Woe unto you, content strategists, who have been unlucky enough to end up in a niche discipline that most enterprises look at as a luxury (if they even recognize it as a separate and unique discipline at all). Jumping from one freelance gig to another like a traveling jongleur, simultaneously hoping to find a home, and dreading the thought that you'll end up as a common minstrel in a corporate communications job writing the dreaded corporate-speak content pieces that employees ignore at best and hold in contemptuous disdain at worst.
Depending upon your career history, your personal network and the set of opportunities in your neck of the woods, you could be lucky enough to end up in an eCommerce shop writing minimalist copy for the users and business sponsors who don't know enough to appreciate the fine details of your craft. You could also put money in your purse by doing piece-work blogging for advertising driven content sites, but the life of a writer is neither as glamorous as it sounds nor as lucrative as you might wish. What is a meaning-minded content professional to do?
What Light Through Yonder Window Breaks?
The dark ages of the organization and hierarchy-centric intranets with a combination of resource intensive governance models and self-limiting command and control policies are coming to a close. It has been too long that your talents have been wasted writing corporate messages that drive as much engagement as the "lather, rinse, repeat" instructions and "do not eat" warning labels on shampoo bottles.
Lo, a new opportunity is coming across the horizon that, with the rise of the social intranet, can breathe some fresh life and meaning into a what has been a hard row to hoe; Community Manager. Community centric employee experiences are sprouting up in the desolate wasteland that has until very recently been devoid of meaningful employee engagement.
Social Intranets are the East and the Engaged Employee is the Sun
Social Intranets are the fresh new marketplace in the enterprise kingdoms and tight governance is being replaced with curation. The reign of one-way intranet managers is over. Content will no longer be presented as if from the church of old in a top-down fashion. In its place, content creators will have to be a little more like the shrew and adopt a coy posture where employee desire to read and engage is the coin of the realm. It is this paradigm shift in our current age of enlightenment that harkens the rise of the community manager role.
Community managers for social intranets are likened to eCommerce site category merchants with the core difference revolving around the types of goods they will be aggregating and peddling. Category merchants scour the world looking for the finest wares to present to their prospective customers, and it behooves them to know their customer's tastes intimately. Intranet community managers will be scouring the company and external community for content that is relevant to the communities they serve, and similarly they will be expected to know their audiences.
Unlike corporate communications jobs of old, they will not have a single-minded push-focus on what messages executive management demands are front and center. Community managers will be a mix of push and pull. The push will be a finding a balance of the content that resonates with their audiences along with the content that matrixed leadership teams need their extended staff to be aware of. Of course, some of this will be handled by community and social platforms like Jive, Yammer and Chatter, but that won't take the place of the community manager. It will be the community manager's job to work with the social platforms to get their audiences to not just engage in consuming content, but in creating content as well.
What's In a Name? That Which We Call a Rose
To this point, no one but the web-sophisticates understood exactly what content strategists do and how they are different from copy writers. This lacking of appreciation has been frustrating for people trying to draw meaning and convey the value of holistic storytelling beyond any one piece of content. A sea change is taking place in the world of corporate intranets where a moment of opportunity is coming into focus. The social media craze of the last few years has paved the way by creating broad awareness of the community manager title.
For those who define themselves by their title of content strategist, their fate may be bound in the shallows. For those who instead see the new role as one where a great content professional can turn content into the killer app that keeps users engaged I say this; There is a tide in the affairs of content professionals, which, taken at the flood, leads on to fortune.
Editor's Note: There are a number of related articles from Stephen I could slide in here, but here are two of my recent favorites: Modern Intranets Need Social Baked In, Not Sprinkled on Top and We Are Not Builders. We Are Gardeners.