Tuesday, 27 November 2012

The first rule of content strategy: don't talk about content strategy

strategy
If you work in digital media, you'll know there's a growing list of job titles out there - information architect (IA), user experience (UX) consultant, content strategist, to name a few.

And because the roles overlap, it can be tricky for recruiters to know who does what - and what responsibilities go with each role.

For a digital media freelancer, it can be difficult to know what to call yourself, as you may straddle several job roles.

So it was timely that last night's careers event at the UK Content Strategy Association tackled exactly this theme. First up, the speakers defined what a content strategist is.

What is a content strategist?

A content strategist is someone who can see the big picture of 'How can we help the user carry out their task?' while understanding the detail of how to make it happen in a content management system (CMS).

It's typically someone who has editorial skills, user experience or usability knowledge, and is technical enough to propose a solution to a content problem.

If content strategy sounds like 3 jobs wrapped into 1, that's because it is. "Content's gone beyond editorial," says  Rahel Anne Bailie of Vancouver-based company Intentional Design, "You have to grow with it. You have to know how content works at the back end, what's under the hood."

The future is hybrid

Murray Cox, head of content strategy at digital marketing agency LBi believes the most employable people are hybrids. To illustrate, he's put together his ideal job spec for a content strategist:

  • Knowledge of IA, UX and search engine optimisation (SEO) - and able to apply it to content
  • Workshop facilitator: able to elicit from the client what they really want (which is not always what the client says they want)
  • Knowledge of change management (because often digital projects change the way people will do their jobs)
  • Structure content - know where we're heading
  • Respond to emerging trends
  • Analytical skills 
  • Strategic creative thinking (so you can do site maps)
  • Social media and marketing best practice
  • Benchmarking (so you can show a client what others are doing)
  • Sub-editing
  • Project management
  • Guidelines/standards
  • Branding (so you can talk with the agency's clients)
  • User insight
  • Visual thinking
  • Adaptability and pragmatism (you need to adapt your plan to meet client deadlines)
Steve Hutson of digital recruitment agency Superstars is also a firm believer in hybrids. 

Don't say 'content strategy', say 'user-centred content'

LBI's Murray knows that Joe Public - and most clients - have never heard of content strategy. He says: "Outside London, we don't talk about content strategy. We just say 'How are we going to solve this problem?'"

Content strategist CJ Walker of digital recruiter Firehead agrees: "Clients never ask for a content strategist because they don't know what it is. We never talk about content strategy. It scares the clients."

One buzzword that does go down well with LBi's clients is 'user-centred content'. "Our mantra is that content strategy is user-centred content. Simples," Murray adds.

Stepping on UX toes

As content strategists and UX practitioners both deal with the user journey, does that cause friction between the two roles? "There are no turf wars at LBi," says Murray, "and if there are, we can sort it out between us. Our content strategists sit with our UX designers."

Content strategists: involve them early

All the speakers last night bemoaned the fact that they often join a project towards the end, which is not early enough to influence the content design.

But there is hope. LBi is now using content strategists when the agency pitches to a client: "Quite a few project managers now understand the value of involving us at the beginning, so the benefits flow through the whole project," says Murray.

Anyway, what's in a job title?

Content strategist Rahel Anne Bailie says: "My job title's been business analyst, information architect or management consultant. But I get involved when there's a content problem to solve. The geeky side of content's in my blood."

She adds: "With content strategists today, it reminds me of where we were 15 years ago with information architects. People used to say 'What the heck's an IA? Architects build houses. And now we've moved on. There's a common expectation of what you do as an IA and what you deliver as an IA."

Look out for Rahel's forthcoming book on content strategy 'Content strategy for decision makers: connecting the dots between business, brand, and benefits'.

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