In the beginning, there was content. But there was not very much of it. As the web expanded and new spaces filled with content, Content Strategists arose to take on the awesome responsibility of creating, organizing, and caring for it all.
The field of Content Strategy is relatively new and is not aggressively codified. It combines a range of skills, and people of varied backgrounds can make their way into Content Strategy via myriad paths.
You can think of Content Strategy as a Venn Diagram, an area where a few big circles overlap.
Erin Kissane goes into more detail on these disciplines, and how they intersect, in her essential primer The Elements of Content Strategy.
Many content strategists come from backgrounds in journalism. Some of the skills are familiar – structuring pieces of content around a larger theme, establishing and maintaining a consistent tone, keeping content creators on deadline, and other holdovers from the world of print periodicals.
Like a keen editor, a great Content Strategist has a penchant for storytelling. Why is this information important? Why now? And what is the best way to present it that will do it justice and intrigue the audience?
The editor is a liaison between content producers and consumers. Content Strategy isn’t just filling up space between ads; it’s helping the producers create the content that consumers want and need.
Content Marketing has become a distinct discipline, but even the most commerce-averse Content Strategists tend to have a bit of marketing savvy.
The tools of quantification that digital marketers use are too powerful for Content Strategists to ignore. There’s no need to hope for the best when you can measure and analyze your content’s performance in real time. Thanks to innovations in marketing software, Content Strategists can test different content ideas against each other and see which performs better.
Much guesswork has been eliminated, but with the difficulty of standing out, creativity is more important than ever.
Internet marketers have brought a sensibility to Content Strategy that has been controversial. Content that conspicuously follows trends can alienate some consumers or, worse, get lost in the shuffle. (Witness the saturation of “listicles” and “clickbait.”)
In 2012, the website Gawker performed an experiment. Certain staff writers were assigned to publish cynical content designed to go viral and “break the internet,” and other writers were unleashed to indulge their creativity or dive into esoteric topics. It illustrated, in microcosm, the see-saw of editorial and marketing imperatives have that Content Strategists must negotiate.
Some people came into Content Strategy from design fields such as Information Architecture.
Many Content Strategists are focused on words. However, in a highly influential article called “Content Strategy: The Philosophy of Data”, Rachel Lovinger makes the case that Content Strategy is in fact a much broader concern, that it is more interwoven with design, and that it should encompass the entire presentation of a digital property. Content Strategy is increasingly cross-pollinated with ideas from User Experience Design.
However holistic their own approaches may be, Content Strategists must work with designers, developers, writers, and producers, and must at least be conversant in all those fields. Some hands-on experience makes this much easier.
Bringing it all together
Most importantly, Content Strategists have to have a passion for all things digital. If you’ve spent hours falling down “rabbit holes” on Wikipedia, recoiled at a favorite site’s rebranding initiative, or followed a beloved writer across multiple platforms, you may have what it takes to be a Content Strategy.
How much content do you need? What is its purpose? How can that purpose best be served? Do you really need that dancing banana gif?
Once the content is out there, it must be maintained. Links can break, a WordPress template that looked nifty in 2007 may look a bit long in the tooth ten years later, and consumption patterns among fickle users can change dramatically from month to month.
Publishing is tough and it is complicated, and if you jump into producing content before you’ve done your research and planning, you’ll make a mess. If you have a plan, think it through, test your ideas, and stay focused and organized, you will see that content is still king.