Setting the agenda online in an age of smart consumers

For decades, marketing gurus told us what to buy, where to get it and how much to pay; and we dutifully dipped into our pockets.

For decades, marketing gurus told us what to buy, where to get it and how much to pay; and we dutifully dipped into our pockets.

But the soaring popularity of social media, combined with the inexorable rise of internet commerce, means anyone who owns a computer, smartphone or tablet can now take the reins and help steer crucial new trends.

It's called social curation, and it allows users of apps such as Pinterest, Instagram and other special-interest sites to sidestep traditional marketing channels by giving them a voice that has quickly grown from a whisper to a cacophony that retailers won't be able to ignore.

Savvy bloggers and their masses of online followers are already setting the agenda in trend-sensitive industries such as fashion, with their opinions and recommendations carrying more credibility than any paid advertisement can muster.

The L'Oreal Melbourne Fashion Festival will convene a panel of international marketing experts next week to discuss how social curation has radically shifted the marketing goalposts.

Accurately describing social curation is difficult because it is continually evolving, but the vice-president of business development for US-based website, Hilary Peterson, says it is "one way to filter out what's important to you; the rest is noise. It's an editing tool, essentially."

Simon Goodrich, the managing director of Australian-based digital content specialist Portable, agrees. "In a world where you can get anything you want, any time you want, and there's so much information going around, it's important to be able to find something that's interesting and engaging, and social curation is such an important part of that," he says.

Quynh Mai, the founder of US-based digital content and marketing agency Moving Image and Content, says consumers no longer trust traditional marketing messages.

"They understand that the biggest advertiser gets the cover of Vogue, that the celebrity on the

red carpet wore that dress because she was sponsored. So we turn to one another for advice and guidance on what's cool and what's relevant," she says.

Embracing social curation enables marketers to move at the same speed as consumers, Mai says.

"For the first time in my career, I feel that the consumers are as smart, if not smarter, than the people in marketing today. I think that's why social curation has arisen, to satiate this appetite for information that's trustworthy, fast enough."

The difference between "sharing" information about a brand and "curating" is also a subject for debate, but Mai rationalises it by engagement. "You're curating if you have built an audience and there are people actually following you and you've reached a certain scale."

Australian consumers are familiar with the likes of Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest and Tumblr but a second wave of retail-specific sites such as Lyst, Fab and Fancy are set to redefine how we make purchasing decisions and which voices we listen to.

Goodrich says Australian brands can't afford to ignore the rising trend.

"It's developing as another pillar and in my opinion in time will become one of the most important pillars of the business," he says.

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