A content strategist succeeds only by mastering a number of disciplines and learning to engage across departmental lines. Here's a look at the many parts of a successful execution.
When you look at the content strategy life-cycle, what you see is a continuous cycle of planning, creating, delivering and governing content.
The life of a content strategist requires leading the effort of content strategy; interfacing with many different types of professionals with a large and varied set of skills, because in most organizations content is a shared commodity. In this article, I examine each of the roles these professionals play and describe how you might engage them.
The Many Components of Content Strategy (diagram courtesy Erin Scime / DopeData.com)
Planning Content -- The Number Crunchers
Ask them: What are your business objectives?
- Business Execs*
Oh yes. You need these people to help you understand the business objectives of the organization so you can create a content strategy aligned with business goals.
They will be able to identify brand objectives and your target audience. They may even provide analytics on customer behavior, both online and offline.
They will tell you how the content is doing from a performance perspective: IT professionals, Web teams who look at analytics, customer service professionals who field requests from customers, and even content auditors, who have completed both qualitative and quantitative audits. Typically, content strategists perform these audits, but you never know.
- Primary Stakeholders
They will tell you what you need to know about your user audience, types of content needed, what hinges on content performance, and so much more. For them, their success is directly tied to the strategy. For example, when I’m creating a content strategy for a clinical service line at a hospital, my primary stakeholders are the physicians and staff who run the department. They have the most insider knowledge -- it’s my job to translate that knowledge into a content strategy.
Creating content -- The Creatives
Ask them: How can we make this content engaging and useful?
If content is the steak, design is the plating . We never want content to break design, as Margot Bloomstein says, so it’s important for designers and content strategists to work together, from the beginning, ensuring a single-minded vision for how the site will look and navigate.
- Information Architects
Again, a critical group to bring in from the beginning. IA’s are the best at wrapping their arms around huge systems of content, and can help you with auditing, organization, taxonomies, naming conventions, etc. They might even help you see some holes.
- User Experience Professionals
Again content is the “stuff” on your site; design is the way it’s delivered. If neither one is working well, users will bounce. The goal is to set the content like a diamond in an engagement ring, and the UX folks will help you set the design so the content will sparkle.
These people will hopefully run with the content strategy and produce useful, engaging, persuasive content. Great Web writers understand all the technical ins and outs of writing for an online audience—SEO, usability, reading on screen—but will also capture the essence of your brand and what you need your content to do.
- Copy Editors
This group can help keep your editorial strategy on target, update style guides, maintain standards and make sure that your content looks its best.
Delivering Content -- The Publishers
Ask them: How can we make it easy to track and repurpose our content?
They can be professionals who manage the Content Management System, post content, quality assure sites, and ensure databases, etc. are functioning as they should be.
- Web Editors
Often these professionals will quality assure content once it goes up, to make sure it looks as though it was envisioned, and that all links are working.
- SEO Pros
I wasn’t sure whether to include this group with the creatives, but I decided to group them with the publishers because SEO should be an ongoing process. The writers and SEO professionals should be engaged with each other from the beginning, but once the content is out there, the SEO folks should watch and analyze its performance, making tweaks along the way. This may involve bringing the writer back in to help.
Governing Content -- The Rulers
Ask them: How are you going to communicate and implement your guidelines?
See? We went full circle. Often your stakeholders will be able to give you guidance about governing your content. Not setting the rules exactly, but explaining how useful content is, when it’s needed, etc…so that you can form an appropriate governance strategy.
The different people who are invested in the content need to take an active interest in measuring its performance. This can be the creators, managers or publishers of the content, but they must analyze its performance throughout the lifecycle.
The label "curators" has been getting a lot of attention in the blogosphere and I think we haven’t found the exact right title for what this person does. Suffice it to say, it’s someone who keeps a genuine audit of the content, and follows a calendar to make sure content is being removed when it’s outdated, improved when it’s not performing, or rewritten to make it fresh and current.
In any case, I think of librarians who begin to notice when books are falling apart, or haven’t been updated since 1937. Time to give them away, or throw them out, so they can make more room for books people actually want to read.
*This is a catch all phrase for anyone with any decision making ability or important input.
I’m sure I’ve forgotten someone important in the content strategy lifecycle -- is it you? Let me know what you think -- I’m curious if I put professionals in the right categories. I think the main lesson is that at each point, you need different, overlapping talents to create the best possible content product.