I recently attended an event in which the panel discussed the best ways to build good digital teams. Panelists included the heads of digital practice at large, traditional companies as well as the co-founder of a digital agency. They said a lot of things that I thought were spot on. But when someone asked whether she would be better off becoming a generalist or specialist, namely something to do with content strategy, I was surprised and a bit dismayed, at one of the responses. I agreed with the executive from the agency who said that content strategists are hard to come by and are in great demand. Having recently had this discussion at the IA Summit in April, I couldn’t agree more with that statement.
The answer from the head of one of the digital teams was way off. He equated content strategy to copywriting – which is also in demand, I’ll give him that. But it really surprised me that he didn’t have enough context to realize that content strategy is so much more than copywriting. “Content strategy is more about the spreadsheet of doom” said a friend when we talked afterwards. While I think that is closer to the truth, content strategy is so much more.
A content strategist is really a web generalist specializing in keeping teams and projects focused on what matters most – the content. Skills needed to do the job effectively are wide ranging: everything from a wee bit of HTML & CSS, to copywriting, to editing, to recognizing good design, to knowing how to talk to developers, to marketing, to business strategy, to quality control and assurance, to project management, to content modeling, to keeping track of details, to change management, to SEO, to information architecture, to social media engagement. In other words, a working knowledge of just about every aspect of all the specialties that make up digital teams or projects.
Before last week, I was more of a mind to say that we should not have content strategists per se, but that content strategy should be a part of each team member’s job. But now I realize that we do need people who are specifically content strategists, even if all the other team members get it. We do need more people who speak all the languages of the web specialties as well as the non-webbies, who have a tolerance for creating and managing the spreadsheets of doom, and who have the communication skills to bring everything and everyone together.
Those of us who are practicing content strategists need to do more to spread the word about what it is we do and what value we provide. We need to correct people who say that content strategy = copywriting. And we most definitely need to make sure that companies aren’t just hiring junior-level people and calling them “content strategists” so they can check the buzz word bingo box.
Where do we find more content strategists? Many of us come from the jack-of-all-trades webmaster pool, having done a little of everything because we had to as a one-person web team. I see more people turning towards content strategy from other parts of the user experience field as well as from the SEO or content marketing world. These are the leaders who need to keep advancing the profession.
We also need to attract more people to the field as they start their careers. As Sara Wachter-Boettcher said in a webinar earlier this year, content strategy is perfect for a detail-oriented liberal-arts major who likes to get lost in spreadsheets (or something like that). Likely, most college students aren’t even considering content strategy as a career because they don’t know about it. So we need to spread the word to our local colleges and high schools to let people who have the right aptitude know about this growing career field. Goodness knows there are plenty of recent college graduates looking for a job! (See my own path to content strategy in last week’s blog post.)
I did talk to the questioner after the panel and shared all these thoughts with her, told her about the local Content Strategy:DC meetup group, and encouraged her to keep in touch so I could help her better understand how she could move into a content strategist position. She was very encouraged by all of this. I hope to have more of these conversations in the near future.
What are some of the things you’re doing to help find more content strategists and grow this exciting new career field?