“Must-know things”

Because I spend most of my time thinking about how content is created, managed and distributed, I'm a pushover for articles on content strategy. Fast Company recently featured one by Rusty Weston, a "content strategist, editor, and writer" based in San Francisco.

The post, "5 must-know things about content strategists", makes these core points:

  1. Content strategy is not new; it was just called "something else"
  2. Search engine optimization (SEO) alone won't carry the day
  3. Lofty goals should be paired with lofty resources
  4. Good content strategy depends on good content workflows
  5. In a new role, content strategists must regularly explain what they do

The list as a whole is useful, but you can probably divine from these points that "Advice for content strategists" might have been a better title for the piece. "5 must-know things" probably helps with SEO, though.

Still, claiming that content strategy "was just called something else" troubled me. In Weston's view:

Before the title content strategist was popularized, we were involved with the precursor to “content:” News, advertising, marketing or something in between. I was an online editor and consultant for the better part of a decade. But the majority of us came from marketing departments or advertising agencies, and some of us were copywriters.

Certainly, many people who are now called "content strategists" came from functions that touched upon content. In that sense, their prior skills and experience are being put to use in a larger setting.

But content strategy is more than the activity formerly known as … something else. It is organized around customers, not formats or functions. The messaging is a component of corporate strategy.

A content strategist who continues to think of the role as an extension of news, advertising or marketing misses the cross-functional cooperation required to organize around customers. Publishers who treat content strategy as a way to push messages to consumers will probably continue to rely on established formats, missing the two-way communication available across multiple platforms.

Content strategy is new, and making it work requires a shift in perspective, from functions to purpose and from formats to consumers. On its own, that's a lofty goal.

Brian O'Leary

About Brian O'Leary

Founder and principal of Magellan Media Consulting, Brian O’Leary helps enterprises with media and publishing components capitalize on the power of content. A veteran of more than 30 years in the publishing industry and a prolific content producer himself, Brian leverages the breadth and depth of his experience to deliver innovative content solutions.

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