College for content strategists

I had to laugh when reading DJ Francispost listing blog ideas for content strategists. Right about halfway through was the question I get more and more often:

How did your college degree prepare you for your content strategy job, especially since it’s highly likely you did not major in content strategy? What path would you recommend to future strategists?

Now, I’ve worked in web content and digital media for the vast majority of my career, but it seems that only recently I’ve begun to get this question. And it really mystifies me.

People, when I went to college, we didn’t even use email.

So no, I didn’t major in content strategy.

But I did spend a lot of my time in and outside the classroom preparing for this career, albeit inadvertently.

Hands-on experience
I was the editor of the student newspaper at Vanderbilt in 1992. It was some of the best professional training I’ve had, right up to the present day. I had to motivate and manage about 100 volunteers total [we had no paid staffers], make a whole lot of quick decisions with imperfect, incomplete information, and I basically spent an entire year making mistake after mistake.

It’s still one of the best things I’ve ever done.

It’s just downright embarrassing to compare the papers we put out in January with the ones we did in the second half of the year. Learn by doing.

So that definitely prepared me for a lot of the editorial experiences I’ve built on ever since. By the mid-1990s, I was knee-deep in web content, and from the beginning, the transition from print felt like drinking from a firehose. [There’s a subject for another post for you….]

Your perspective matters
I do think something else from college really did prepare me for this career, though. Vanderbilt gives students a broad, liberal arts education, even if you have a specialized major like engineering. I was a European History major, but it could have been anything, I think. I learned how to think. I continue to use the critical thinking skills I learned in college every single day.

Getting into this field
If I were giving advice to someone today hoping to get into this field, I guess the best thing I could say would be: Start managing content. As much as you can. And read as much as you can about how the field of content strategy is developing. There’s a lot of great work going on, trying to quantify the strategies that make for compelling websites. But it’s still early days, and we need more people to dive in and help to carry the banner for content strategy.

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  1. Tweets that mention College for content strategists « Laura Creekmore -- Topsy.com - June 17, 2010

    […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by DJ Francis, Paul Williams. Paul Williams said: Couple of good questions answered for college kids thinking content strategy: http://bit.ly/beiGDQ […]

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