With all the chatter in the blogosphere and the popularity of the content strategy Twitter stream, it's obvious that Content Strategy for the Web is here to stay. You've read all the articles and you're convinced: your organization needs a content strategist to evaluate and plan for your content. So, what are the traits necessary for a great content strategist?
Trait #1: Curiosity
I can’t stress how important this is to any great professional in any field, but in content strategy, you absolutely MUST have it. Knowing which questions to ask and how to ask them is a truly refined skill, driven by raw curiosity of the Curious George type. Content strategists, more than anything else, solve problems. Being curious allows us to see how all the different pieces fit together, where your content is bottlenecked, stuck or just poorly distributed. So, if the person you meet doesn’t ask a lot of questions, then move on.
Trait #2: Cross-communication Skills
Cross-communication is a form of translation—the term references a professional’s ability to explain things to a lay audience, as well as manage a more complicated discourse on a stray technical detail. Can a content strategist talk to the content stakeholders and explain what the database developers need to know? Can he or she then turn around and explain those requirements to the developers? As referenced in, Content Strategy: It’s a Truly Multidisciplinary Practice, content strategists interact with many different professionals throughout a project lifecycle. You must hire someone who has the ability to cross-communicate. I’m not saying every single content strategist is an expert in Joomla, or understands the semantic Web, but they should be able to listen and explain both the details and the bigger picture to each constituent group.
Trait #3: Superb Organizational Skills
What’s that joke about Information Architects? They are basically fancy filing room clerks. (Oh, maybe I made that up right now.) I mock in jest: the ability to design an information flow well is an incredible talent. Just like an Information Architect is designing a structure, so too, a content strategist is labeling and designating the “stuff” that fits inside the structure. Therefore, organizational skills are critically important, as labeling, filing, tagging are all important skills that content strategists use on a daily basis.
Trait #4: Attention to Detail and Consistency
This one is tricky, because really great content strategists know how to pay attention to detail and also see the bigger picture. Personally, if I had to choose, I’d go with a stickler for details because there are other professionals within a Web project who can steer the visionary ship. Rather, a content strategist who will keep your project on schedule is someone who understands that the devil is in the details; how important it is to pay attention to all the little things that actually loom large: the style guide, people’s proper names, character counts, proper meta tagging of different kinds of content, etc. Consistency is also necessary: that’s one of the swords content strategists should be willing to fall on.
Trait #5: Knowledge of the Industry
When you talk to a potential content strategist for hire, and they don’t know who Kristina Halvorson, Rahel Baile or Scott Abel is, forget it. I’m not saying people should drop names—I’m simply pointing out that anyone who is serious about content strategy is a part of the larger conversation going on in the industry. Keeping up-to-date with practical solutions for everyday challenges is a MUST, and if your potential hire doesn’t have a list of the past five inspiring articles they read on Content Strategy that made them start thinking about how to tweak their own process, then you need to call in someone else.
Now I’d love to hear your thoughts on the conversation. Did I miss an important trait? Or have I overstated one? Let’s have a conversation about what traits you look for in a content strategist.