Travelblather

Content strategies – who does them and how?

Here's the second of two posts about the new buzz-phrase "Content Strategy" - written by my colleague Charlie Peverett - content strategist at iCrossing. The first post explains why content strategy matters. This one explains a little about the who and the how. Let me know what you think...

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What a content strategist does

The clearest definition for how a Content Strategist can sort out the messy state of so many websites these days is provided by Kristina Halvorson, in her landmark book Content Strategy for the Web (2009).

The headlines are that a strategist must:
• Audit the existing content
• Analyse it alongside all the research inputs – stakeholder feedback, customer surveys, UX work, site analytics, competitor analysis, SEO recommendations, etc
• Create a content strategy

That is, they audit the available content – what does the client have, who makes it, looks after it, how, why, when, who for?

They analyse it against the available research and the project's objectives – how is it being used, what's the return on effort, how does it relate to other content, what could be deleted or simplified, where are the opportunities for new and better content?

They create a strategy – a roadmap for getting from the status quo to an agreed objective, which understands and addresses the realities of creating and looking after content (the necessary inputs and ownership, how long it takes, who does what) and how to measure its success.

Who can be a content strategist?

Anyone who understands how content works, how it's made and maintained, how to measure its success - and how to work with all available parties to make it happen.

They may be from a technical background (web dev/IA), a digital strategic/planning background or an editorial background (publishing/web editing).

The important thing is: they really get how content works and know how to get it organised.

And of course, a lot of people with other job titles are already doing this work successfully: those web editors with the necessary clout, obviously; on smaller dev projects, the information architect (IA) or project manager; in social media activities, the social media strategist or blog editor perhaps.

But even where people are already doing it very well, it's often an 'invisible', partial success. The content strategy succeeds in places as a by-product of some other officially-recognised process – the 'site design', the 'social media strategy', the 'editorial brief'. And the opportunity for applying a cohesive strategy across the organisation is missed.

I'm not a big fan of cheerleading new roles and terminology for the sake of it. There is a strong argument that 'content strategist' may, in some cases, be indistinguishable from the role of a consultant web editor, or web editor in chief.

But whether we still use this language in ten years' time or not, the principle behind its arrival is right. And it seems unlikely that the desire for it - simultaneously seized upon by professionals across disciplines and sectors - will turn out to be passing phase.

Image by richardjingram

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I think this need to be strategic about the content that goes on a website is as important as working out a flatplan for a magazine. There has to be order and organisation and there has to be complete focus on the reader. This stuff may sound clunky and even dull - but I  think it's essential if we are serious about the value of the content that we publish on-line. Do you agree?


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