Why did I start curating bloggers with my Five Star Mixtape weekly round-up?
In the spring of 2008, I was already a nearly five-year blogging veteran. I had witnessed the ups and downs of early blogging communities before the rise of microblogging platforms like Facebook and Twitter—all of the encouragement and support, the occasional in-fighting, the exhilaration of having public voices, the natural ebb and flow of inspiration and creation. Many of us were also in the early days of figuring out how to turn our creative work from a hobby into something that could at least support our coffee habit, if not fully-fledged businesses.
The tensions between being fake and authentic; defining what makes blogging a hobby versus professional work; and validating the earning potential of what we do in the face of the social evolution all of that creates were at a boiling point back then. Those tensions made me question the value of my blogging for the sake of blogging.
Many of the bloggers I had known for years were either evolving their blogs into larger, less personal enterprises or simply closing up shop. I began to question why I was writing in this space and whether there was any truth in the value personal blogging.
I didn’t want to quit blogging just yet, but I needed to renew my energy and faith in the medium to keep going. I knew I needed two things—inspiration and proof of value—so I decided I would ask the blogging community to show me both. That’s why I created the first incarnation of what has grown into Five Star Mixtape, and my first weekly roundup of community-submitted blog entries was published in April 2008.
I decided to take community submissions rather than rely on my own reading so I could read a much broader array of writers and types of stories, and it worked, despite the fact that I was less of a curator and more of a collector in the beginning. People sent me links, and I built a list out of everything that was sent to me each week. Easy peasy!
After a few weeks, though, I was irritated by the consistently lower quality of submissions and inappropriate content, because I didn’t want act as a mere advertiser for any and all content regardless of kind or quality. I was also irritated by weekly requests to justify the content I shared.
It became clear that the traffic I sent to other bloggers was also reflecting on who I was perceived to be in this space. I needed to be more careful about which content I chose to share, and I had to put guidelines in place about how and why I made editorial decisions about that content every week. I needed to ensure that I could stand behind the content I promoted and actively use it to build a more quality-conscious, generous, and sincere community.
I wrote up a list of submission guidelines, and over the next few weeks the posts nominated began to show a higher quality of writing. Even more exciting, they were coming from a broader cross-section of the blogging community as a whole.
My new submission guidelines caught on, and the content quality rose consistently. I found great blogs almost every day. My experiment in content curation answered my question. The energy and faith in the medium I loved was out there in more corners of world than I imagined, and I started to feel inspired again myself.
More than seven years later, I still feel it, and that is due in no small part to Five Star Mixtape, the weekly blog round-up I continue to curate after all this time. It is turning eight years old in the spring and now houses 344 roundups.
I may have stumbled into curation accidentally, but it has become one of my greatest online teachers and tools. Here are some of the best practices I’ve discovered along the way.
Curation Best Practices and Benefits
1. Curate with purpose.
Decide what type of content you want to curate and why you want to curate it. When you limit your curation to a more specific niche—posts that showcase great writing, for instance, or parenting videos—it helps to secure your readers’ attention and get them to come back for more.
2. Be transparent about what you curate and why.
Sharing your chosen purpose lets your readers focus on the content through a specific lens and guides them when they make submissions to your collection (if you accept submissions). Transparency allows others to take part in a meaningful way that benefits both your curation and the larger community.
3. Set out content guidelines for both you and your readers.
Content guidelines keep you and your community aligned with a common goal, and they give your readers insight into how you choose content. Your readers will have a deeper understanding of what you want to bring to the community, what you value in the community, and what their role is as a part of all.
4. Choose content with which you want to be associated.
Guilt by association can be both good and bad, so be mindful of the kind of content you share. What you share will reflect on your values and what kind of community you want take part in.
5. Accept content submissions to supplement your curation.
There are three main ways for you to collect content: You can act as sole curator, you can accept community submissions alongside your own, or you can curate all content from community submissions. Accepting community submissions is optimal, because it has the double benefit of revealing to you both what your community pays attention to and what they think you want to see. Also? Readers who get to play an active role in curation come back every week because they have a meaningful role in the collection.
6. Be firm about your purpose and content guidelines.
Occasionally, people may want to know why you made certain content decisions, like why you didn’t include their submission. This is an uncomfortable kind of question to answer, so remove the pressure by adding “not all submissions will be featured” and “this is not a review blog” to your content guidelines.
This way, all parties are clear that not all submissions can make it in, and you are not responsible to explain your editorial decisions to them. Sticking to your purpose and content guidelines means building the integrity of your curation, and that reputation is gold.
7. Be consistent and publish at a regular time, whether it is daily, weekly, or monthly.
Consistency lends integrity to your work. People will believe you mean what you do when they can count on you to deliver the good stuff when they expect it.
Curation can establish you as a community leader. Even if it starts out on a whim to fill a momentary need as mine did, your curation has the potential to shape your communities and who you are within them.
I know shaping a community’s direction sounds like a large goal for something that can be as simple as a weekly list, but after curating Five Star Mixtape for seven and a half years, it is clear that the kind of content bloggers find there affects how they view the quality of their own content and what they believe they can achieve with it.
Curation also acts a secondary voice to define your own presence. It can be inspiring, and reader submissions can introduce you to different genres and new bloggers every week, but curation can go deeper to mold not only your own abilities and direction but also to define your presence online as a community builder who knows good content.
When you curate others’ content, by extension your curation becomes a voice that reveals who you are and what your goals and values are in ways that enmesh you with your broader community and draws them in.
Five Star Mixtape once began with the selfish hope to find my love of blogging again, but it grew to show me the value of community and how to further my presence online. Now it extends from that deeper purpose, continuing to define and shape me, my community, and the medium I love.