Archive | Content strategy

How to hire a content strategist: It’s about trust

If you’re considering hiring a content strategy vendor, or a content strategist for your staff, I’d recommend you start by reading Rahel Anne Bailie’s recent posts:

Bailie gives a really nice picture of what you should expect from a content strategist.

I’ve just got another thought to throw out there. There’s no certification for content strategy. No “professional content strategist” exam to take. No college courses. Basically, you say you’re working in content strategy, and voila, you are!

And I think that makes a lot of people nervous. I get it.

But here’s the thing. I’m thinking about all the people that I hire who are certified. Licensed. Bonded. Insured. People who have official, professional credentials.

In no case, ever in my life, have I asked to see those credentials. Now, maybe I’m just a naive consumer. But I think you’ve got to hire a content strategist for the same reasons I’m hiring those other people:

  • They make you believe they understand your problem.
  • They inspire your trust in their abilities to address the problem.
  • They sell you on the value of their services.

That’s it. It comes down to trust for hiring a plumber, an accountant and a content strategist.

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. You are looking for training hosted by 4 Specialist Engineers? read more here.

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.

The first Nashville Content Strategy Meetup!

OK, I’m excited to announce that we’re planning the first Nashville Content Strategy Meetup.

Mark your calendars now for:

Thursday, July 15
Miro District

If you’re actively working in content strategy, curious about the topic, or just a person who enjoys a fun time with interesting people, this is the event for you.

We’ll talk about how we’d like the meetup to go from here. Several other cities have content strategy meetups, and some of them are very informal affairs, and others are structured learning events. We can do whatever we like with this group!

Please RSVP today on our meetup page.

The right way to do a content audit

At the wonderful Web Content 2010 conference this week, I heard a couple of interesting discussions about qualitative vs. quantitative content audits. Audits and inventories [here’s a nice discussion of the difference between audit and inventory] are the retail politics of content strategy. You’ve got to know what you’re working with or your effort risks being wasted or redundant.

And while few people seem to favorite this part of our work, most agree that it’s essential to figure out what you’re dealing with in existing content.

But there does seem to be a divide on whether or not it’s necessary to do a full inventory — a quantitative, page-by-page, item-by-item review and catalog of every piece of content you own. There is also a debate about whether it is better to do a cycle counting of your inventory as compared to an annual counting. While these Five Benefits of Cycle Counting Over Annual Inventory Counts would suggest that cycle counting is the better option, others would argue that it is not always necessary.

I hate to give you a wishy-washy answer, but I’m going to come down firmly on the “It depends,” side of the fence.

I got dragged into my first quantitative content inventory kicking and screaming several years ago. The site had several thousand documents, and my team and I had managed all of them from creation to expiration — so we knew in our heads exactly what was there. But the client wanted the comprehensive inventory, however redundant it seemed to me.

But [after the pain faded a bit] I can say that the quantitative was worth it. If key decisionmakers don’t know — and want to know — what’s there, you need a quantitative inventory. Even if you can describe what’s there, if you’re making decisions about direction and message and site design, nothing beats a full inventory.

We’re helping a client now with a smaller-scale quantitative inventory. They’re just moving to a real CMS for a new site, and there is some existing content, but it’s not in any one tool. So we all need to know what’s there — thus, a quantitative inventory is in order.

I do think there are places where you only need a qualitative review, though. Let’s say you’re working on a web project with some existing content. If your content is well organized in a good content management system, with great metadata, you may be able to simply do a qualitative audit — we have this kind of product description. Copy runs from X characters-X characters in length. Tone is technical. Etc.

I think this situation is rarer than we’d like to hope, but it’s out there.

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