A rather rare beast is the content strategist: at the time of writing, only 763 people on LinkedIn use the phrase in their current job title. Ironically, the reason for this low number may not be the relative youth of the professional title, but the words it comprises. Like management consultant, both words represent ambiguous, amorphous concepts:
“substantive information or creative material viewed in contrast to its actual or potential manner of presentation”
“an expert in strategy”
“a plan, method, or series of manoeuvres or stratagems for obtaining a specific goal or result”
With such an indefinite description, it’s understandable that companies might not perceive an identifiable gap in their competency for a content strategist, in the same way they do for a PHP Developer or Business Copywriter.
The title may also be a misnomer. The content strategist can be called on for more than strategy, getting their hands dirty with the entire content lifecycle: analyzing, planning, writing, editing, distributing, managing and monitoring content. For that matter, they must concern themselves with more than content (in the strictest definition) too: information architecture, delivery technologies, and anything else that affects the impact of content falls under the purview of the conscientious content strategist.
But I’m getting ahead of myself. Let’s take a step back.
Defining the Role
Like most roles in an organization, the raison d’être of the content strategist is to realize core business goals: in a commercial context, these are usually revenue and growth.
Project managers achieve this by overseeing processes and communications to bring projects in on budget. Developers and designers achieve this by producing output that can generate revenues or savings. Marketers achieve this by creating demand for the product or service.
Content Strategists achieve business goals by maximizing the commercial impact of content. I use the word ‘commercial’ loosely: if you’re a non-profit or an educational institution, tweak the meaning of ‘commercial’ to your liking, or just take it out.
What is ‘content’? For the content strategist, it is frequently web/digital information: web pages, blog posts, multimedia, social media conversations, email newsletters and RSS feeds. Often the scope can include physical/off-line content too. Content is a tricky concept to pin down because it continues to evolve, but generally anything that communicates on behalf of the organization – no matter how small – can be classified as content.
The skill, of course, comes in ‘maximizing impact’. To get the maximum business value out of content, the strategist must consider its purpose, management, production, delivery, measurement and re-use, taking into consideration the long-term capabilities and priorities of the organisation. There’s no point creating a grand multi-media, multi-channel content strategy if the organization relies on a part-time administrator to produce content.
And therein lies one of the great challenges. If the business only has a part-time administrator responsible for content, the strategist must make the most of these circumstances, developing tools and tactics that allow the business to get the most from its content.
But Really, What Does A Content Strategist Actually Do?
I should really stop beating around the bush. All this talk of maximizing impact and business goals; you just want to know what the actual day-to-day tasks of the role entails, don’t you?
Well, it depends. In larger organizations, a content strategist may be given the specific responsibility for strategic elements of online content (as you’d expect, from the name). They will draw on the business goals and user needs to audit existing content and create a comprehensive plan for future content: what needs to be created/edited/removed, how, when, by who, and where.
In smaller organizations, or where the strategist has been contracted for a specific task, the scope may cover any or all aspects of the content lifecycle:
- User Analysis / User Needs: Personas, Scenarios, Surveys
- Content Inventory / Audit
- Content Gap Analysis
- Competitor Analysis
- Search Engine Optimization Research
- Content Aggregation / Data Sourcing
- Editorial Strategy
- Voice / Style / Brand Guidelines
- Idea / Concept Development
- Development of Themes / Messages / Topics
- Establish Workflow: People, Ownership, Roles, Processes
- Content Plan: What, When, How (Short/Long Term)
- Information Architecture
- Establish Metadata Frameworks
- Implement Taxonomies and Classification Schemes
- Develop Site Structures
- Content Management Tools and Practices
- Content Migration
- Content Conversion
- Analytics Configuration
- Establish Content Backup / Versioning / Archival Practices
- Information Architecture
- Content Creation
- Asset Production
- Tagging / Classifying
- Content Optimization
- Search Engine Optimization
- Accessibility Optimization
- Proofreading / Editing / Fact Checking
- Content Delivery
- Encoding / Converting for Web
- Distribution Processes and Tools
- Content Creation
- Monitoring / Reacting (e.g. Social Media, Comments, Moderation)
- Social Media Submission / PR / Marketing / Syndication
- Analytics Analysis
- Success Evaluation and Learning
And there you have it. The definition isn’t as precise as I’d intended when I started this post, but that may be appropriate for the tangled, messy world of content strategy.