Sharing content online has become habit. As of mid-2013 300+ million images were shared every day on Facebook, 30 million images every day on Instagram, and 700 videos every minute on Twitter.

These numbers represent content shared by both general users and brands.

How much of that sharing is from brands is not known. However many companies have jumped onto the “Branded Content” train: creating web-based magazines, blogs and other digital content that points back to the brand while at the same time providing unique or interesting information that users share.

What comes to mind right now are the larger, more successful examples, like the Epic Splits video produced by Volvo. Created as a demonstration of the product, the sheer entertainment value of the quick infomercial can’t be denied. And so, while purely marketing, at the time of writing it has been viewed over 66 million times.

Big brands do this. They make their own content—sometimes good, sometimes lousy—but all meant to be shared, firstly by them and then hopefully by online users.

The problem is that smaller brands—the many small businesses that crowd the various online platforms—are also sharing, but often they share only what others are producing.

Too Much Curation

Content “curation,” the term applied to sharing “interesting or relevant” content emerged a few years ago as a method to say something without really saying anything. This tactic relies on RSS feeds and web searches to collect what others produce, which is then shared by the “curator”—but to what end? Some argue that the only action potential fans or followers will do is go elsewhere to read the content being pointed to: they will in effect leave the curator to build the brand that built the original content.

Oftentimes curation is a tactic used when someone doesn’t have a lot of their own content to share, and I must confess that I’m guilty of this myself, especially on Twitter (as are most other professionals I follow).

Though potentially successful in creating engagement, the result is a crowded Twitter feed where brands and users are spreading the same content over and over.

On Twitter, where messages are much more ephemeral and in the moment, it can easily be forgiven. But when small brands and businesses constantly share the content of other brands on Facebook or LinkedIn, then it’s much more visible—it stands out that the one doing the sharing isn’t original. While they may think they’re building engagement or growing their own brand, they are doing little more than providing free advertising for others.

Don’t get me wrong, on occasion sharing trending or popular content (like the aforementioned Epic Splits video) is appropriate because it puts your brand in the conversation everybody else is having, but doing it constantly is no way to create a group of loyal followers, fans or (most importantly) customers.

Instead seek new and original content of your own to share. Sure, your content may not be as popular as that created by others, but at least you’ll be original.

Broaden your definition of “content.”

I think one of the difficulties for smaller brands lies in their definition of “content.” It’s easy to look at what Volvo did and quickly resign to “curate” instead of producing because of the potential costs involved in creating something similar.

But content doesn’t have to be a well-produced video; content doesn’t even have to be a lengthy blog article. Content could be something as simple as a photo, a drawing, a quote or a presentation (via Slideshare).

Or it could be even smaller.

For a great example look at the History Channel’s Twitter efforts at @History. In line with their identity they share daily updates about what happened in history on that day.

Each tweet is typically followed by a link to an article about that tidbit of historical trivia. The link to the article, of course, is important, but the content of the tweet itself is unique and branded content.

Unique, branded content in about 120 characters: how easy is that?

Think about your brand, your niche. How can you quickly, easily and consistently create content like the History Channel that you can share with your fans and followers?

Even if you don’t create as much as the larger brands, try to share something original every day, even on Twitter. It’s okay to share other news, information and content which is relevant, but try to have something of your own to say as well.