Content Strategy: The Philosophy of Data

Not that familiar with “content strategy?” That’s ok. It’s in my job title, and I struggle every time I’m asked what I do for a living. Many people have no idea what it means, but even more people bring their own (wrong) assumptions to the conversation. Usually they think it has something to do with writing copy. That’s not entirely false, but it’s kind of misleading.

The analogy I’ve been using recently is that content strategy is to copywriting as information architecture is to design. I find this analogy to be especially encouraging because six years ago, as the crest of the first wave of the web was about to break, people had no idea what “information architecture” meant either.

The irony of this communication challenge is that the main goal of content strategy is to use words and data to create unambiguous content that supports meaningful, interactive experiences. We have to be experts in all aspects of communication in order to do this effectively.

So, why has it been so hard for us to communicate what we do?

Perhaps the problem is that, because content is so pervasive, everyone thinks they know all there is to know about it. If you can read and write, you can make content, right? (Nearly 60 million blogs may prove that.) But the fact is, as interactive experiences become more complex, so does the nature of content. A superficial understanding of content isn’t going to cut it anymore. Content strategists in the digital age need to become data philosophers and explore the metaphysics of content, starting with the question “What is content?”

Everything is content

When we were developing a deep metadata system for the website of a national entertainment magazine, my colleague and friend, Chris Sizemore, would say, “Everything is content.” And I tend to agree.

Everything is content? What about design? Yes, it’s content. Structure? Content. Metadata? Also content. You probably expected a more incisive analysis than that. Well, how about, “Literally, everything is content.”

How did the need for detailed focus on content emerge in the heavily visually oriented field of web design? As website functionality has increased and web users have become savvier, sites have had to meet the demand for sophisticated interaction and more content to support it. But simply more content won’t do; it has to be accurate and relevant. It has to be meaningful.

There are many factors that determine whether something is meaningful, but the primary one, at least as far as web applications are concerned, is relationships. Is article Z related to the topic I clicked on? Show it to me. Is image B the same as the image I’m already looking at? For Pete’s sake, don’t make me look at it again! These and other subtle, dynamic, and complex relationships need to be expressed in precise ways that computers can translate into rules. As an example, let’s take the seemingly straightforward example of “sameness.” How do you determine when two pieces of content are the same?

You could say that every data record is unique and therefore distinct, but that doesn’t help us draw any kind of relationship between two chunks of text that are, in all ways, identical. So, maybe having exactly identical bytes makes two pieces of content the same. But, what about an article and a translation of that article? What about an image and a resized version of that image? To a reader, it looks the same, only smaller. How about a cropped version of that image?

The question “What constitutes sameness?” may seem somewhat academic, but it has very practical implications when you’re setting up a content management system (CMS). How you capture an article and its translation can make a huge difference in how that article is produced, published, and ultimately, used on the site. The way an image and its resized and cropped versions are stored in the CMS will likewise have a huge impact on both production and access.

Critical mass

If you’re presenting a very small amount of information you can (arguably) just put it out there and let people make sense of it.

stakeholder influence chart
A very simple website may not require much IA or content strategy.

Start adding more information and, pretty quickly, you’ll need to apply some structure to it to help people find their way around. This is where information architects come in, applying organizing principals and visual cues so that people can look at a site and quickly know what’s there, without having to think about it too much. If the information architect (IA) also happens to have an interest in words, she may carefully craft the labels that are used on the buttons and think about what sort of language best conveys the messages of the site. If she doesn’t have that interest or experience, this is a good place to get a content strategist (CS) involved. The CS will also work closely with the IA to make sure that the organization of the site makes sense and will be supported by the content that’s available.

stakeholder influence chart
A more complex site requires some organization

As we start to design and build websites with massively larger volumes of content, we find that often they’ve outgrown the ability of individuals to manually organize them. Now we need automation and complex algorithms to find that needle in the haystack. We need the content to include inherent meaning that makes sense to machines, for example, to support data-driven applications based on search, browse, and related links. A content strategist is the person with specialized focus on making sure that the content is meaningful and the site is designed to make the best use of it.

Time to get practical

So, when we’re done philosophizing (for now) and we’ve figured out who’s going to be responsible for the content, how do we go about infusing it with meaning?

To make content that’s relevant to people, we choose the words and sentence structures that will best contribute to achieving our communication goals. The voice should be based on a deep understanding of the intentions of the content creators, as well as the needs of the content consumers. This approach can be captured in an editorial styleguide providing guidelines and examples that will help others craft content and messages in a similar voice.

To make content more useful to machines, we structure it and define standard elements so that the content can be used and reused dynamically. We write taxonomies and add metadata so that the content can be identified more easily. We create relationships between content so that it has more context and can support a variety of complex functions.

To make content more efficient to produce, we evaluate and recommend solutions for creating, enhancing, organizing, and using content, including content management systems, metadata tools, search engines, and faceted navigation applications. We establish business rules and workflows that will optimize the use of these tools and systems.

To make content comprehensive, we determine content requirements for a site, inventory existing content, identify gaps, evaluate possible sources for additional material, and manage the process of getting that content into production. Given the right background or source material, we can write labels, overviews, or even longer content if needed.

And don’t be surprised if, in the course of doing these tasks and creating these deliverables, those old philosophical questions pop up again to complicate seemingly straightforward issues. Here’s another brain teaser for you: “What distinguishable qualities indicate that some content items will be as relevant in three months as they are today, while other content will be out-of-date in a few hours?” (Hint: There’s no single correct answer.)

Strategies for working with content strategy

If you are a content strategist,

  • Start asking yourself and your colleagues the difficult questions about content (e.g., “What is content?”, “What would make it more meaningful?”).
  • Open dialogs about how to generate more meaning in your content and how to determine how much is enough. Develop models for cost/benefit analysis.
  • Look at different content models and determine appropriate uses.
  • Explore some of the emerging tools that can help reduce the burden of content production. Invent new uses and requirements for these tools and tell the developers so that they can make them better.

If you work with content strategists,

  • Find time to philosophize with them about content. Have patience with discussions of issues that may not seem like they’re leading directly to solutions–sometimes this perspective is needed to come up with the ideal content approach.
  • Involve them in the project as soon as you start analyzing what the site is going to be. Don’t wait until the site is structured and designed and you realize that you need some content to fill the pages.

If you don’t work with content strategists, but you think you would like to,

  • Demonstrate to your organization how this kind of role could save time and effort, help avoid problems, and make your end product better. After the conclusion of any project, you can probably come up with many examples of “If we had only realized this before…” Base your case on the content-related examples and you’re halfway there.
  • If that doesn’t work, figure out who in your organization is most interested in the theory of content, encourage them to get metaphysical about it, and then bring them back down to Earth so you can get to work on the practical stuff.

Content strategy may not be fully defined or widely understood, but that shouldn’t stop you from doing it. Make time in your projects to deeply consider the content requirements, and the content philosophers in your ranks will rise to the occasion.

Posted in Big Ideas, Design Principles, Learning From Others, Special topic: Content strategy | 34 Comments »

34 Comments

  • Jung Carsten

    March 27, 2007 at 3:24 pm

    I really don’t get the argument, what makes a CS so important. I miss some examples because seldomly you have to create lots and lots of content for a client. They bring the content by themselves and normally it is reduced to the products they offer. So after reading this article I have the idea of a job, created exclusively in an very, very big agency…

  • Maxim Lysakovsky

    March 27, 2007 at 4:52 pm

    Even though the functions of CS are necessary I don’t see how Information Architect wouldn’t be able to fulfill those.
    “If the information architect (IA) also happens to have an interest in words…” – IA MUST have interest in words, IA has to create labels etc..

  • David Shen

    March 27, 2007 at 5:13 pm

    It seems as though today’s internet professionals need to be multidisciplinary. One area that is rarely discussed is the technical aspects of content strategy. Tagging, categorization, etc as it is implemented on the technical side is very important so that information is available to users as well as to internal staff in an easy, accessible way, and not buried in a DB to never be able to be accessed again…or only through months of undoing code because the DB wasn’t built to handle that.

    The technical implementation of content is an important part of strategizing the content itself and I’d love to hear more discussion on this topic and perhaps case studies on what has worked and what has not…

  • Bianca Prade

    March 27, 2007 at 6:58 pm

    This is a great post that I can completely relate to. As a fellow content strategist, I am often questioned by IAs and Project Managers about the value add of such a role. It’s comforting to know that other content strategists have also experience the same challenges. It would be wonderful to channel those energies by more publicly defining the discipline perhaps by forming an industry trade group.

    Bianca Prade
    http://webcontentstrategy.com/

  • Richard Marsh

    March 28, 2007 at 7:22 am

    Hi Rachel, thank you for your article. I have to admit my first reaction wasn’t positive due to a couple of key points that you have made but there is a but at the end of my response:

    a) the analogy which you have provided has probably been met with some surprise too many IA’s as we have to consider content very carefully, as this is absolutely key to the sites that we architect, and often covers all of the content considerations that you mention, which doesn’t seem to be your experience of IA’s which seems odd.

    b) I also think your statement that the primary factor of relevant content is relationships isn’t clear and perhaps incorrect as relationships do not make the content Relevant to the User per say. I could have a single article that is very relevant providing the User arrives at content item through accurate and clear selection, through clear content navigation or perhaps Search engine, which is generally made possible through well structured taxonomies, meta data and the actual content. The concept of accurate, timely and well structured content an interesting subject.

    However on a much more positive note, and I finally get there, content always requires great effort and can easily be a cause for site delays even after providing site maps, wireframes, editorial tone guidelines, and web writing guidelines and using key word systems to assist and or automate meta tagging and relationship building, as often keeping content aligned with these can be be difficult for content authors and very time consuming so to have a practice group focused on this may help on projects and raise best practice standards on the web.

    I hope we can get more articles for discussion on the topic of good content. There are also some nice articles on Bianca’s site.

    I think that we should be careful not to flame the role of Content Strategists as IA’s as I’m sure many of us if we think back have met the same kind of resistance in the past when establishing the IA role :)

    Best regards,

    Richard

  • Richard Marsh

    March 28, 2007 at 7:31 am

    Sorry if my point b) is slightly unclear my fault for trying to write standing up on train, I hope the gist of this point is understood.

    As a small extension to point b): Relationships can provide a very effective way of exposing further content which the user may also be interested and in that we see this mechanism used massively on blogs and many of the web2.0 tagged apps. Which can assist massively with making sites sticky. (Sticky still seems odd phrase.. ah well)

    best regards,

    Richard Marsh
    http://www.creative-resonance.com

  • Richard Marsh

    March 28, 2007 at 7:47 am

    Honestly my last point :P

    In terms of content there is a high level artifact which I forgot to mention which is a communications strategy. This is typically started at the beginning of a project with stakeholders and content focused experts (not mentioning specific titles such as Content Strategists, Creative Directors, Copywriters, IA’s) and is meant to provide a living definition of editorial with regard what is to be said where, by whom, when.

    best regards,

    Richard Marsh
    http://www.creative-resonance.com

  • Andrew Rickmann

    March 28, 2007 at 7:52 am

    It appears as though there is a significant overlap between information architecture and content strategy; although, it would surprise me if that were not the case.

    Bianca, your point is very interesting: that you find IAs often question the value of the content strategy role. It seems that both roles should to compliment each other well and lead to a more fullfilling result when they work together. I would have thought that each would be in the best position to appreciate the other.

  • Rachel Lovinger

    March 28, 2007 at 5:11 pm

    Thanks for all the interesting and thought provoking comments.

    I definitely agree with Andrew, and I hope this came across in the article, that there’s a strong connection between IA and CS. I think that, regardless of job title, the role of thinking about content strategy can be taken on by many different people on a project, and often it will be IAs who do this. While I have worked with some IAs who don’t seem to be willing or able to really consider the deeper implications of the content on a site, more often my experience is that IAs are very aware of and concerned about content, but the constraints on their time mean that there’s a limit to how deeply they can afford to delve into it. For the development of content rich sites, it can be very helpful to have one person who focuses primarily on content issues (including scope, tone & voice, taxonomy, etc.) and makes content-specific recommendations, as part of the complete user experience picture.

    Richard, my comment about content relationships probably needs to be explained a little more clearly. I meant this in a much broader sense than a list of related articles at the end of a piece of content. The fact that the user found an article in the first place is probably because, through some combination of the content, metadata and business rules about relevance, the search application determined that the article is related to the term that the user typed into the search box. Search is becoming so sophisticated that usually we don’t even notice the fine distinctions that a system has made in determining relevance. Additional contextual services embedded on the page (weather info, tickets sales, news feeds, stock quotes, etc) are also based on having some relationship to the content itself. Maybe a person hand selected each service, but increasingly these services are driven by metadata relationships captured with the content.

    What I mean is, in a broad sense, content search and discovery (as you say “accurate and clear selection”) is often dependent on the relationships that are expressed within the content, its structure and its metadata.

  • Robert Williams

    March 28, 2007 at 7:47 pm

    When I’ve worn the “content strategy” hat, the best and most productive relationships with IAs I’ve had were the ones similar to editor/writer relationships. The “what” and “how” of web content and communications is still largely a creative endeavor (thankfully) and I’d look to IAs to optimize, provide structure to, or validate my ideas about content needs, relationships, and user value and its ability to support business/organization requirements. The least productive were when an IA would hand over a stack of wireframes and say something to the effect of “fill this out with content” (This approach always reminded me of those old Madlibs books).

    Increasingly I see the need for content strategy to really be organizational communications strategy– “Enterprise Content Strategy” (ECS) we’ll call it to coin yet another acronym. I see it as old fashioned campaign style management and creative direction with a doses of business analysis, SEO/SEM, technical content management and IA in the mix.

  • ed.j. bowers

    March 28, 2007 at 9:31 pm

    I find this piece very interesting and possibly helpful; if only from an emotional perspective. I didn’t know there were Content Strategists but I have been struggling to define a content strategy on my new job. We are a mid-sized firm offering Organizational and Personal Health resources and services. And we have just merged with one of our primary competitors.

    My challenge now is to sort out 7 or 8 years of legacy content from 2 organizations that now must think as one, so thank you for adding another couple of concepts to my portfolio.

  • Michael Betts

    March 29, 2007 at 6:03 pm

    Kudos, Rachel, for tackling an often sticky question. If this business were simply about “boxes and arrows,” we’d be faced with some pretty boring websites. I boil the role down to these three essentials: 1> helping the IA gain a deeper understanding of what’s actually going to be filling the buckets (because lord knows it’s not always what they had in mind), 2> translating the experience of wireframes and comps into something a content creator/copywriter can build a narrative around, especially a non-linear one, 3> working with the technical team to create a manageable system for creating, migrating, and maintaining massive amounts of content data.

    I also must second Robert’s comment that the IA/CS relationship can vary widely and each project generally benefits from some upfront discussion of who’s doing what and how you’re going to work together.

  • Prateek Sarkar

    March 29, 2007 at 8:47 pm

    Excellent article. Another key aspect to Content Strategy is the notion of developing a persuasive narrative via content. What is the problem that must be solved? How do we define success in solving that problem? The Content Strategist must optimize all elements of content around these questions. The best sites are those that have robust framework (good IA), and compelling story (good CS).

  • Josh C

    March 30, 2007 at 2:31 pm

    This is a new perspective for me. My current title is ‘Copywriter’, however, our team just completed design an implementation of an internal knowledge base. We worked in tandem with a wonderful IA and technology team to define user requirements. Where the IA was focused on marrying the design with the technology, we brought insight as to what users are looking for in the content and how to design the CMS and presentation layers for fast answers.

    We relied a great deal on information mapping theories, principles of adult learning, design and our unique organizational experience. The end result is a unique product fit for only our users but with a presentation that could be adjusted to other parts of the organization.

    Our team was the final word on designing the taxonomy, meta data, thesaurus, search configuration, tone/style of content, cms template configuration and many other facets. However, all of these decisions were formed in collaboration with the technology and design team members.

    I think the key is to recognize the dynamic nature of teams. Each member brought a different project background and talents. Sometimes these talents overlapped but the results is a better project for our client (employer). Content is still king and those that produce most of the content have unique insight into the needs of the user group. Each role is dependent on the other for success. Being part of project that can design and dictate content requirements from the outset is refreshing. IA, IT and other acronymns don’t always bring the freshest view of what’s possible. As an ignorant content producer we think more about what if’s because we don’t have to implement the technology to make it work.

  • Scott Abel

    March 30, 2007 at 9:25 pm

    Wow, this thread is an excellent one filled with all sorts of useful information — just like the article about which the comments were based. I think it’s important to understand that a content strategy is, to borrow from Ann Rockley et al, “a repeatable method of identifying all content requirements up front, creating consistently structured content for reuse, managing that content in a definitive source, and assembling content on demand to meet your customers’ needs.” (Managing Enterprise Content: A Unified Content Strategy” – New Riders) I think it’s important to acknowledge that a formal, repeatable method is a good idea for many projects, but does not mean that every content challenge warrants the same level of attention. Sometimes, you may play various roles on a project (content strategist, IA, stylesheet developer) and be asked to “divine” the best approach based on your gut feeling and limited information. I find this one of the most interesting parts of the information architecture field – the diversity of skills and experiences among its practitioners.

  • jod kaftan

    April 4, 2007 at 5:51 pm

    I find it amusing that IAs think content strategy is something that just involves “being good with words.” Writing does not consist of “making words.” Writing is the continuity of a thought process revealed through words. To assume all an IA has to do is brush up on their vocabulary to be sound at content strategy is like asking a content strategist to make your wireframes. Content strategy consists of a holistic view that’s not always measurable in quantifiable deliverables. It is a qualitative art that often involves intenste collaboration with disciplines who can’t penetrate the vernacular of speech with even their best instincts. And of course, content strategy is not bound only to content creation. A content strategist is better equipped to evaluate the merits of a client’s legacy content than any other discipline as most CS come from journalism/marketing/communication backgrounds. As a former employee of AARF, I can recall many a time a designer or IA came up to my pod with a plea for help.

  • Ray Whitney

    April 5, 2007 at 3:04 pm

    Thank you for a well-considered summary of content strategy.

    I have held the job title “Content Strategist” for longer than I care to admit, and (as I am sure you have experienced) the role has changed over the years. Different clients and different projects require different processes and artifacts, and as we move into a more interactive (“rich”) content model, our ability to analyze, strategize, and manage content becomes more critical to the architecture.

    I was humored by some of the early reponses that questioned the value of content strategist roles. How quickly people forget that IAs faced the identical value question a few as five years ago (and depending on where you are working, they are still facing the value proposition challenge).

    One thing that is worth reminding folks is that IAs come from a variety of backgrounds. Some come to IA from design, others through HFE studies. And let’s not forget the library sciences folks and the former programmers among us (I am certain that I am leaving out others.). As a result, different IAs approach their tasks from different perspectives. I have found that the best IAs have a broad background and a hunger to learn from others; and that the best teams have personnel whose experiences span a breadth of disciplines.

    As this applies to content strategy, I have always promoted a “hand in glove” approach. At times during a project IA is the hand (and content strategy is the glove), and at other points content strategy is the hand (and the IA is the glove). At all points, content strategy and IA are intimately intertwined; they are symbiotic.

    I happen to come to IA from a technical writing background. I have trained as a copy writer and an IA, and I market myself as an IA/Content Strategist. The result? I currently hold the title of content strategist.

    I suspect that as complex content interactions increase within enterprise systems, there will be an increasing need for content strategists within the core architecture and design teams.

    And it’s not a bad gig, if you can get it.

  • Hilary Marsh

    April 6, 2007 at 6:49 am

    Rachel,
    Thanks for your useful article — I’ve been making the same points for years! Content needs to be part of IA discussions, plays a crucial role in Web strategies, and needs to drive CMS decisions. It’s an ongoing challenge, because for all too many organizations, it’s a radical notion that your Web site needs a plan!

  • Rachel Lovinger

    April 8, 2007 at 12:18 am

    Ray, I love your description of the hand in glove approach. I’m definitely going to use that! Your point about IAs (and Content Strategists) coming from all different backgrounds is a good one. This is why there can easily be overlap between the responsibilities of people with the title Information Architect and people with the title Content Strategist. For the most part, we’re all working to solve the same problems.

  • Jonathan Baker-Bates

    April 25, 2007 at 4:05 pm

    I find this article interesting, but not very enlightening in terms of how the CS actually goes about wrangling large amounts of content into the design (other than talking to the IA – which, by the way, seems to be portrayed in a rather junior role here). It would be interesting to know more about how content strategy work is tied in to the design process on the day-to-day level of artefacts and methods.

  • Monti Lawrence

    May 3, 2007 at 8:28 pm

    What a timely discussion! I am an Information Architect/Content Repository Librarian looking for a more accurate title for what I do and I believe Content Strategist just might be it. We are in a content management system, with a ton of enterprise and consumer technical documentation. I am tasked with organizing this information in the CMS, implementing metadata, and training writers and editors in the ways of structuring content for reuse. I’m a little uncomfortable with the IA title as I’m so closely tied to content (in addition to understanding the toolset and designing repository usage). I’m a little uncomfortable with Content Repository Librarian because, to me, it loses the technical dimensions of my job and I’m not sure librarian is really the role I fill. I’d love to see more on the role of the IA in this capacity as opposed to strictly Web-based.

  • Richard Sheffield

    May 4, 2007 at 3:41 pm

    Rachel,

    Again, great post and thread. I’ve been a CS since we all kinda thought up the term, and agree with lots of what has been said about some real, and imagined, overlap with the IA function. This has had a real impact on my career as back in the dot-com bust, the big agency I worked for decided that the CS job actually COULD be done by the IA team and laid of all the content strategists. What they found was that in most projects, the IA is already on the critical path in the project plan, and there was just no time for them to also do the deep content dive required for a good content strategy. So they brought most of us back on contract to help a number of projects that had fallen behind.

    Here is one example of this kind of CS/IA problem. We had a client that wanted to create and upscale ecommerce site. They spent a bunch of money having a site completely designed (customer analysis, wireframes, graphic design, etc.). A CS was brought into the project to matrix and plan the content development. Once she did the analysis of how long it was going to take to author each product description (they wanted a very J Peterman feel to the product descriptions), get each description approved and published using the yet-to-be-created WCMS, it became quickly obvious that this was going to be a very long and costly process (they wanted new descriptions for thousands of products). The IA had created the product classification system (product buckets) and the designed the product description page, but it was the CS who had to figure out how to actually create, get approvals for, and publish thousands of individual instantiations of this page that the IA only had to design once. Eventually the whole project was cancelled.

    Obviously this is an oversimplification, and there were mistakes made. Having done this for a long time I’ve seen that sure, IAs can do much of this work but they really don’t have time, it’s usually not something they enjoy doing, and good IAs are scarce and hard to come by, this is really not a good use of their time. A good CS can offload a lot of the content-related work from the IA, dig deeper and get real and useful numbers for planning and scoping, and figure out how all of the content is actually going to be created before the project team commits to a bad project plan. I see more and more Web development teams realizing that the biggest reason for late projects is late content (not late wireframes or other IA work products). And late content is almost always a lack of sound, detailed content development planning and tracking.

    Sorry for the long post!

  • Joe Lamantia

    June 25, 2007 at 12:23 am

    Rachel said:

    >>When we were developing a deep metadata system for the website of a national entertainment magazine, my >>colleague and friend, Chris Sizemore, would say, “Everything is content.” And I tend to agree.

    >>Everything is content? What about design? Yes, it’s content. Structure? Content. Metadata? Also content. You >>probably expected a more incisive analysis than that. Well, how about, “Literally, everything is content.”

    I’ll agree that “everything is [part of] the [user experience]”, but your – as noted – incisive analysis leaves me looking at this as a classic case of ‘expansive transposition’ (or a land grab, for the less diplomatically inclined) for the meaning of the term ‘content’.

    Ordinarily, I’d let this pass unremarked, assuming that we’re all members of the big happy user experience family. But since the main point of this article was to explore the philosophy behind content strategy, I’d like to hear your thoughts on why we should adhere to such an expansive understanding of content, when we already have a useful umbrella at that level in the idea of the user experience?

  • Joe Doyle

    August 18, 2007 at 6:22 pm

    Excellent read, thank you.

    Having served on the online marketing side as a CW/CD and on the online site building side as a CS, I agree with David Shen – more and more you have to wear a variety of hats.

    My wife is a UX Lead with a major consultancy and they’re constantly saying they need more CW and less CS. It’s my belief that your CS should also be a CW and vice versa. Two sides of the brain, but they should both be developed.

  • laurie kalmanson

    August 20, 2007 at 3:18 pm

    Smart post, and great comments. I’ve worn a bunch of hats (editor, writer, content strategist, IA, tech writer, user experience consultant) and i think the nub here is this: CS experts in an organization are often the subject matter experts who know that there are 10k widgets, in 1500 categories, and etc

    IA’s work with those CS/SME’s to define the structure to present the info. When I wear my IA hat, I say to clients that they know their business, and if they tell me how it works I can offer approaches to making it work better online

    Case in point: A very very very large company with many thousands of documents was creating an intranet. I was the IA. I worked with the CS, who had things very nicely sorted into categories and subcategories, to discuss how to tag, bag, and display the items online: a-z list, category list, etc.

    That worked really well.

    In other roles, I have been the CS and the IA, but those are typically much smaller projects, when I can act as their editor and organize their content to make it ready for applying web strategies against

  • Rachel Lovinger

    August 29, 2007 at 11:48 pm

    In response to the question about why I would take such an expansive view of content – it’s mostly just to gain the benefit of another perspective. Do I really think design elements should fall under in the domain of content strategy? Definitely not. But I do find that a lot of times content is addressed as an afterthought, and I’m wondering what happens if we flip that around? This sort of approach may not necessarily result in a change in roles & responsibilities, or even processes, but maybe it will inspire some individuals to think about some different aspects of the user experience then they might normally consider.

  • Elle Yoffee

    May 20, 2008 at 9:52 pm

    As a fellow content strategist, I find myself hearkening back to your article again and again for inspiration in terms of advising clients why they need content strategy. I find it ironic (and sad) that while many organizations at least see the need for someone in the form of a writer or editor, they rarely put any resources into actually creating a fully developed, UX-centric content department that supports the real needs of users by creating a strategy for content development. After working at some highfalutin organizations, more often than not what I see is siloed business departments creating rogue content and posting it willy-nilly on an intranet or (gasp!) their Website. I enjoy helping my clients give rhyme and reason to the process of content creation, categorization, and presentation–and then formulating a strategy they can use moving forward, without my help.

  • Rekha Murthy

    August 20, 2008 at 1:26 pm

    Hi Rachel!

    I came across this article when I googled “Content Strategist”. One lingering question from setting up my freelance consultancy has been how to quickly transmit what I do. I’ve been putting “User Experience Designer + Content Developer” on my business card. But this article makes me want to try “Information Architect + Content Strategist”. To me (and several other commenters), they’re actually the same or should be the same, but breaking them out provides more keywords to hook a prospective client or collaborator. In fact, that you link Content Strategy so close to but separate from Information Architecture is not wrong, but it is a reminder that our field should do a better job of formalizing the skills expected of each title. An IA should be a content strategist as well. Otherwise, they’re a wireframe monkey and the client pays for two people instead of one (which they might be ok with if, as you say, time is of the essence).

    I find “Content Strategist” has been most apt when it’s farther from design and closer to curation and distribution. One of my clients has a huge set of amazing content that they want to 1) Present on their Web site in a way that promotes purchase/licensing, and 2) Distribute in the form of curated collections honed to appeal to the audiences of the target online stores. That’s when I stop designing, and stop writing/recording/photographing… and take a bigger picture, “strategic” view of the content I’ve been asked to work with.

  • Cheryl McLeod

    January 2, 2009 at 3:42 pm

    Rachel,

    Thanks for the enlightenmentHmmm…I did not know there existed an actual titled position for one of the many hats I where for our small but rapidly growing digital marketing agency. Among these hats, my actual titles of sr. copy writer and marketing strategist, have naturally evolved into a content strategy outlook. It’s become the most automatic thing for me when we take on a new client for any type of venture (digital marketing, web development, PR, etc.) to analyze the layout and make up of their current site content, review the competition and market content situation, and devise a content plan to address the goals of our client, the target audience’s needs, and what the search engines like to see. I do this whether editing client content for a new site, writing the site from soup to nuts, or creating ongoing SEO/SEM strategy over time. I sometimes even take a step into the world of the IA. It’san art and science of balance and proportion, to say the least! Thank you for a provactive piece. By the way, I saw in your bio info that you like ‘inherently funny words’…me too and just words in general such as ‘plethora’..always fun to use in a sentence. Share some of your favorite words with us. Cheryl McLeod,Digital Surgeons, New Haven, CT.

    As someone who is just growing into this role, I see the power of what you and other talents bring to the venture. Whether it is a full time position or one important ‘hat’ you where–this role of Content Strategist is essential

  • Rachel Lovinger

    April 11, 2009 at 4:11 pm

    I love that, two years later, this article is still helping to spur conversation. Recently, Content Strategy seems to have been gaining some traction – with several other interesting articles (like Kristina Halvorson’s The Discipline of Content Strategy: http://www.alistapart.com/articles/thedisciplineofcontentstrategy and Jeff Macintyre’s Content-ious Strategy: http://www.alistapart.com/articles/contenttiousstrategy). Also, through various events and actions, the community of people who practice content strategy is coming together and starting to talk about it a lot more. And one of the biggest signs that CS is catching on: Clients are asking for it.

    I can’t wait to see where it goes next.

  • Kelly Turner

    July 7, 2009 at 5:25 pm

    Hey Rachel, this is a great overview of the content strategy role, and I’ve referred several people to this article. I am a former print journalist who is currently a copywriter for a large bank’s website. I’m vehemently trying to move my title to content strategist because it actually describes what I do—proactively and reactively solving content-related issues and challenges, and providing appropriate, user-friendly copy. Thanks for the very articulate synopsis, and I look forward to your future thoughts on this topic. I also enjoy your posts at Meaningful Data and Scatter/Gather.

  • Steve A

    January 21, 2011 at 2:53 am

    Those information architects sure can add structure! I liked your practical tips: make content relevant, useful, efficient to make, and comprehensive.
    Getting people in my workplace to care about theory of content is a tough sell.

  • Al DeLuca

    February 23, 2011 at 12:05 pm

    Great article and discussion. I came up in web site development when all the roles mentioned here were assumed to be the sole responsibility of the developer. If the trade has become specialized and fragmented, at least that has brought with it some appreciation of the work that goes into web development. Imagine doing everything a CS/IA does.. and then going home to write the code and get the images looking spiffy. Yes, children, gather round and let me tell you how we used to walk to school every day in three feet of snow with no shoes on, uphill, both ways ;) …It does make sense in larger projects to divvy up the workload, and I agree the CS art/skillset is an essential ingredient for making a compelling site. Though the nomenclature and artifacts are different, I think the CS role is analogous to the Developmental Editor role in print-oriented organizations. Professionally, it might make sense to draw a distinction, but functionally, I think the goals in each are the same. So to those still struggling to define what they do for a living, try relating it to what the older generation is familiar with, e.g. “….a CS is a DE, only in electronic media.” Reasoning by analogy works well on us old folks.

  • Christopher Butler

    April 27, 2011 at 2:11 pm

    Rachel,

    I think your content strategy > information architecture analogy is very much on point. I’ve spoken with plenty of people who refer to blogging as doing content strategy; I remind them that blogging is creating content, the strategy happens long before and determines the kinds of content that will be created, how, when, and by whom (among other things).

    I also like that you’re questioning what does seem to be a widespread overestimation of expertise when it comes to content. It’s almost like what happens when fan-fiction takes over where a series leaves off: Often the fans believe that they know best about what happens to characters, the story, etc. and tend to even delve into revisionist narratives given enough time. As you say, there’s enough content on the web, created by all of us; concluding that, therefore, we’re all content experts is not that unlikely. Except that it isn’t true.

    Under your “practical” heading, I was so glad to see relevance, usefulness, and efficiency elevated to the top of the priority list. The glut of content on the web is, for the most part, irrelevant, un-useful, and inefficient–both in terms of the creator’s input and the reader/watcher’s gain. If all the Content Strategists in the world can band together with a common goal of making quality a baseline requirement for web content, they’ll have done a priceless service to the universe!

    Thanks,

    Chris

    P.S. It’s now *three* years later and your article is still relevant!

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