Paula Land

 
PHOTO COURTESY OF PAULA LAND

PHOTO COURTESY OF PAULA LAND

 

CEO, Content Insight

Owner and Principal Consultant, Strategic Content

"...if you are regularly monitoring your content you can create a cycle of constant improvement. It’s like a garden—if you neglect it, the weeds take over. But if you regularly tend it and weed out the stuff that isn’t working anymore, you don’t have to do a time-consuming and expensive overhaul."

Seattle, WA

www.content-insight.com
www.strategiccontent.com

 

 
 

What three  resources help you keep up with the latest content strategy thinking? 

I sample a variety of sources for content strategy thinking, but spend the most time with: Twitter (I have two accounts myself, @content_insight and @plland), since so many of the people I look to for thought leadership are very active there and I can follow along with conferences I’m unable to attend as well as particular topics of interest to me, like content auditing, content management systems, etc. I also frequent the content strategy groups on Google groups and LinkedIn. In general, these are valuable resources with a good signal-to-noise ratio.

Describe a typical workday:

Because I do both content strategy consulting and my software company management, my days bounce around a lot. I have meetings with clients and work on project deliverables interspersed with doing customer service, product management, and marketing efforts for CAT (the Content Analysis Tool, the software as a service product my company built). I work from home, mostly, and although my clients are a mix of local and non-local, the bulk of my meetings are via phone or Skype, meaning I have a pretty casual work style and no commute, which is nice. I travel to client sites occasionally—local and elsewhere—as well.

As an example, right now, I am working on new project work for two clients, ongoing maintenance-type work for two other clients, and working on a new business opportunity. At any given moment, depending on my inbox, phone, and calendar, I’m doing any one of those tasks. For example, right now, I’m working on a content matrix, page-level content strategy, and taxonomy for one client and editorial and taxonomy guidelines and governance policies for another.

Because I have so many different types of things to work on at any given moment, I can always task-switch to whatever I am in the right frame of mind to work on—deadlines notwithstanding, of course!

How did you become a content strategist?

 I began my career as an editor—a content strategist by another name! I have worked on content for my entire career, starting off in book publishing, moving to digital content for a large software company (okay, it was Microsoft), then into the agency world. I was a content strategy lead at Razorfish (where I first got the title content strategist), then started my own consulting company in 2010. For me, it was a very direct path.

What is the best content strategy advice you’ve ever gotten?

I don’t know that I’ve ever gotten a single piece of advice that stands out, but I will say that the fact that content strategy has become so much better known and valued, to the extent that clients now realize that they need it and they ask for, has helped reinforce the value of content and has been super encouraging. Beyond that, I think that I have learned from every project I’ve done and it’s shaped the way I do my work—so in a sense, the best advice is the on-the-job training.

Your book, Content Audits and Inventories, goes into great detail about why auditing content is necessary and how to use it to develop effective content strategies. What do you think most people don’t understand or get wrong about content audits?

One of the reasons why people often argue against doing content inventories and audits is that they don’t see the value of spending time looking at the current state—they say “we know it’s bad, let’s just throw it out and start over.” What that implies is that they don’t recognize that content is a business asset that you’ve already made an investment in. It was presumably created for a valid purpose and if it were tended to over time and its effectiveness regularly measured, it wouldn’t have to be completely replaced necessarily. And improving existing content is usually less expensive than creating new content. It isn’t to say that you never create anything new, of course, but that you care about the investments you’ve already made.

Which brings me to another misconception about inventories and audits—that they are activities you do once, at the start of a project, and that’s it. Again, if you are regularly monitoring your content—what you have and how it’s doing—you can create a cycle of constant improvement. It’s like a garden—if you neglect it, the weeds take over. But if you regularly tend it and weed out the stuff that isn’t working anymore, for whatever reason, you don’t have to do a hugely time-consuming and expensive overhaul.

Describe a recent challenge and how you solved it:

The biggest challenges I face are rarely to do with the actual content strategy. They are with the people aspect. Quite often, I’ve had the perspective, as an outside consultant, to see how siloed a client organization is—groups who should be working together toward common goals not even knowing about the others, for example. I’ve been in the position of introducing people within their own organization, saying “you two should talk!” This is one of the ways that a content strategist can play a really valuable role—since you’re usually the one person who has the broadest view of the content landscape, you can be the content expert and make those connections in a way that someone internal may not be able to, for political reasons or just the plain fact that everyone is busy in their own area.

The other challenge related to people is organizational change and trying to help people understand and be ready for what they might have to start doing differently, whether it’s changing their content focus, their writing style, the tools and processes they use to create and review content, and so on. As I mentioned, with one current client, I’m working on helping outline what kind of governance model needs to be in place and what that’s going to take in terms of people’s time and roles. I think it has been eye-opening for them to realize that this stuff does have to be planned for and resourced.

How do you see content strategy evolving or changing in the next few years?

 I think some of the trends we’re already seeing will continue to grow in importance—mobile, for example, as a significant factor in thinking about user context. Video is and will continue to be an important venue for content distribution. And we’ll continue to integrate data into our planning and optimization of content strategy. But I’m also hopeful that we’ll continue to see a return to the basics of good content—content that’s written and designed for humans, not machines.

What would you advise someone who wants to get into this field? 

The good thing about being interested in getting into the content field is that the people in the field are content producers! And they are very willing to share their expertise. What that means is that there is a ton of great information out there and a lot of opportunities to learn from people with experience. Go to conferences if you can, read everything you can get your hands on, take a content strategist out for coffee and pick their brain.

This goes along a little with how content strategy is evolving. I see the profession itself evolving in that there are starting to be more formalized opportunities (classes, certificate programs, etc.) to learn how to do content strategy, which means we are developing a body of knowledge and a set of best practices and deliverables that will allow people new to the field to follow a learning path.

 

Corey Vilhauer

 
Photo courtesy of corey vilhauer

Photo courtesy of corey vilhauer

 

User Experience Strategist, Blend Interactive

"I can say that the line between information architecture and content strategy is pretty thin and usually heavily blurred."

Sioux Falls, SD

Eating Elephant
Black Marks on Wood Pulp

 

 
 

What are 3 resources that help you keep up with current thinking on content strategy? 

Other than some obvious ones (@halvorson, A List Apart, etc.) I think the following three things are cool.

Rian van der Merwe's Elezea is pretty great, and includes a nice little periodic newsletter.

The Content Insight twitter is a good twitter for collecting and reposting interesting content-related things.

I am part of a cozy little Slack channel of close friends who are also content strategists, which I say not because it's open for anyone to join, but because the best resources out there are going to be your friends and people you meet. I've strengthened everything in my daily work by listening and asking questions of people I've met in the industry. We're all each other's resources, so it's important we ask - and freely share.


Describe a typical workday (if there isn’t a “typical” day, just choose an example):

As most people will say, there is no typical workday. But here are some of the things I'll do, depending on the project.

Discovery: Traveling to a client and meeting with stakeholders in order to map out a future site. Interviewing potential site users on the phone and synthesizing their comments. Reading documents. Helping client stakeholders negotiate a sea of potential pitfalls.

Creating: Wireframes, personas, journey maps. Presentations. Jokes about professional wrestling.

Managing: Organizing resources for complex migrations. Site maps and content models. Playlists for each decade of modern music, because I apparently know how to have a super cool time.

For Blend: Writing occasional blog posts. Finding speakers for our Now What? Conference. Speaking at conferences.

How did you become a content strategist?

I was an advertising copywriter working at an agency that wasn't as web-forward as I'd like. So on one hand, I tried to affect change within my organization, while on the other I searched for a new industry that would allow me to pair the web with my background in writing. I talked to Deane Barker about it, and he hired me to build a content strategy practice at Blend.

We did a lot of learning together - the biggest thing being that I found I was no longer excited about the writing part of the web anymore. I found that I really loved content modeling and organizing and creating usable systems that words could live in.

Some people call it information architecture. Working at a smaller organization, I can say that the line between information architecture and content strategy is pretty thin and usually heavily blurred. 

Corey, what led you to specialize in content strategy for small businesses? What unique content strategy challenges does that present?

Simply, we are a smaller organization, and we don't always work with companies that have gigantic budgets or organizational needs. The unique challenges we're presented often land in the sticky DMZ of intent and budget.

Everyone wants all of the things. I'm often put into the position where I have to explain that high-level testing and hundreds of interviews and all of the things that come as second nature in all of those corporate case studies aren't possible when you have a team of two in the marketing department. Our eyes are bigger than our plate, and we don't have the team to back it up (or get it rolling in the first place).

What do you wish most clients understood about content strategy?

That content strategy isn't a thing. It's a process.

Content strategy - especially discovery and planning - feels like a project deliverable (one that can often be overlooked in favor of more time spent on flashy gadget integration). But it's not a deliverable. It's a thing we need to bake into our existing organizations. It's organizational change, not documentation.

Describe a recent project and how you solved a problem or met a challenge.

 We're currently tackling a somewhat complicated migration project that involves a CMS forklift (essentially, lifting a major site and replacing the CMS without actually changing the design or content). The difficulty, we've found, is not in the actual project, but in organizing resources for the actual migration.
 
We often find the expectation of a content migration project is far from the reality of it - migration is not an easy process, and only small portions of it can be automated. This means a combination of scripts and tools to bring most of the content in, and a team of people who can tackle the automated content and bring it up to the speed.

Our challenge - and this is the challenge for any new site, really - is to balance the tasks of the job with the people working on it. Those most familiar with the CMS are tasked with some of the slower, more complicated content. Those who aren't familiar can use a tool we created to compare old and new content for consistency. It's content triage, really.

How do you see content strategy evolving or changing in the next few years?

I think we still struggle with how to implement content strategy principles long after the initial recommendations have been made. There are some great people talking about content operations - how to organize your team, how to allocate resources, how to strategically prioritize web needs in the face of an already busy marketing and web staff - but it isn't given the same attention as more visible topics like content marketing or user testing.

I see this becoming an area that becomes much more vocal as we further flesh out how CMS and content strategy fit together.

What is the best content strategy advice you’ve ever gotten?

Not so much "advice" as a demand ... when Deane Barker said to me, "I want you to speak at a conference by next year." It forced me to focus on a topic and get acquainted with some of the best minds in the industry.

What would you advise someone who wants to get into this field? 

Take a few weeks, if possible, and help someone perform quality assurance or user assurance testing on a CMS implementation. You will learn more about how content works within a system than you'll get from studying anyone's wireframes or content model, and you will be more disciplined in making realistic strategic decisions. No more blue-sky craziness. Instead: editor-centric content.

 

 

Michael J. Metts

 
Image courtesy of Michael J. Metts

Image courtesy of Michael J. Metts

 

 

Senior UX Designer, The Nerdery

"The better we do at articulating what we do and why it matters, the more valuable we'll be."

Chicago, Illinois

https://nerdery.com

http://mjmetts.com

https://twitter.com/mjmetts 

 
 

What are three go-to resources you turn to for the latest content strategy thinking? 

If you're not following Kristina Halvorson on Twitter, you really should. She's constantly elevating content strategy voices around the world.

I also host a Slack group of UX-focused content professionals which has been an invaluable way to dig into deep conversations and talk with people about their work at length. 

Conferences are also a great way to wrap my head around the newest ideas people have. My favorite content strategy conference is Confab. While these can be expensive if your employer isn't paying for them, a great way to attend for free is to speak at one (something I encourage anyone working in this field to do). 

Describe a typical workday: 

I work for a consultancy, so no day is really typical, and I've been enjoying that. Each project has unique needs and concerns. A recent project involved a lot of contextual inquiry-style research at different locations around the country, but I spend plenty of time in front of a computer in the office as well. A big part of what I do is also advocating for content strategy and UX in general with our clients and throughout the company. The better we do at articulating what we do and why it matters, the more valuable we'll be. 

What's the best content strategy advice you've ever been given? 

Reframe the problem. I learned this from Scott Kubie when we worked together a couple years back (he now works at Brain Traffic). He helped me see how the problems people came to us with (like needing to create an email campaign or redesign a section of a website) were often the result of deeper concerns. Whenever I can, I try to ask higher-level questions about the work I'm doing and listen to clients, stakeholders, and teammates. This approach has often made my project contributions far more valuable.

You’re now a senior UX designer. How did you make that transition from content strategy?

I've never been able to separate user experience design from content strategy in my head, so I'm not even sure if I'd call it a transition. Designers should do content strategy and content strategists are already designers to the extent that they're solving problems by creating systems that meet user needs and business goals.

The two disciplines can and should learn a lot from each other. Designers should seek to understand how content will inform their design work and ask hard questions about it. If they don't, someone will have to address content concerns at a point where much less can be done about them. Content strategists (and other content professionals) should take a cue from the design world by communicating their work visually. Content conversations often take a back seat to other design conversations simply because they aren't represented in a way that makes an impact and is easy to understand.

Describe a recent challenge you solved. 

For that recent research project, there were a lot of raw research materials we wanted to have easy access to such as scans of paper notes, summaries, audio files, images, etc. I'm a huge believer in doing user research to inform content strategy and design decisions, but there's always a question of how to take advantage of those findings six months or a year down the road. It's awfully hard to look through files and make sense of them. What I did was create a research summary on a WordPress website using a new open source tool from the Nasdaq design team called Mosaiq. It has been a really nice way to present all of our findings and easily reference the raw materials. I'm hoping to do it again for more projects.  

How do you see content strategy evolving or changing in the next few years?  

Content challenges are everywhere. Recently we've seen lots of chat bots and "conversational UIs" come into the mainstream, and along with the proliferation of VR and video content in general, we're just going to be seeing more content in more places. What does this mean for the people who do the work? Rachel Lovinger did a great job covering that in her talk at CS Forum recently. Our work will get more specialized, and while not all of these people will be called "content strategists," content strategy will have to be a big part of what they do. To me it's exciting, because it allows people to specialize in doing what they love even more.

What would you advise someone who wants to get into this field?

Talk to the people who are doing the work you want to do. They are usually wonderful people who care very much about helping others get to the same place. Buy them coffee and pick their brains. Also: read books and articles as much as you can, with the caveat that once you actually start doing the work, you can't expect it to turn out perfectly. This stuff is really hard, and if we can make even a small difference for our clients and employers, that's amazing. Content strategy is really about organizational change, which is no small thing. The positive change you make with people, processes and projects will make a big difference for your users. 

 

Rebecca Steurer

 
PHOTO COURTESY OF REBECCA STEURER

PHOTO COURTESY OF REBECCA STEURER

 

Associate Director, Content Strategy, Rightpoint, Chicago, Illinois

"Less is more. Content strategists have a reputation of producing a ton of spreadsheets and details about content needs."

rightpoint.com

contentrs.com

Describe a typical workday:

My days are filled with meetings about potential new business that needs to be scoped and planned, meetings with colleagues about current projects, and staying connected with clients to make sure they are receiving the work they expect. 

What are 3 resources you keep up with information about content strategy? 

Content Marketing Institute

Contently

Hubspot

What is the best content strategy advice you’ve ever gotten?

Less is more. Content strategists have a reputation of producing a ton of spreadsheets and details about content needs. It’s best to keep your assessment simple and concise. Try not to overwhelm your client. 

Don’t just read about content strategy, read about UX and visual design, too so you understand the language your team is using.

Rebecca, you've worked for agency clients, been an independent consultant and also teach content strategy. Is there an area of the field that appeals to you most, and if so, why?

For all three that you mentioned, teaching is the key area that appeals to me most. Whether I’m teaching my clients, colleagues, or future content strategists, it is rewarding to know that I can share my experience and knowledge with others who can expand their knowledge, and hopefully develop new best practices in the field of content strategy.

What do you wish most clients understood about content strategy?

That they need to start with understanding what content they have and what they want to have before they start designing a new site.

How do you see content strategy evolving or changing in the next few years?

More companies are going to need customized content to support their products or services. That means they’ll need content strategists and copywriters to help with planning and writing their content.

What would you advise someone who wants to get into this field?

• Read as much as you can about best practices, new practices and of course, whatever Google is doing

• Don’t just read about content strategy, read about UX and visual design, too so you understand the language your team is using

• Pick a specialization in content strategy, for example, taxonomy, message strategy, content development

• Be a part of a large content migration process to understand the type of information you’ll need to think about at the beginning of a project

 

Jeff Pfaller

 
Photo courtesy of Jeff Pfaller

Photo courtesy of Jeff Pfaller

 

Content Strategy Consultant

"Being able to look at any situation and tie it back to some type of content implication is what content strategy is, at its core."

Chicago, Illinois

jeffpfaller.com

 
 

Describe a typical workday: 

I haven't had a typical day in years! Part of that is a function of being a consultant, but I think it's also a function of the title. Content strategists are asked to do lots of things - most of the time it's the tasks that nobody else wants to do.

In recent projects, I've found myself plotting out weekly income for a paycheck to paycheck millennial to identify potential messaging touch points, calculating probability outcomes for an NCAA bracket scenario generator, and digging into the social behaviors of moms and business travelers on social networks. 

Content is connected to everything, so I think it's extremely important for content strategists to be able to adapt on a typical day. Being able to look at any situation and tie it back to some type of content implication is what content strategy is, at its core.

How did you become a content strategist?

I came into the role from the creative side - I started as a copywriter in the interactive department of an agency, and moved to Chicago in the mid-2000s where I first had the official title of "Content Strategist," even though that was really just meant "Digital Copywriter." 

Even so, I had to start learning a lot of the skills I'd need once I stepped into a pure play content strategy role. Pattern recognition, understanding business requirement's impact on content, analyzing user behaviors and journeys to map content touch points against, etc.

That served as the foundation to allow me to step into a pure content strategy role, where I learned even more about social media, content marketing, app development, and designing content experiences.

Most clients are reasonable, smart people, despite what agency folks think about them.

What is the best content strategy advice you’ve ever gotten?

Always find a way to be valuable.

That's not really specific to content strategy, but if you're working in a discipline no one understands, if you spend your day focusing on being valuable to the people you're working with, you'll be in a good position.

You've worked on a number of different aspects of content strategy and for a diverse array of clients. Do you have a favorite practice area and why?

No one area stands out. My favorite projects tend to be ones that go beyond selling product. They're focused on either doing something that's never been done before, or something with a corporate citizenship component to it.

What do you wish most clients understood about content strategy?

I wish most clients understood how to ask better questions about content. There have been loads of projects where they tasked us with solving a problem that wasn't their actual problem. Advertising specifically could benefit from a little more rigor around understanding the problem you're trying to solve before jumping in with two feet.

Could you give an example?

A client had asked for a content audit to identify gaps in their content marketing strategy to missed opportunities for topics. They had some great consumer journey research to map against and their stakeholders were bought in and engaged in creating content.

The problem was that their content distribution ecosystem was broken. Content was hard to find, search for, and discover based on where you were in the journey. They could create content until they were blue in the face, but the ROI on that effort was minimal because no one was seeing it.

The solution was simply to be straightforward with the recommendation. I delivered on the ask to identify content opportunities, but made the story about this larger problem I'd discovered. Most clients are reasonable, smart people, despite what agency folks think about them. They responded well to the thinking and agreed to pivot to solve the real problem they had.

How do you see content strategy evolving or changing in the next few years?

I think it'll be interesting to see how content strategists deal with the disintegration of apps and the move from content as a destination to content as something that is delivered at the right moment and the right time. 

I think consumer journeys will continue to prove themselves invaluable, and lots of content strategists are going to find themselves designing to a system vs. individual channels. 

The evolution of wearables will also be interesting to watch - it's another device / screen to account for, but I think the industry will continue to move to responsive content that's agnostic of the device it's displayed on.

What would you advise someone who wants to get into this field?

Don't wait! You're probably already doing elements of content strategy and don't realize it.

Lots of folks spin their wheels trying to define content strategy or worrying about finding the right kind of documentation to use or thinking that they need to check certain boxes. 

Read a lot. Talk to other content strategists. Go to meetups. Find excuses to help on projects that involve content (spoiler alert - there's lots of them). Get experience and start filling your life by solving the problems you're passionate about solving, and the rest will follow.

What are 3 resources you keep up with information about content strategy?

Honestly, the best information I get comes from the teams I'm working on. The inspiration / article is always hyper relevant to what we're currently working on, which makes it infinitely more valuable.

Sites that usually keep cropping up are Global Web Index, Content Marketing Institute, Harvard Business Review, A List Apart, Mashable, The Content Strategist by ContentlyDigiday, eConsultancy, etc.

 

Hilary Marsh

Hilary Marsh

What led you to become a content strategist?

I started my professional career in magazine publishing and then was a copywriter. When I first discovered the Internet in about 1995, I thought my combination of editorial and marketing writing would be a good fit, but it was challenging to find anyone who was paying for content. I moved from NYC to Chicago in 1997 and got a corporate job where I led their website redesign effort and helped create their first intranet. In 1999, I went to a conference in San Francisco – Web99 – where I first heard the term “content strategy” at a fabulous panel discussion with Molly Wright Steenson and other cool women. When I learned that it meant applying a publishing mentality to websites, I knew I’d found the name for what I’d been trying to invent.

Shortly after that conference, I started to see job postings for content strategists, and I got a job at Sapient, where there was already a thriving content strategy practice. It was challenging to build a team of content strategists, because there wasn’t anyone who already had experience. 

 

What are 3 resources you keep up with information about content strategy? 

I find great information and links on Twitter every day! Wow, it’s hard to choose just three, but here are some of my top choices:

https://twitter.com/braintraffic/

https://twitter.com/Team_CS_Inc

https://twitter.com/content_insight

I do have a Twitter list of content strategy folks:

https://twitter.com/hilarymarsh/lists/content-strategy

 

There are content strategy groups on Google, Facebook, Google Plus – join them. Here’s a list: http://www.contentcompany.biz/2015/01/23/content-strategy-online-groups/

 

And there are content strategy meetups in many places around the world – find one near you:

http://www.contentcompany.biz/2015/01/20/content-strategy-meetup-groups/

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