How to Select Only What You Need and Leave the Rest

“Information Gluttony”, a previous post, provoked interesting reactions among social media enthusiasts and editors. The need to become more picky is widely felt. Jan Gordon wrote:

I think this is most important for all of us, continually refining our ability to select only what we need and leave the rest. Today everyone is a publisher and everyone has an opinion. Aren’t we suffering from meaning overwhelm as well?

To address her comment and the others, I will try to deconstruct the process of content selection and explore ways in which we might fine tune our filters together.

How to Select Content

In my own journey through content, I try to consistently refer to first filters. A piece of content must pass a series of tests before I link to it. They may be performed consciously or unconsciously, but these questions do get asked. At least, one of the following must get a yes.

  • Does it support a goal?
  • Does it make an emotional connection?
  • Did I laugh while reading it?

Yet, these three questions aren’t specific enough. Meaning overwhelm occurs because there’s too much “good” content out there. In fact, it makes me quite uncomfortable to talk in terms of good or bad content. This distinction isn’t helpful or clear anyway. If it were, we wouldn’t be discussing “content gluttony”, “meaning overwhelm” and how to avoid being “content fried”. Relevance seems to be a far more appropriate way to talk about content. Unfortunately, relevance is contextual. Aiming for relevance in edition is trying to align your goals and purposes with the ones of your readers and the ones of the content creators you share, re-blog, etc. As Jan Gordon wrote, it will be a “continual” process of refinement but you need a solid and documented strategic foundation.

If you are starting out, choose your topic wisely. Then, there are three main areas which require your focused attention.

  • Know what your curation efforts’ purposes are. Do you want to learn more about the field? Establish credibility? Do you want to encourage people to action about a certain issue?
  • Understand your audience, their purposes, and goals. Once you have started, listen to them and ask questions. Take notes of the articles which gather the most responses. Try to figure out what features distinguish them: topic, tone, format, angle.
  • Develop a talent to quickly evaluate content. Revisit the basics for evaluating web content. Determine whether or not it aligns with your goals and your audience’s.

Whether you are doing it for yourself or an organization, create a short document about your findings, the tools you will be using, ideas for recurring sources, etc. Review it often. Your future self will be glad.

What You Can Safely Dismiss

After that, it’s practice, practice, practice. Even with a strategy in place, the actual task of monitoring all the sources has no clear beginning nor end. This is taxing. Beth Kanter offers insights in how to stay sane while doing it. Her last piece of advice “Just say No” is where the most power lies.

Saying “No” is useful, not only to pace yourself and make pauses during the week, but also to dismiss pieces of content in a heartbeat. I would love to learn how to become more picky. In other words, what can I safely ignore? is a question I ask myself often. Here are a few answers:

Poor form. Good writers pay attention to grammar, edit, and proof-read. As an editor, you should pay attention to these things as well. Here’s how to do it. By directing people’s attention to well-written content, you prove how much you value their time and attention.

Tips and tricks. Nobody acts on tips and tricks — especially long lists thereof. Unless you have acted upon them and have personal experiences to add, don’t pass them along. For example, when I identify a problem in my workflow, I go on or search the web for solutions but it never works the other way around. The problem with tips and tricks is that you never get enough because they feel like action when they are anything but. They don’t encourage anybody to do anything. Really.

Advice. Shoulds and shouldn’ts can be just as toxic as tips and tricks. Everybody bathes in “expert” advice all day. We should (!) all raise our standards or stop paying attention to advice altogether. Each situation is unique and advisers try to shove a standardized solution in them. Pieces of content which ask questions and encourage your audience to see their situations more clearly will bring more value in the long run.

Helping each other update our filters will save us from becoming content fried. I hope to make this list longer with your suggestions. What types of content do you say “No” to?

Image credit: “Workers sort through dried tea. Kunming, China” by Steve Evans. Creative Commons Attribution Non Commercial License.

I wrote « How to Select Only What You Need and Leave the Rest » on the blog, it was originally published on February 23, 2012. Reproduced here with permission.




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