‘Curation’ is the latest buzzword in media and tech. Propelled by the advent of social media and a new culture of consumer consumption, the word has become important as we struggle to arrange and give meaning to the reams of media information on offer. ‘Curation’, the art of selecting useful information to produce meaningful collections, provides consumers with a means of navigating the, at times, overwhelming world of information we are exposed to on a daily basis. A few of the Passion Digital Team went to a fascinating and eye-opening talk by author Michael Bhaskar at the National Gallery on how curation has come to be an essential element of tech and digital business strategy for the 21st century.
Consumer behaviour is what drives the modern business model. Without curation, humans would be faced with piles of information that, as Bhaskar explains, we would be reluctant to even try to engage with at all. To describe this idea he presents us with a psychological experiment of consumer behaviour conducted by Sheena Lyengar and Mark Lepper:
When 20 different types of jam are presented to a customer in a supermarket they are less likely to buy any compared to when only 5 types of jam are on offer.
We live in a world where we are constantly making choices, and when there are so many options, we become fearful of making the wrong choice. As a result, we do not choose anything at all. However, when we have fewer options, we are more confident that all the options are okay and will likely choose at least one.
What’s important to us in marketing is that curation therefore becomes an important way of driving sales and once your eyes are open to it, you will see it used everywhere; from the menu at your favourite restaurant to the Facebook newsfeed.
Major online retailers, tech companies and media companies are constantly changing and refining the way they curate to maximise the appeal of their information and products to customers.
For example, Amazon initially based their recommended books on what you had previously bought, but more often than not this would be a poor recommendation. For example, a book you bought for a sibling or friend might not be your own personal choice. Their new system has proved much more effective; it now suggests books based on what other customers who bought the same book had tend to purchase next.
Netflix has a similar system, except instead of pooling people with similar preferences together, it chooses one other person who matches (as exactly as possible) what you like to watch. So they recommend to your Netflix shows based on your Doppelgänger’s preferences – and vice versa.
Curation, whether done by someone at your favourite art gallery, or by an algorithm on social media, involves a great deal of planning if it’s going to be successful – and when it works, it really increases sales!
Towards the end of the talk, the audience clearly had some concerns regarding how curation could be dangerous in modern society. The collection you curate can tell a story just as much as the information itself. Humans love stories and therefore curation provides us with meaningful information that appeals to our human nature. Entertaining, yes. Impartial, no. We saw first-hand evidence of this in the recent American election where Facebook was accused of presenting unfounded information about the electorates which some argue unfairly influenced the vote.
We left the talk with a sense that consumers must be aware of the facts. Someone or something has given you this information and although we are more likely to consume it if we believe it to have been already partially selected, we should take it with a pinch of salt. This is especially true when it comes to information that could influence your political beliefs.