Many others have capably defined content strategy. My favorite definitions are these:
content strategy is to copywriting as information architecture is to design
Content strategy plans for the creation, publication, and governance of useful, usable content.
And my newest favorite is:
Content strategy is just content planning.
In real life, content strategy falls somewhere between traditional editorial leadership, communication strategy, and information management, all of which have their own distinct connotations. It’s easy for discussions of terminology to float off into abstraction, so instead of talking about “content strategy” or what “a content strategist” does, I’m going to say what this content strategist does.
What I Do
Right now, I’m working on a few projects. One is very large and is a good example of a big, serious CS project, so I’ll talk about it in detail.
I’ve already collaborated on a quantitative and qualitative content audit for this project, which involved many thousands of pieces of content spread across several divisions and databases.
I’ve also already done high-level content recommendations, which included a description of major assumptions and concepts that would affect future content, structural design, visual design, and development choices. These recommendations included:
- a cognitive model that translates pieces of the organization’s mission into a conceptual blueprint for deepening user engagement with the site
- proposals for major new communication approaches and content-related features, including initial requirements for a proposed back-end system that would support specific kinds of content creation and management, all of which are linked to goals articulated by the client before and during the project’s initial phases
- audience prioritization and high-level plans for meeting the content needs of each of the site’s major audiences
Now I’m working on the next round of content strategy work, which will include:
- detailed discussions of the content in each of the site’s major sections, keyed to the wireframes that we’re developing—this includes clear documentation of the goals, style, format, sources, and upkeep needs of each major class of content on the site, and will eventually turn into content templates
- notes on new content that needs to be created and existing content that needs to be revised before launch
- a discussion of the editorial calendars (yep, plural) that will be in place before launch and will guide content creation and review in the future
- a snapshot of existing web publishing workflows in use throughout the organization and a discussion of new publishing workflow models and processes that the client may wish to adopt
- a discussion of underlying content-related business rules that affect workflow and content management
- a proposal for integrating appropriate, useful social/interactive features into various parts of the site
None of this work deals with all the content strategy aspects of off-site content, social media, email, mobile integration, and so on—we haven’t gotten there yet. Someday, there will also be a style guide, much of which will be integrated directly into the CMS and workflow documents so that people can actually see and use it. And all of this work happens in collaboration with the client, with the web consulting team I’m part of, and with a specialist consulting firm acting as our partner on this project.
Edited to add: This project also included a very substantial research phase, which was run by the UX team while I tagged along taking notes.
For two other clients, I’m collaborating on product development. For one of those clients, I’m also developing messages and writing copy. For another, I’m doing ad-hoc project management and sometimes general, old-school web strategy work.
Oh, a certain amount of staring off into space, which turns out to be essential for keeping the brain juicy enough to do all of the above.
That’s what I’m doing now. Strategic and tactical. Planning and execution. Also sometimes cake.
That Thing I Said I Wouldn’t Talk About
If you’ve read this blog before, you probably know that I’m an etymology nerd. It’s my main defense against ill-tempered, shortsighted prescriptivism. Here’s a little bonus geek-out.
“Strategy” is derived, of course, from the Greek word strategos, which means, roughly, “general” or “highest ranking military leader.” Strategos is derived from two other Greek words: stratos, which is used to mean “army” but literally means something like “the thing that is spread out” and agos, which means “leader.”1 The OED, bless its adorable face, defines the modern sense of “strategy” as:
The art of a commander-in-chief; the art of projecting and directing the larger military movements and operations of a campaign. Usually distinguished from tactics, which is the art of handling forces in battle or in the immediate presence of the enemy.
The central message of content strategy in 2010 is that it’s not enough to think tactically about content. To serve our clients and readers, we have to look beyond individual battles and ensure that the whole array of individual campaigns and choices works together to meet a clearly defined set of overarching goals.