Content-tious Strategy

by Jeffrey MacIntyre

28 Reader Comments

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  1. I only speak to those that are working with client’s sites. To me, the information architect is the content liaison between the client and the designer when you’re working with clients. It’s there job to get the client to deliver content that fits the big picture, and to then figure out what belongs where.
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  2. From my experience as a designer/developer, clients generally either think they know how to write good content themselves, or else expect the designer to write good copy for them.  I’ve only had one client who saw their need for someone else to look over their content and format it for the web.  The rise of the content strategist would be a great thing for the web - if clients will begin to see the need for them. “From a recently launched blog?”  Doesn’t the author deserve a little link love?
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  3. Until this post I had no idea you could put Content Strategist on a business card and mean anything. I work marketing for small businesses, which often entails wearing several hats at the same time. I didn’t even know I had this hat on! Isn’t it funny how some people think that content just appears?
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  4. Hmmm… Content Strategist! Interesting. I guess I qualify for the title too.. N I’m so glad I can do away with something like.. “has written many articles..” ;)
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  5. Hi Jeff, I like the diagram! I’ve tried this myself several times using Vin diagrams and multi-variant charts. I’ve flipped through Tuffte looking for inspiration and come up empty. The biggest problem I’ve had is in showing how the various content skills needed change over time during a typical project lifecycle. Analysis skills are needed during the early phases of a project (deciding WHAT to do). Slowly they give way to writing, editorial, and project management skills as content development work takes over. Then the analysis comes back as the project winds down to work on forward-looking editorial calendars, maintenance, and governance issues. Wildly different skills are needed at different times. I’m frustrated as well, but it does seem that the title Content Strategist is gaining some traction. As I look at job postings, I’m seeing more companies seeking content strategists by name in job ads. Not just the usual agency suspects like Razorfish and Sapient, but more large companies that do their own, internal Web development projects. A good sign I hope!
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  6. It’s amazing when I look into my RSS reader and see just the article that I need right now. We’re helping several different organizations who are just beginning to see the values that business blogging and social media can bring to the table. With each meeting, their recurring questions have been what content will be valuable to our target audience? How do we begin to understand what content is already available in our organization? Working with each of these medium-sized businesses has really opened my eyes to the fact that ‘content strategy’ is service that I already provide to a certain degree - defining what it is specifically will help us sell it in terms of it’s value. Food for thought on my part… I must dig deeper.
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  7. I’m sure many would shudder at the idea of it. However unpleasant, it is a practice of some companies with limited resources and a lack of understanding about the importance of content on the web. I know of a few companies that have their project managers draw a mockup of what they want the site to be, write the content, and think out the IA. It isn’t there fault, there just isn’t anyone else to do it. One of the many issues with this is that it obviously doesn’t fit their strengths. A project manager was hired for their ability to organize people and make timelines. A project manager could potentially be hired on this alone and have never used a website before in their lives. Yet they are often put in a position to make all of the important decisions around a website. Of course it is backwards thinking, but it happens more often than we may realize.
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  8. Being industrious is swell and all. But it’s been a drag how a particularly driven work week kept me from such thoughtful discussion here! Thanks to you folks for your $0.02 in comments and email, and a fresh round to the ALA staff for the hospitality they’ve extended Kristina and myself. Colour me all kinds of flattered. They’ve done us a good turn by shining their spotlight on the content community—which can seem, at times, a candelit affair by comparison. That’s all changing. Now, to your questions… * *Content strategist = Writer + Editor + Publisher* Chris, I’d tweeted and blogged the fellow my props before, but you’re correct: Terrell Johnson’s “Jobs for English Majors”:http://jobsforenglishmajors.com/content-strategists-what-they-do-where-they-work/ is the inspiration for this article’s kicker. More importantly, his definition of content strategy has chimed with more people than anything I’ve ever seen or heard. It’s my going portmanteau for explaining what we do. Terrell: Patent pending, I trust? * *Diagramming the content strategy landscape*: Richard, this is something we’ve discussed before, but I’ll be happy to see a very limited shelf life for my napkin scrawls. I’m all for organizing principles and they can’t get here fast enough, especially when you consider all the interesting intellectual property content folk have cooked up in their respective camps. (But that’s another article.) I want my grand unified theory already! And I hear you on the Tuftean drive to visualize the disciplinary field. Allow me to direct any readers interested in this venture to the “Periodic Table of Visualization Methods”:http://www.visual-literacy.org/periodic_table/periodic_table.html, post-haste. * *Customer as CS, PM as CS*: It happens; but, sir, it ain’t natural. Shouldn’t clients and project managers be holding the steering wheel? Of course, if they have the competency, organizations needn’t ask for content know-how in the first place. (Sometimes surprises occur on that count, particularly among the publishing set, whom consider their perspective on content their strong suit.) One of the most interesting professional developments for me in the past two years has been the racing speed at which clientele have become acclimated not just to their need and appetite for content strategy deliverables, but to the lexicon itself. Which means digital publishers are getting—hold the phones!—digitally literate. Bully for us all, I say. * *All I know about content strategy*: You can genuinely fit on a “single page”:http://predicate-llc.com/archive . Now, go read that darn “Kristina Halvorson”:http://www.alistapart.com/articles/thedisciplineofcontentstrategy article again and dig the flurry of feedback!
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  9. What happened to the ‘editors’ out there?  Did that label get binned?  Or is it too darn unfashionable…?  The skill sets you describe are totally necessary, but I’m not convinced we need to create a whole new terminology around it… I work with a stack of great web editors who know their onions and do all this stuff… and - bonus - clients even seem to understand their value.
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  10. I’ve been calling myself a Web Content Consultant—how else to say end-to-end content manager, Web editor, persuasive copywriter?—but this title is much more fitting. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve shared Web content best practices and benefits with marketers (and potential clients), only to have the content strategy and plan still be questioned as necessary. Re-purposing content from a variety of sources (old syndicated articles, print marketing campaigns, TV commercials, etc) seems to be the most common go-around. As if the designer or developer can make that content work. Trying to explain the Frankenstein user experience that would result from this stitched-together path is really tough. I’ve book-marked your article; it will be a tremendous help with future proposals. Thank you!
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  11. I am in agreement with Roger. What is wrong with the Editor title? In our collective desire to define what it is we do, I think we have miss placed a couple of basic truths.  Humans mainly think in stories. There are significant cultural components to stories, various styles of illustration, taboos, and iconic elements. The Messages that these stories deliver are short and to the point. People get confused if you give them too many choices. Web pages should be focused on specific messages, and web sites need to tell a coherent story.  Here is where the Editor comes into his / her own. They are the keepers of the “Purpose”.
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  12. Hey folks - thanks for everyone’s continued discussion on ALA Issue #274. Roger, here at Brain Traffic, we have web writers, web editors, and content strategists. The skill sets absolutely overlap, but they are three very distinct (and necessary!) roles on any large-scale website project. The content strategist is responsible for articulating exactly which content will be published, planning for how it will be created, and establishing guidelines for what will happen to it after it’s online. The web editor provides oversight during the web content development process. The editor also enforces governance standards once content is live. The web writer is responsible for a variety of tasks, including research, writing, tagging, writing metadata, and so on. Again, these are distinct roles, but it doesn’t mean they have to be separate people. As for requiring a ” whole new terminology” - this isn’t new! It’s just misunderstood and used inconsistently. Jeff and I both think our industry needs to align on language around these efforts so we practitioners can all find each other and share ideas, tools, and successes.
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  13. That’s a baseball analogy I’m using. It means ““to take responsibility for doing something.”“:http://idioms.thefreedictionary.com/step+up+to+the+plate. If it were a dinner table analogy it would mean “eat whatever is on your plate.” We don’t build websites we build communications tools. (You can read a spin of that in the comments on Kristina’s post.) So, rather than allow content professionals (which-is-all-of-us) to be subjugated to second class citizenry below the IA, UX and UCD classes we need to put them all on the same level. As a team. And we need to understand who is the lead-off hitter. I was not surprised at the contempt for the Project Manager. PMs in the web world act the same as they do in the software world. They are schedule and budget task masters. But maybe there is a better way? In the last century an industry arose. It was populated by creative and imaginative people. Geographic centers of excellence sprung up. Large conglomerates dominated but an underbelly of solo practitioners and experimenters worked in basements and barns and garages and bedrooms, practicing their craft. The craft evolved and roles became more and more defined. Sometimes on person did it all. Other times large teams were involved in the process. And it all seemed to work for the craft of filmmaking. This has stunned me for going on 15 years or so. Why have computer related creative crafts such as interface designers, web coders, etc. shunned a tried and true model? (Yes, you could argue that the model has been brutalized by big business, but follow me a second.) Filmmaking (and TV and video production behind it) has a role called “The Producer”. And one called the “The Director” and “The Writer” and others like “Cameraman” and “Make-up Artist” and “Production Manager”. Why hasn’t the web business adopted a simliar model? The current PM role is a couple of steps down the ladder from the Producer and Director. (Director could be equated to Creative Director in the web industry.) Where is the “Producer” in the web world? The person that has the vision, does the upfront work (analysis) and then guides the team through completion? Oh, and Producer does NOT equal Account Exec. The producer role has been “officially” missing from almost every multimedia and web project I’ve worked on. It’s a role ad title I use for myself. It has similarities to the PM role but has so much more. I’ve played a designer and a coder on TV but I know it’s not my strong suit. So I bring in the professionals. Why would the model work for the web industry? Because motion pictures and websites are both communications vehicles created to teach, persuade or generate emotion. Or all any combination thereof. There is a vocabulary difference between the film industry and the web industry. Certainly a skills difference. But the process of the “creative” is the same: analysis, content, design and execution. But no one on the web team is assigned to the “analysis” (not technical, but creative) portion of the project. So sometimes the creative director does it, Sometimes the PM does it. And sometimes (shudder - no offense) the coder does it. If we organized our teams using a proven model instead of reinventing the wheel for the last 15 years or so the discussion in this post wouldn’t be so “contentious”. Leave the business to the PM or Executive Producers. Let’s do the fun stuff.
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  14. First I’d like to thank Mr. Macintyre and Mrs. Halvorson for feeding our curiosity :)
    Then I would like to share my opinion with you. The article’s theme is relevant to many people. But the time it takes to read may scare them off. As a person who’s mother tongue isn’t english, I was confronted with many three-lines-long sentences, whose meaning could be expressed more clearly. I almost forgot the thoughts at the beginning, when I arrived at the end. I think content strategy should strive for clarity and unambiguity, to facilitate readability and achieve unhindered, effective communication. There’s no point to write a book, if there is only one sentence valuable. By unclear messages, some writers tend to say, that editors are responsible for this and vice versa. Hiding under “distinct roles” for not doing something should be of no excuse anymore. Especially when we work and learn (from our mistakes) together. I apologize for my bad english and wish you all the best for the upcoming year 2009! 
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  15. If nothing else, by announcing the existence of this role, you are helping to legitimize it as a line item on a proposal. I can’t tell you how often I’ve been both the PM and the copywriter. Ugh - no more!
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  16. The argument that clients think they can do their own content strategy is a common one, but it’s not insurmountable. In my experience, the #1 place that web projects fall apart is in content delivery. The magnitude of content requirements is more than most clients are able to take on. I have not found content strategy terribly difficult to explain to clients (I’ve pushed it a lot) but you do have to be willing to try and sell it as a separate service. Which is why this effort by Jeff, Kristina, et al. to have content strategy become more recognized is so valuable!
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  17. ... three months before you’ve learned to ride a motorcycle blindfolded, constructed a 50-foot ramp in your backyard, sewn the sequined bodysuit with a coiled cobra across the chest, or dreamed of YouTube fame and glory. In advertising terms, it’s like designing a billboard without any writing, recording a radio spot cause you discovered a zany sound effect, or directing a TV commercial before the product’s made. This is the lack of thinking that births Disaster Movie.  How can we create effective Web sites when we treat content like Han Solo? It’s not gonna just happen to appear right when we need it. I’m a designer, but when I try to visualize the best workflow for creating a site, it looks like this: 1. What are we trying to do with this site?
    2. What content/features best achieve that purpose?
    3. How can we make that content easily accessible?
    4. What else would improve the user’s experience?
    5. When are we getting Jimmy John’s delivered? The design has to serve a purpose; it has to mean something. To treat it like some cheap vamp that seals the deal with the client belittles my work and, ultimately, my team. So how do we change the conversation to include content strategy from the beginning?
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  18. Really enjoyed the article. Its been my feeling for quite some time that we have been designing more elegant containers for really poor content. Like drinking a $2 bottle of wine from the finest cut glass - it still tastes bad.
    Intranets particularly suffer from a seeming inability to control the amount and value of their content. I’ve not seen one that wouldn’t benefit from some ‘content strategy’
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  19. “Content strategists combine the skills of writers, editors and publishers to think in a holistic way about what users should see when they visit a site[.]” I have to say I really like that quote from your article. As a dyed-in-the-wool journalist and book editor, I find that many people in this “digital age” think that the generation of good content is something different than it’s always been. Good content is content that tells a good story, speaks with authenticity, and draws the reader into the world of the writer (or website). In short, it’s what good writing has always been. Story sense and the power in words—a discipline many centuries old. It’s my view that content creation and content strategy have to recover their roots in the discipline of good writing in itself. Thank you for writing your content-ious article. I’m glad that someone is speaking up so clearly about the need for clarity and discipline in content creation. Regards,
    Sharon, www.contentcoaching.com
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  20. Hi, I think this is a great article in that it discuses the “emerging” or potential emerging of a new field.  I wear many hats in my job and content has always been an issue. What I’d like to see, in a different article perhaps, are some concrete ways to map out your content.  The company I work for is undergoing a web site redesign and I am in charge of all aspects of the redesign.  Right now I am looking at the content and mapping out what needs to be re-written, cut, or created (this after creating wire frames, a site matrix or two, etc).  I use a very detailed spreadsheet in order to keep things in order.  I guess my question is what tools do you use to create your content strategy/content matrix?  Or is content strategy (the way you are talking about it) simply a concept that describes the content writer/manager/producer?
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  21. As someone who started in this business 8 years ago with the title Content Strategist/Information Architect, I have only recently declared independence from IA with a desire to continue my career more exclusively as a Content Strategist.  One of the reasons I hesitated making the jump to CS only, was the fact that almost no employers understood the role or if they did, could separate it from being or under the purview of IA.  Today, I am a strong CS, not only due to my background in IA, but also due to other experiences including working in television production, writing, and working in marketing.  All have also had a major influence in the work I do in this area. I also have joined professional organizations related to UxD and IA searching for fellow compatriots in CS, but have yet to find or be able to connect with other CS person.  What do you say to a CS Meetup Group in the NYC area? Thanks for your great article - I don’t feel quite so alone…
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  22. @ Christi R.: Content strategy work is indeed about specific and often tactical deliverables, and I’ve considered formulating a follow-up piece to start talking brass tacks, identifying the things content strategists are frequently asked to produce. Regardless, I think you can find some indications at the knol: “http://knol.google.com/k/jeffrey-macintyre/content-strategy/”:url @ Lisa Trager: There’s movement afoot to help the content specialist community come together and I think a formal association is only a matter of time and proper planning. Check out the upcoming day-long symposium on content strategy at the March ‘09 IA Summit: “http://iasummit.org/2009/program/consortium/”:url . As to a group, there’ve been suggestions of everything from a Twitter hashtag to Facebook group and I think it only fair that a proper Darwinian winnowing of the options present itself. In other words, what’s the CS-appropriate communications vehicle of choice, and how can we use to best integrate our existing blogging, tweeting, whatever—so that we’re not just creating another silo and timesink, but instead opening a genuine keyhole onto this emerging community? The answer ain’t academic: it’s actually integral to what we do in devising effective, efficient online interactions. So something is in the cards and if you follow Brain Traffic’s blog (“http://braintraffic.typepad.com/”:url) I’m sure the news will be posted there.
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  23. After reading this article and the comments, I remain unconvinced that content strategists are more than editors by another name. The suggestion that editors will apply print models inappropriately assumes that this is the universal (or at least typical) background of an editor. I had been working in web publishing for more than six years before I realised that most of my work was editing — not just writing and copy editing content for spelling, grammar, house style and readability, but also identifying gaps and finding writers to fill them, organising user testing, tweaking navigation labels and structure, creating metadata and more. I then undertook a Graduate Diploma in Editing and Publishing and discovered that editors also liaise with printers, typographers, designers and marketing/sales staff and manage end-to-end projects. In Gerry McGovern’s 2002 _Content critical_, he identifies the job of managing editor who is:
    “... responsible for the timeliness and quality of the website’s content, and for the quality and efficiency of the editorial process. “They oversee the website’s overall editorial strategy and policies, approval policies, and content commission and acquisition processes. The managing editor also gives progress reports and analysis on the website to the organisation. ... The two most important responsibilities of the managing editor are to motivate authors to create quality content, and to understand the readers’ needs…. Specific responsibilities of the managing editor include ... managing content ... managing the editorial process ... managing the staff ... championing the reader ... championing the website ... monitoring, reviewing and reporting.” Sounds like a ‘content strategist’ to me!
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  24. In devising a strategy we need to have a set of objectives (measurable) and goals (lofty) to attain. Then the content is data made up to be palatable to the audience in one fashion or another.  So what we have in a content strategist is a person who dresses up content that achieves a set of specific measurable objective en route to a goal.  I am marketer but I think about content all the time, so I think about the end user all the time and how my content needs to connect with them. Easy enough.  But where it gets difficult is in keeping it concise (traditional editorial is now too long), make it visible to search engines, and still convey reach for the objective (conversion).  All this and Content Strategy is not even part of my job description… Yet.
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  25. We work with two large sites each having 63Million+ pages and without some structure or content strategy things can get out of hand very quickly
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  26. ...for your contribution in helping this emerging field gel in the minds of web professionals! Where I work, our team realizes more and more that no matter what your business goals may be, Content is King. Content is at the heart of the context, value and substance your users are seeking. If you are TRULY a user-centric web developer, then your content has to have the time, attention and expertise your users deserve. It’s just smart business.
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  27. Well, content is a King, but there are other important criterias to boots traffic
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  28. I believe that relevant content in a pre-completed design leads to a can of worms.  Therefore, I came up with an actual interesting dummy text generator for designers, developers, and writers to utilize.  http://www.sumlip.com
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