More than writers and editors, content strategists wear many hats and perform many functions long before they even get around to writing a single word. But that’s what makes the content strategist’s job so important (and exciting!).
If you’re handling content strategy for your organization (or working with a content strategist) for the first time, get ready to don a wide array of headgear:
Content strategists ask hard questions, like good investigative reporters, in order to cut through confusion and discord and get to the truth. Furthermore, the job requires journalistic objectivity – no sacred cows, no hidden agendas, no blind loyalties. Just look at the facts and make that the basis for developing effective communication strategies. It seems simple, but it rarely is.
Content strategists typically work most closely with, or are actually part of, the marketing department, so it’s important for us to understand the demands and expectations put upon marketers — and what they, in turn, need from us. Content strategy is just one part of your business’s larger marketing strategy, and you need to have those related activities on your radar too. The PR team, the social media team, the events team — they’re all creating and using content and driving toward the same marketing and business goals. A solid content strategy will keep those moving parts in harmony.
In the creative services world, content strategy usually sits inside the UX (user experience) discipline. That makes sense because it’s the content strategist’s responsibility to be constantly questioning and testing what is produced to validate its worth to the audience. We need to understand our users as real people, not just archetypes, and see the world through their eyes. It’s not like the customers are going to be in our conference room to speak up for themselves! As UX people, content strategists are driven by a single-minded desire to balance the interests of a company and its customers.
Oftentimes, content strategists are brought in to conduct an inventory and audit of existing content and then to evaluate its quality and usefulness. Along the way, they often find themselves asking questions like where did this content come from and who owns it now? It’s not unusual to find that the content creator is no longer with the organization, and that his institutional knowledge is lost. Content strategists can help ferret out answers or, at minimum, make educated assumptions to help decide next steps.
You know those consultants you can hire to go through your overstuffed, chaotic closet and set things right? That’s what content strategists do for your company’s content. They act as curators and taxonomists, sifting through information, spotting the precious gems, categorizing content into logical buckets, and setting up systems that are maintainable and help users take full advantage of their content.
Since content strategy is so closely tied to overall business strategy and may touch points throughout an enterprise, it can be fraught with disagreements over approach, execution and ownership. Things can get contentious when different people or departments have conflicting ideas about marketing and content. The content strategist, particularly when in the role of user advocate, can serve as a neutral party. When personal biases or turf battles heat up, content strategists provide a clear business rationale, backed up by research and testing, so that the ultimate course of action is based on best practices and not best guesses.
Let’s just say it: content creation and maintenance can get messy, especially if you’re a big company with a big workforce operating in siloes. Websites can grow to hundreds or even thousands of pages and have countless contributors. Plus microsites! And then there’s social media. And advertising. And off-line channels, like print brochures. And sales collateral. That’s a lot of content and a lot of authors; hence, cat-herding.
All of this is to say that content strategists are not simply writers with added responsibilities, and it’s essential to help others in your company understand that the content strategist’s value goes beyond good writing. He or she is an integral part of the marketing team, a critical participant in strategy and planning sessions and key to helping the team meet its business and marketing goals. And if anyone still thinks you’re “just a writer,” you can point to all those hats in your closet!