Stop trying to be Google.”

Quoting from our new whitepaper, Cut Through the Clutter: Content Curation, Associations’ Secret Weapon Against Information Overload,

Your association’s community is experiencing information overload in a time when it’s become increasingly difficult to assess the quality of that information due to the proliferation of sources and to the declining trust people have in traditional gatekeepers of information.

Piling on links to a bunch of stuff absent context isn’t going to help solve that problem. If your association really wants to get to the root of this for the people you serve, you are going to have to move beyond mere aggregation and use multiple methods to achieve distillation, or museum-style curation.

There are a number of things you’re going to have to do differently to achieve that, from letting go of your “we’re the best – the only relevant – source of information for our profession or industry” arrogance to interacting differently with your own content to hiring and training for different skills to changing your association’s orientation towards and relationship with your members and volunteers.

To find out more about how you achieve “curation greatness,” download the full whitepaper at, no divulging of information about yourself required.

What IS Content Curation?

Associations use the term “content curation” frequently, but to quote the great Inigo Montoya: “You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.”

Many times, when we’re using the term “content curation,” what we actually mean is “aggregation.” That is, pulling together a list of related links.

That is helpful for your members, in that you’ve at least reduced the number of pieces of information they should be paying attention to. But it’s shallow, and you can do so much more to help them.

When Hilary Marsh and I talk about “content curation” in our new whitepaper, Cut Through the Clutter: Content Curation, Associations’ Secret Weapon Against Information Overload, what we’re referring to is something more akin to what museum curators do, a process called distillation, in which the curator selects from the available items, brings those items together, puts them in context, and provides the perspective that helps the people viewing those items to find meaning and make sense of the topic by telling a coherent story.

Museums curate artifacts. Associations curate information.

You can help your members achieve their most important goals and solve their most pressing problems by curating information effectively.

To find out more about how you do that, download the full whitepaper at, no divulging of information about yourself required.

Help Your Members Find the Signal in the Noise

This is probably not news to you, but we’re at an information crisis point.

Your members and other audiences are dealing with a flood of information during a time when the role of traditional information gatekeepers has become severely devalued. People are overwhelmed with information, much of it false or untrustworthy, and are increasingly unable to discern what is reliable and what is not.

Associations can help.

In the latest, just-released, hot off the presses (or at least Adobe InDesign) Spark collaborative whitepaper, Hilary Marsh (Content Company) and I propose content curation as associations’ secret weapon for helping our members surface relevant information and place it in the context they need to help them make sense of their increasingly complex personal and professional worlds.

Cut Through the Clutter: Content Curation, Associations’ Secret Weapon Against Information Overload opens by detailing the scope of the information crisis we’re currently facing, describes the key elements of effective content curation, and provides detailed, actionable steps that association executives can take to curate information effectively for your audiences.

The whitepaper includes:

  • An association content curation maturity model.
  • A case study with the Institute of Food Technologists.
  • An interview with Carrie Hane and Dina Lewis, CAE, who co-authored the recent ASAE Foundation content strategy report, Association Content Strategies for a Changing World, with Hilary.
  • An interview with Bryan Kelly, one of the founders of and the publisher-in-chief of Smart Letter, discussing the role of Artificial Intelligence (AI) in content curation.
  • A summary of the ASAE Foundation report, Association Content Strategies for a Changing World.
  • A list of “how-to” guides and curation tools.
  • A series of thought questions for you to use to spark discussion with your team.
  • An extensive list of resources in case you want to dig deeper on any of the topics addressed.

I’ll be blogging about the whitepaper in the coming days, highlighting some of our major findings, but in the meantime I invite you to download your free copy at – we don’t collect any data on you to get it, and you won’t end up on some mailing list you didn’t ask for. We just use the as an easy mechanism to count the number of times it’s been downloaded.

And don’t forget to check out the other FREE Spark collaborative whitepapers, too:

Content Curation Revisited

Thanks in part to the recent release of the Looking Forward 2014 survey by Association Laboratory, associations execs are once again thinking about our members’ experience of information overload.

According to the Association Lab survey, the association executives who responded believe that information management, including both volume and quality of information, is their members’ top concern in 2014.

Although Association Lab concludes that:

the development of comprehensive strategies to help members deal with information management issues is a strategic priority for associations

(indeed, one might argue that it’s a top strategic priority, if, in fact, the survey respondents are correct in their assessment of their members’ concerns), they also found that:

Executives anticipate that members will continue to rely on their associations as a primary source of information.

I’d like to question that. And in a recent post to Associations Now, Joe Rominiecki discusses the same thing, urging associations to begin taking on more of an information curator role for our members, shifting from our more traditional information creator role.

Inherent in the shift from “association as source of information” to “association as hub of information” is that the community of professionals, experts, and organizations your association lives in is now a constant driver of knowledge in your field. (It always was, of course, but now everyone has blogs and social media.) This dynamic is both a source and result of our information overload. Which means good information management is curation of both content and community.

Information overload and what associations can do about it for our members was the focus of the very first Spark whitepaper, published in November 2012. As I wrote in Attention Doesn’t Scale:

Content curation provides a potential path to a new type of thought leadership [for associations], one that is more suited to a world where information is no longer the scarce resource…But that type of support will require a significant shift in our business models.

It also requires a shift in how we think on an organizational level and how we relate to our various audiences, both member and non-member.

The key for associations, I believe, is to select carefully and provide context for our audiences.

In other words, don’t write another article on leadership for your enewsletter. Find the three best pieces that have been written on leadership in the past six months from places like Harvard Business Review and Sloan Management Review and Forbes and Fast Company and Seth Godin and Dan Pink and Clayton Christensen, etc., and explain why they’re the best and how the points they raise are going to impact executives in the particular profession or industry your association serves (the reconceptualized Associations Now, by the way, provides an excellent example of what this looks like).

What is your association doing to help your audiences cope with our information-saturated reality? How are you shifting what you provide and how you provide it to position yourself as a trusted adviser to your audiences?

The free whitepaper describes the scope of the information overload problem we all face, poses content curation as a potential solution, discusses the types and modes of curation an organization can engage, looks at that required shift in thought and relationship, describes some of the skills we need to nurture in order to curate effectively, and shares a few examples of organizations (both non profit and for profit) that are doing curation well.

Download your free copy.


Content Curation and Membership Associations

It’s the final day of whitepaper release week, which means it’s time to focus on what associations can do about the problem of information overload to better serve our members.

From my new whitepaper, Attention Doesn’t Scale: The Role of Content Curation in Membership Associations:

Content curation provides a potential path to a new type of thought leadership, one that is more suited to a world where information is no longer the scarce resource. Focus is. Meaning is. Wisdom is.


Our audiences need our help. But they need it in non-traditional ways. They need our assistance learning to think clearly and creatively when surrounded by ambiguity and complexity. They need our aid placing what is happening in the world around them in context so they can ascertain potential implications, determine the most likely outcomes, and plan appropriately. And they need to be able to make good decisions, personally and professionally, in a sometimes-chaotic climate.

Want more? Download your free copy at


The Solution: Content Curation

From my new whitepaper, Attention Doesn’t Scale: The Role of Content Curation in Membership Associations:

Information overload is not only a factor of volume. It’s also heavily influenced by the fact that the large disparity in the sources of incoming information leads to an even larger disparity in the topics and focus of the information. We have plenty of data – too much, in fact – but we lack meaning, a sense of how all the streams of information coming in fit together to point us to wise decision-making. The curator adds context, trust, and meaning to that previously disaggregated mass of stuff.

Want more? Download your free copy at

The Problem: Information Overload

From my new whitepaper, Attention Doesn’t Scale: The Role of Content Curation in Membership Associations:

The concept of information overload was originated by futurist Alvin Toffler in his 1970 book Future Shock as part of his depiction of a world in which the rate of change would accelerate to the point that governments, society, and individuals would be unable to keep up – would, in fact, be “future shocked.”

The new wrinkle is that, while it was always possible for any given individual to publish to the web (assuming, in the early days, she could find a hosting service and learn to write HTML code), technology now makes it simple for anyone and everyone to publish rich multimedia content from virtually anywhere at virtually any time. Hence the zettabyte problem mentioned above, which is estimated to cost the US economy as much as 25% of the average knowledge worker’s day to lost productivity, which adds up to a $900 billion drain on the economy.

Want more? Download your free copy at

Attention Doesn’t Scale

A few weeks ago, I had the opportunity to present on the topic Attention Doesn’t Scale: The Role of Content Curation in Membership Associations for the Indiana Society of Association Executives. As a component of that presentation, and with Jeff De Cagna‘s advice and assistance, I wrote a white paper on the same topic.

This week, I’m going to be blogging about what’s in the white paper.

My basic premise was:

  1. Information overload, while not a new problem, has gotten so much more severe in the last few decades as to turn a difference in quantity into a difference in kind.
  2. Membership associations are making this problem worse for our members.
  3. But we don’t have to. Switching from an information creation mindset to an information curation mindset is one potential way out of our dilemma.

I’ll be writing  more about each of these points in turn this week, but in the meantime, please pick up a free copy of the white paper at