Content strategy as a discipline existed for many years, but this year we started seeing the interest in this practice peak, as organizations started to realize its importance. Not just how content is managed, but all the elements that are involved in the process -- authoring, publishing and sharing. We investigated the strategies that can help companies understand the ways content drives your brand, communications and influence your customers. Here are the top five lessons learned.

1. Content / Strategy Matters

First, without content, there would be nothing to manage. Content matters because it represents everything you stand for. Whether it’s a written word, an image or other digital asset, it all needs to say what you want in a way that is appropriate for your audience. If content is king, doesn’t it deserve to treated like royalty?

Of course, even though you're ready to put content first, it doesn't mean that you have applied the appropriate content strategy for the right job. With many different platforms from which to broadcast messages, it's important to figure out your plan before hand. As Corrine Schmid says:

The Content era is a new world with new rules and a new realm of players. To prosper, you need a game plan — a content strategy, and it must align with business goals.

By combining content with strategy you can work to ensure that every word, image or emotion is created with an intent to engage customers purposefully, which can create meaningful relationships rather than haphazard encounters.

2. Personalized Data Influences Content

To have effective content it should speak to your audience. Ensuring that it does takes more than just focus groups and market research. It takes data and skillful analytics to understand how your users’ behaviors translate into trends and patterns. By updating your content with keywords and other necessary changes, it can effectively guide your customers toward the desired outcomes. Though it's easy to get distracted by all the different data you'll uncover, Ahava Leibtag reminds us

Data should provide information about what is happening to users on sites so we can understand how to make it easier for them to get the content they need when they need it.

Speaking of needs, in 2010 we discussed semantic content and the potential to customize content based on behavioral analytics. With advanced algorithms, everything from advertisements to news feeds to home page content can be tailored to meet users needs. While such user generated content is already being used by those who have spent a great deal investing in semantic technologies, interest has trickled down to traditional companies and organization keen on cashing in on.

3. Multiple Channels and Disciplines

Content? Check. Content Strategy? Check. Seamless integration across multiple channels? ...

Like social media and digital assets before it, 2010 saw many new interfaces and formats added. From smartphone advancements and upgrades to tablet devices and more, content is able to flow through many different channels, yet it shouldn’t recreate the wheel each time.

Developing content and the processes that manage it require efficiency and oversight so that information can seamlessly travel between platforms. From mobile to desktop to Twitter, content should be re-purposed without losing the message. As well, a well thought-out content strategy doesn’t rely on just one person. In order to be successful, Ahava Leibtag taught us that a content strategist

...succeeds only by mastering a number of disciplines and learning to engage across departmental lines.

Like most things, it takes a village and the content lifecycle should engage and utilize the necessary desks, departments and hands. Not only does this promote collaboration and knowledge sharing, it helps to streamline the content development process.

4. Curation is Key

Earlier this year, we tackled issues of curation. Once reserved for art historians and museum staff, curation became a necessary part of content development. With so much content being produced, curation allows us to create new experiences using others' content. Similar to the way art musuems show off artists around a specific them, content strategists began to organize content the same way. As Aaron Roe Fulkerson explained, curation is

the process of collaboratively identifying the most important pieces of information in the activity stream and promoting them in context.

If done appropriately, curating content can be an asset to you and others, positioning your company as an authority and source of valuable and reliable information. Yet curating content requires sniffing out the right sources to identify the relevant information. When you can’t create your own content, supplementing your news feed with information from trusted sources outside your own is not just helpful, it’s the future of content management.

5. Right People and Right Tools

Content development crosses channels, departments and disciplines. Great content requires not just a sound strategy, but the right people, as well. Cultivating relationships and defining responsibilities can be a vast undertaking, but once done, can provide great clarity.

Too many times job descriptions don’t match the positions they advertise, nor do they attract the right people. Content strategy shouldn't be left for the others. Though it may not directly involve everyone,  understanding the expectations of a company's content strategy is worth explaining, whether in a job description, at the interview or at the staff meeting. Yet, instead of getting down to details, we hid behind buzzwords. As Ian Truscott so wisely surmised

As technologists, content professionals and strategists, the tools, techniques and best practices we need to apply to this are broad. ...We have mavens, sneezers, connectors, influencers in our markets that are telling our audience (and us) that this, this or this are the very coolest things around. ...Somehow we need to meld that morass together into something that will please our time poor, attention deficient visitor into a coherent experience...

But unless we begin to define specifics of what the process entails, we can't expect to lessen the broad and varied load that content strategists carry. Knowing that content managers and strategists require curiosity, advanced leadership and communication skills, and a support structure designed to assist and mentor them, is a huge first step aimed at turning the every day mumbo jumbo into something real.