The Content Strategy Conversation

Kristina Halvorson has written a very thought provoking article called The Discipline of Content Strategy over on A List Apart. The reader comments after the article are equally interesting and engaging, so I’d call it a smashing success! I agree with those that say that the discussion of this discipline is in roughly the same place that the discussion of IA was about 10-15 years ago, and I’m so happy to see people actively taking part in advancing the conversation. Halvorson makes several really good points, but there remains a need to connect the dots. This is not a criticism of the article, I think it’s just where the discipline is at this point in time.

Halvorson makes a case, early in the article, for content strategies that actually address the strategy of how content is created and used on a site. This seems like it should be obvious, but in my experience, content is often an afterthought on web projects. Content Strategists are often engaged after all the why‘s and how‘s have been defined, and we’re tasked with just finding a way to cram some content in there, and hopefully make sure it’s as useful as possible. This is a shame, because it means there are a lot of missed opportunities to incorporate effective content strategy planning into a project. (Though I have to admit that, in my own career, I’ve noticed a lot of improvements in this area in the past six months or so).

Then Halvorson defines several possible subdisciplines of content strategy. These make a lot of sense, but I have to wonder: in which of these would you find the sort of uber-strategy aspects that are described at the beginning of the article? The “Why?” aspect of content, for example. I think that’s one of the most neglected areas of the discipline because people tend to take content for granted.

I agree with her assertion that it would be difficult for any one person to be an expert in all of these subdisciplines. My approach has been to try to have a good working understanding of each of them, and deep expertise in a couple of them. Maybe when the discipline is more mature, there will be more specialization. Although you could make the argument that there is already specialization, it’s just that some of these subdisciplines are embodied in people in other roles – Editorial Project Mangers oversee Editorial strategy, Editors and Writers are becoming fluent in Web writing, Data Librarians establish the Metadata strategy, SEM experts get involved in Search engine optimization, IT folks take the lead on Content management strategy, and Publishers guide Content channel distribution strategy.

I think the strength of pulling all of these disparate activities into one discipline, Content Strategy, is exactly the perspective that we can bring as the person who is asking “WHY CONTENT?” Each of these subdisciplines will be so much more effective when they’re working towards the common goal of serving a well defined overall content strategy. The Content Strategist doesn’t have to be the person on the team who is the most knowledge about the technical ins and outs of the CMS, but she does have to understand the overarching goals of the content strategy, and how the CMS can and should support them.

3 thoughts on “The Content Strategy Conversation

  1. Pingback: Posts about SEO as of December 20, 2008 | The Lessnau Lounge

  2. Rachel, it’s as enjoyable as it is appropriate to see you weighing in on this discussion, since you did so much to start the dialogue at Boxes & Arrows nearly two years ago! And it’s been a pleasure sharing the ALA soap box with Kristina for this week’s dual content strategy issue.

    I believe the CS field’s maturation is coming along in a pretty stimulating and legitimate fashion, and I’m seeing it reflected most strongly in client organizations: in the language of client needs and how they articulate the nature of their content challenges. Just as so many come to an increased awareness of their role as publishers online, they are groking the CS toolkit and asking for its deliverables by name. It’s not some kind of black magic marketingspeak, and they register that credibility with us. Which is pretty sweet.

    The bigger challenge, however, is whether content strategists can start to generate community and knowledge across its specialist camps, and as you rightly point out, whom can begin to bridge those areas of expertise as upper-case Strategists for the content issue as a whole.

  3. Rachel

    Thanks Jeff. I agree – recently I’ve noticed a lot more awareness of content strategy issues in my client work. I’m hoping that this means the market will help drive the community to coalesce. There’s definitely a lot more activity than there was 2 years ago (was it really that long?).

    And don’t worry, I’ll be commenting on your ALA article next!

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