Siouxzi Donnelly

 
 Photo courtesy of SIOUXZI DONNELLY

Photo courtesy of SIOUXZI DONNELLY

 

Senior Content Strategist, Arity

"Content is UX -- we just have a different lens into the UX picture."

Chicago, IL

www.nohwear.net

 

 
 

 

How did you become a content strategist

I think it was just an organic alignment of my talents and interests. I’ve always been a tech person; my dad sold computers to my school and I had to teach the staff how to use them. I am also an entertainer/storyteller at heart. I love to lead people on an adventure. After pursuing writing and acting in college and grad school, the digital world became a natural place to move into. I started out managing websites for companies, creating all the content and doing the basic code to update them. My first big step though was when I became the content manager at paper-source.com. We didn't have a CMS so I had to learn the relationships between data. This set me up with a unique skillset within the greater "Content" discipline. After Paper Source I went to VSA Partners in Chicago. For me content strategy was a natural evolution as I learned content management. I learned to think strategically around how and why an experience works and how to align user-centered design with business goals.

You also have user experience chops. How did you learn about that, too?

I think great UX comes from really understanding your audience and making things easier and more logical for them, while bringing them as much joy and delight within the moment as possible. As a content manager, you can't do your job if you're not observing how and why users are engaging. If you don't pick up on the challenges facing users as you navigate your site every single day, you aren't doing your job. E-commerce is an amazing foundation for how to think about UX.

I think my first real "UX" moment happened when I was doing a regular audit of a retail website and realized how long it took to scroll through a category page. How much time was a user browsing instead of adding to cart/buying? Were they even scrolling the whole way down? Why weren't they going into a detail page from this page?  I suggested bringing these products together and treating them as a suite to make them scroll less and still show users the full range of products. We explored how to photograph the products, how the users would purchase, what would happen if something was sold out. Then we tested it and discovered the new approach increased sales and in instances where we were out of one product, customers looked to buy another. It was the perfect combination of how designing for an improved user experience would fulfill our business goals of increasing sales within this area of product.

Tell us about the project you most enjoyed working on and why.

Easily the IBM Icons of Progress. It was a great combination of team, skills and opportunity. Not only did I get to explore the history of IBM (and nerd out about Benoit Mandelbrot's Fractals) but we got the chance to interview some amazing people. About 8 years later, I walked into the Museum of Science and Industry and discovered there was an exhibit that featured a significant amount of our work. It's pretty amazing to walk into a museum with your kid and be able to say, this is my work. Your mom helped make this happen.  It's also rewarding to know that the way we thought about this content -- what it should be, and how to create it -- was able to extend far beyond the initial channels we created it for.

How has the field changed since you've been in it and where do you see it going in the near future?

Well, considering not too long ago the term Content Strategist wasn't a job title, I think we've come a long way. I love that there's a greater understanding around the importance of content, but I think we still have a long way to go. Content is UX -- we just have a different lens into the UX picture. I think we are still working to be seen as equals, which is reflected in the ever-changing Content Discipline titles. We are trying to distance ourselves from "just writers" (which is completely offensive anyway - writing is hard and should be highly respected) to being seen as designers, strategists, problem solvers and user advocates. What I'd really like to see is more Product Designers come from the Content Discipline. PDs usually come from visual design or UX/IA. Content Designers need more access to the tools that design uses, and we should be included in doing conception and prototyping work. Partly because we have knowledge that should be leveraged, partly because Content Strategists should have broader career growth opportunities. Right now it's not good enough.

How do you deal with resistance from stakeholders (and possibly team members in other functions) who might not understand content strategy or your approach to it?

I've found the best way to get buy-in is to prove the value. Build something, make an impact. It's even better if you can get Research involved. Then you have results to back you up. Working in a data and tech org, nothing makes a better argument than data science.

Can you describe a recent challenge and how you solved it?

I was working on a project where UX and Visual Design created a user flow with wireframes and sample copy, and then they came to me to ask me to polish it. I had them walk me through it, I asked questions, I got answers. I then asked for some cave time. During that cave time I tried to just polish, but it was quickly obvious to me that the users' experience would not be easy, logical and definitely not delightful or full of joy. So I mocked up a new approach and invited them over and we walked through it. We talked about why this not that. They had knowledge I didn't, so together we were able to take the two approaches and find the most streamlined one. After that, the entire team embraced a stronger collaboration style and the content team was included in every meeting involving design, without fail.

Has volunteering with Kidical Mass (kids and bikes) taught you anything about project organization, i.e. maybe how to herd cats? 

Clarity is critical for getting the best outcome. Before I lead a ride, I go over our rules, how do we ride together, how do we communicate with each other, what we have to do at intersections which can be different at a stop sign and a stop light. We do these rides to have fun, but also to teach kids how to bike, the rules of the road and how to be safe around cars. We teach the community to see us, to respect us, that we are there, that we will obey traffic laws. We teach kids and adults to be respectful of each other.

In my work, this clarity and communication is important too. We need clear ways of working, communicating and leadership, even in an autonomous org. We need clear business goals, customer goals, and measures that will tell us if we were successful or not.  Clear content, UX and design enables a product to have a purpose in this world.

 

Kathy Wagner

 
 Photo courtesy of Kathy Wagner

Photo courtesy of Kathy Wagner

 

Founder, Content Strategy Inc.

"I get really frustrated by a 'we can’t do that here' mentality. Every company can improve their content and content practices – let’s figure out how to do that!."

Vancouver, BC, Canada

 

Content Strategy Inc.
Twitter
LinkedIn 

 

 

 
 

Your blog on contentstrategyinc.com is such a great knowledge resource that I wonder how you yourself became educated in content strategy. Tell us about your path.

I began my career as a technical communicator working within a usability team. Later, I worked as a customer experience researcher with a special interest in content. In both of those earlier career paths it was the intersection of content and customer experience that really fascinated me. It was an area I was passionate about and was so confused as to why more organizations weren’t paying attention to it. I did a lot of educating and advocating in those days. There were no content strategy resources at that time, so I borrowed methodologies and approaches from the customer experience discipline and applied them to content. That’s still the foundation of how we approach content strategy today.

When I began my own content strategy business in 2010 I quickly realized that content strategy is not sustainable without a solid content governance foundation. I expanded my skillsets in those areas (learning as I go, borrowing what I could from other disciplines), and then hired and trained people who specialize in governance. Now that makes up about half of our business.

What type of clients do you enjoy working with the most and why?

From a demographic perspective, we work with clients large enough to have accumulated decades of messy content problems. Complicated internal politics just makes things more interesting. We do a lot of work with public sector clients and other companies who struggle with creating and managing content effectively and efficiently in this digital age.

From a personality perspective, I love working with clients who are excited about content strategy and who work with us to find creative ways to implement solutions, even in challenging environments. I get really frustrated by a “we can’t do that here” mentality. Every company can improve their content and content practices – let’s figure out how to do that!

Your consultancy developed the Content Assess and Progress methodology. I’m curious about how CAaP came about and whether it was a response to some chaotic projects (not that any of us have ever experienced those) or something similar.

One of the reasons why I love content strategy is that there’s always a time, early in the project, when a client’s content or content practices seem like an overwhelming mess and we have no idea how we’re going to wade through it all. But we always do, which I credit to our methodology and an ability to find patterns in the chaos.

Our CAaP program is our way of sharing that methodology and helping people see patterns in their own content chaos that they’d otherwise miss. It comes from our experience working on hundreds of content strategy projects, but what’s really exciting for us is that as more organizations participate in CAaP, we can incorporate that broader experience base into the program and provide industry-relevant content strategy benchmarks.

In your article “Productivity for the Uninclined,” you describe yourself as “lazy,” which I have a tough time believing. Do you have any content strategy productivity hacks you could share with us?

Well, I am lazy in that I’m really not good at doing things I’m not interested in. So, the best productivity hack I know is to focus on your areas of interest, and always keep expanding on them. Then you don’t have to make yourself do things, but are actually engaged in the process and can get into the flow where time goes quickly and you end up producing interesting stuff. Of course, there are still some things I need to do that I don’t enjoy (like audits!) but, in general, if I start getting bored with my work I’ll find a way to shift directions to make it more interesting. Content strategy is wonderful for that because there are so many different aspects that no one person could ever master them all!

In one of your case studies you say, “People are not always open to new ideas, to changing the way that they work and think,” and you add that you’ve observed that across industries. How have you helped your clients to change their ways and to be more open?

I realized early on how important content governance is to content strategy, and it only took a short while after that to understand the importance of change management. My senior content governance strategist, Blaine Kyllo, and I both have change management methodology certifications and we integrate change management principles into our content governance frameworks and training programs. One of the most important things we do now, with all our clients, is to make sure that the people who need to change the way they work are involved in the process of developing the new systems.

Finally, I love how your web site says you blend science and art. Can you give us an example of how you do that?

Well, the science part comes from our more analytical and methodology-based approach. We do research and try our best to make sure our content strategies and designs are evidence-based. But there’s an art to figuring out how to make that happen in different environments, and how to give each client what they need to help them move forward. No two projects, and no two clients, are the same. There’s no one-size-fits all content strategy solution. Tailoring content strategy to a particular context and client is definitely an art.

 

 

Kristina Mausser

 
 Photo courtesy of Kristina Mausser

Photo courtesy of Kristina Mausser

 

President and senior content strategy consultant, Kina’ole Inc.

"I’m so adamant to correct people who use content marketing strategy and content strategy interchangeably. It’s not because I want to get mired in semantics, but I think that not having this distinction risks diluting the power of content strategy as an agnostic, solution-based approach to content that exists very much separate and apart from branding, messaging, positioning and engagement."

Montague, Ontario, Canada

Kina'ole Inc.
Twitter
LinkedIn

 

 
 

You were an early practitioner of content strategy in Canada (or anyone). How did you get into the field? 

Yes, I’m very fortunate to have had my career grow organically alongside the growth of the Internet from its very early days. While I’ve been online since 1992, I didn’t make the transition to working in the digital field until 1999. Before that, I worked in traditional marketing and communications for a few years after graduating from university with an English degree.

It was only when I decided to go back to college in 1998 after a few years of working that I took the leap of faith and refocused my efforts solely on digital. I say leap of faith because the Internet was so new to most people back then that they looked at you as if you had 3 heads when you told them that you were focusing your entire career path on this thing called “the Internet.”  

I had just been accepted into this prestigious 3-year college advertising program and in my first semester I had to take a course on coding HTML. It was revolutionary at the time for a college to incorporate something so new into their curriculum. But, I loved it and I soon realized that the web was going to revolutionize business. Based on this very real gut reaction, I dropped out of the program and refocused my efforts entirely on learning everything I could about the Internet - from coding to e-business. I ended up graduating with 2 diplomas — one in web publishing and one in e-business —  from one of the very first college programs in Canada.

After working as a webmaster for a massive bilingual (English and French) website for the Government of Canada, I soon started my first company where I designed and developed websites for small and medium-sized businesses. There was no nomenclature for content strategy back then — this would have been around 2003 — so I differentiated myself in the market by selling clients on the idea of “digital communications strategy.” My services included what we now call information architecture, search engine marketing, content modelling and content writing.

It provided a unique selling proposition when everyone else was just selling web design services. Web project lag times were chronically long between ideation to launch because everyone was waiting on their clients to provide them with content to fill the blank spaces of their beautifully designed web pages. And the clients were waiting on their design and development teams to empower them with the knowledge they needed on how to plan for and create content, and then manage it once the site had launched.

I understood very early on from my coding days that the web pages we were designing were based on content first and design second - - not the other way around.

Six years later, in 2009, the term “content strategy” was popularized and I started using it instead of “digital communications strategy” to describe what it was I had been doing. By then, I had dropped the design and development aspects of my business and was solely focused on my expertise in content.

Looking back, I remember one of my English professors in university asking me what I had hoped to do with my degree. At the time, I was minoring in business and was convinced that there was a way to marry my love of business with my love of language. I told him that I just knew the business world had underestimated the importance of writing and communication to doing business and that I was hoping to change that. I remember clearly telling him that I had a feeling the career I was going to do just hadn’t been invented yet… and it turns out that I was right.

What do you like most about the field?

I focus my efforts almost exclusively on enterprise content strategy now. It’s where I think I can effect the most change and have the greatest impact on content downstream within an organization where content becomes more tactical. That’s not to say content strategy at the product level isn’t important, but if you spend enough time trying to get to the root of any content problem you’re facing you’ll soon find yourself peeling back layers that lead to bigger issues around organizational design, operations, corporate culture, digital fluency, employee experience and collaboration, and change management. These are the things that excite me.

Digital transformation has become a huge buzzword these days, and it’s certainly the focus and priority of most companies. But the dialogue and proposed solutions almost always focus on “digital." There’s a spotlight  and investment on enterprise-wide software and applications, the shift towards flawless omnichannel communications and service, and the acknowledgement that companies have to change in order to support the increasing demand for content — but they don’t know how.

Transformation doesn’t just happen as a result of digital. The successful shift to digital happens because of an organization’s ability to transform how they work internally, and how they pivot to changing market conditions. In a world where content is both business asset and commodity, I believe the transformational “how” rests squarely on the shoulders of enterprise content strategy and the solutions it brings to how business operates today.

Enterprise content strategy’s strength is in finding these efficiencies, operationalizing content efforts and finding synergies between projects, departments and teams. It provides a roadmap to guide content operations strategically through efficient governance and workflow in order to plan for, create and manage useful and usable content assets across internal and external channels.

Because whether you’re working at the business level or the product level, the one critical aspect content strategy brings to any project or business is its ability to exist between the cracks and strengthen whatever product or service it is applied to. There really isn’t any other discipline out there that functions as this proverbial mortar. It’s why I’m so adamant to correct people who use content marketing strategy and content strategy interchangeably. It’s not because I want to get mired in semantics, but I think that not having this distinction risks diluting the power of content strategy as an agnostic, solution-based approach to content that exists very much separate and apart from branding, messaging, positioning and engagement.

You recently tweeted, 'Content hoarding impedes collaboration, exposes the organization to risk and impacts creative efforts.' What do you mean by content hoarding and what prompted that tweet? I’m picturing a newspaper-filled garage but I know that’s not what you mean!

Ha ha! Yes, perhaps this could be a new show on TLC. My tweet was actually prompted by work I am currently undertaking with a few clients right now, using content strategy to ameliorate content hoarding behaviours.

You know, the biggest success factor when it comes to content starts with the letter ‘c’ but it isn’t actually content itself… it’s culture. An organization’s corporate culture and the tools it uses internally to support (or undermine) that culture is absolutely critical to content’s success.

So, if a company has a culture that supports collaboration between teams and departments, the content it produces will be stronger and more seamless across channels with fewer instances of redundancy and duplication. If, however, content publishing is viewed as a solo operation, integrated into a gatekeeper function or celebrated as one lone team’s achievement, the company’s content will suffer as a result.

I didn’t come up with the term “content hoarder," I give full credit to James Price and Nina Evans, but it’s a brilliant way to describe what happens in companies when their culture doesn’t support collaboration. Content owners and creators are emotionally invested in the content they create. With this attachment comes a sense of pride in regards to their expertise, knowledge base, and efforts. Of course, this is great. But, when you couple that with a lack of defined governance, proactive workflows, defined attrition planning and technology tools to support freely sharing information, the conditions are a perfect catalyst for content hoarding.

Content hoarding happens in organizations large and small. But, in small companies you’ll find employees have adopted a familiar workaround that is easy to identify with — walking over to a colleague’s desk and asking them to email you a file that they might have saved on their local hard drive.

This same workaround scenario doesn’t bode well for multinational companies or companies that are moving towards remote work, particularly if their digital workplace hasn’t been optimized with the tools necessary for building team collaboration. In this instance, many different people are creating content not just within their own siloed departments, but within their own siloed microcosms.

Symptoms of content hoarding within an organization can include publishing dissonance across external channels, content or information blocking between departments, rogue systems that circumvent company sanctioned information management or content management applications, decreased ROI on content marketing efforts, and potentially public relations crises due to the wrong information being shared at the wrong time.

There’s a lot to unpack with content hoarding. Suffice it to say that the two key defenses companies have against it is to increase internal communications, value collaboration and ensure technologies are optimized to support the first two.

What do you feel many clients don’t understand about content strategy and how do you educate them?

Whether you’re a content strategist working on apps, digital products or at the enterprise level, I think the biggest opportunity we have as a discipline is to raise the level of awareness about what we do and the problems we solve. We do an excellent job of this within our own communities of practice, but few of us preach our message to the broader business community at large.

Clients are more apt to seek me out with a list of symptoms or problems that they are experiencing, than they are to specifically identify that they need a content strategist to fix them.

I have frequently been in meetings with representatives from large consulting companies, internal IT and IM departments, even marketing and communications and they don’t realize that there is a discipline that can not only help them with the problems they are facing, but can actually strengthen and support the work that they do.

To me, that is a huge opportunity. So maybe it’s a grassroots effort that you privately undertake within your own company, or maybe you seek out business conferences to speak at; either way it’s important to not just tell people what you do but educate them about the problems you can solve.

Whenever possible, that’s what I try to do. Even if you were to meet me at a social event and ask me the common introductory “What do you do?” question, I’ll usually start with projects or solutions that I have recently worked on for familiar companies, and then end with my job title. It works well for lead generation too.

In a post on InfoDesign you wrote, “Content strategy isn’t really a discipline but a defined approach to handling an organization’s content consistently across departments and channels. It can only be effective if it becomes ubiquitous to the processes and procedures that already exist within business – communications, public relations, customer service, marketing, graphic design, IT, etc.” So, how do we make it ubiquitous? What luck have you had?

Even though that quote is a few years old, I think it still rings true. But I do have a caveat — I think content strategy does hold its own as a discipline unto itself by virtue of everything we’ve talked about so far in this interview.

I think it’s also important noting, however, that just as an accountant can exist as a specialist role, accounting can be done by anyone.

So content strategy as an approach is something we should strive to integrate into existing processes and procedures. While the ideal future of work might be, let’s say, a holacracy, many companies are still structured in very traditional ways. Working within these structures, or in spite of these structures, is where content strategy shines.

The User Experience community is having similar conversations right now. That is, shouldn’t UX be automatically baked into the business processes we undertake — absolutely!

The same is true of Content Strategy. And, I am starting to see this particularly in traditional content areas. Five or six years ago, I would have to explain the value of an editorial calendar or content audit to a Communications Director. Now, when I arrive at a kick-off meeting, they proudly present the inventories and calendars they are keeping —  even if only rudimentary. So that ubiquitous desired state is slowly starting to happen.

I launched the first content strategy meet-up in Canada in 2010, and eventually brought it under the IABC banner a few years later because I felt very strongly (and still do) that content strategy should be one of the pillars of effective business communications today.

I have recently broadened this thinking to the realization that content is one of the key aspects of business operations, and this shift opens up the possibility of integrating content strategy approaches into all processes and procedures. In doing so, the buy-in and ease at which an enterprise approach to content could be adopted, is greatly increased.

This isn’t just a pipe dream. It is possible. I have some incredibly forward-thinking clients who are making in-roads towards making this future state a reality. But, in my experience, the success of these efforts is greatly dependent on executive level support and the ability to tether enterprise content strategy efforts to concrete digital transformation projects. In addition, a formal change management strategy is critical to ongoing adoption and new way of working. None of this happens overnight.

How do you see this field changing in the next few years and how can we content strategists be ready for it?

I’m not a futurist by any means, but based on my experiences and what I’m seeing in the Content Strategy market in Canada, I think there are 2 areas that will impact the discipline: education and the shift in generational workforce.

From my perspective, the nascent days of content strategy are starting to come to an end. In 2016, Canada had its first census of its citizens in over 10 years and it was the first time “content strategist” was listed as a profession — which is exciting!

While there are some areas of the discipline, and certainly geographic areas as well, where the growth phase of content strategy is apparent, I think we’re starting to see a maturity of the profession as well, as indicated in things like these census results, and the fact that traditional colleges and universities are now offering programs in content strategy, information architecture and user experience.

So where once the barriers to entry in calling yourself a content strategist were low, it is becoming harder to simply self-identify without some kind of third-party validation of experiences and qualifications. There are some core competencies that are rising to the top of the list of standard content strategy know-how, and a fundamental knowledge and application of these topics is important. But standardization brings greater competition for jobs, and the requirement to either bring a depth of knowledge within content strategy or complementary disciplines will be important to establishing a sustainable career path as well.

In tandem with this is a paradigm shift in how business operates today. As millennials replace baby boomers, corporate cultures are going to become inherently more collaborative. The next generation of business is being run by digital natives who are familiar with the importance of content strategy but may lack the deep knowledge or experience needed to leverage its strengths in business. This means that content strategy won’t be as much about raising awareness and buy-in, but about being able to provide solutions through new and evolving tools.

And as part of gaining this new sustainable career path, the demand for senior level strategic guidance will also be greater. I think there’s an amazing opportunity for professional development to help senior content strategists continue to hone their craft. Right now, there’s still a lot of “Content Strategy 101” information out there, but it’s harder to find senior level case studies or business knowledge that can augment your practice once you’ve mastered the basics. I’ve talked to many senior content strategists who are craving that kind of information, and I think there’s an opportunity in conferences and workshops to explore this deeper and tangential knowledge.

A few years ago I wondered if content strategy was here to stay, and from evidence of evolving language to describe the various aspects of content work — content design, content engineering, etc. — I think others, as well, were starting to see the need for segmentation in terms of what it is, and what it is not. I still believe in the value and need for content strategy — not the diluted sense that content strategy supports content marketing, but in the truly value-added sense that it is imperative to be strategic about content whether that’s to improve customer experience, employee experience, brand value, or the functioning of a digital product.

 

 

Jess Vice

 
 Photo courtesy of JESS VICE

Photo courtesy of JESS VICE

 

User Experience Lead, Clearlink

"I'm still seeing a widespread trend of 'We need [UX or Content Strategy]!' without understanding what the two disciplines are, what they offer, and how to empower them to success in individual organizations."

Salt Lake City, UT

Medium
Twitter

 

 
 

I was struck by the keen sense of humor in content you've written. Would you agree that’s essential for anyone in this field?

I think a sense of humor is an essential trait in general right now. But in content strategy and UX, yes, absolutely! Humor helps us keep our humanity in mind and connect more authentically with the people we're building for. It helps us think less of ourselves and listen to others. And when all else fails, humor is the first to reach for the Nutella and a spoon.

How did you initially get into content strategy and why have you moved into UX and user testing? Does content strategy inform any of what you’re doing now, or vice versa?

I shifted from copywriting to content strategy in 2010 after Kristina Halvorson's book came out, and she started talking about a big, clear direction for CS. It felt like a natural next move for me: like taking a few steps back from writing the content into planning how the content campaigns and website should be pieced together. With a degree in English and writing, it made sense to look at the broader story lines and start considering the experience a user might have from end to end rather than the day-to-day craft of putting words together.

As I spent more and more time up to my eyeballs in CS, I kept talking about users and advocating for users and then wondering, "Who are our users and what do they actually think about our site? And how can we go beyond content to improve this experience?" I started reading everything I could on UX and talking about it to anyone who would listen. In content strategy, a lot of the research we do starts to bleed into user research - if you really want to know what people think about your brand, your site, your content, you have to talk to them directly. That's user research. And I had so many ideas for how to present information or smooth the experience for users that it made logical sense to step from high-level site strategy into experience mapping, user research, prototyping and user testing.

I think the progression from copy to content strategy to user experience has been very beneficial in building a systems thinking mindset. In the copy phase, I learned all the pieces and people that make a site or brand work, and I learned to talk to them in their languages. In content strategy, I learned to plan how those pieces and people interacted and to coordinate their efforts into work that was beneficial to users. Now, in UX, I find myself remembering all the things I wished I'd known about users as a content strategist, and trying to deliver insights and data that help content strategists, SEOs, and more as they plan sites and campaigns.

In your article, “Where do we go from mobile first,” you say user-first thinking requires a shift in thinking about user context and how to meet their immediate needs regardless of platform. Can you give an example of how you’ve done that?

Of course! In content strategy, when we're planning site structure and looking at existing user flows, we talk a lot about continuity and pathing. Sometimes we talk about tasks, sometimes not. I've been working from the UX side to help shift our priorities toward task-based planning: what does a person want to DO when they come to our site? Are we facilitating that task or obscuring that task? How complicated is that task currently, and how could we make it simpler? That way I'm working with content strategists who are building for action-oriented sites, and the tests that I run can help determine priority, ease, and user needs around those actions. Tasks can be active in signing up, purchasing, or customizing, or active in education, research, and comparison. Gerry McGovern has been doing a ton of work and research in task-based user testing. I got to see him speak at An Event Apart last year, and I was jumping out of my skin to get back to work and focus my tests more clearly.

What do you see a lot of clients getting wrong or not understanding about UX or content strategy?  

I'm still seeing a widespread trend of "We need [UX or Content Strategy]!" without understanding what the two disciplines are, what they offer, and how to empower them to success in individual organizations. In a lot of places, CS is still essentially blog management and content calendaring when it has the space and potential to offer so much insight into what works for an audience, why it works, and how to build on that success. UX is in a similar boat. It's often still an afterthought - "Oh, hey, we finished building our landing page. Would you look it over for UX?" (One of my favorite articles right now is "Hey can you 'do the UX' for us?" by Fabricio Teixeira.) I absolutely love that C-levels are aware of CS and UX and asking or advocating for them in their organizations. That's a huge first step! But I think there's still a lot of education left to do - at least once a week I have a conversation with a peer that ends with, "You can do that or find that out? That's amazing! How come I didn't know?"

There's also an upper limit we haven't hit yet in content strategy and user experience - we're still testing small, worrying over details. There are so many times I get a test request and just ask, "Do you think this is a better experience than what you have on your site right now?" If the answer is yes, we don't bother testing - implement the better ideas and test into the new functionalities, the new flows, the "crazy" ideas that keep you awake at night. The internet has been kind of the same for the last eight-ish years (from a user's perspective). What's next? How do we get there? How do we keep leveling the playing field until we get a fast, intuitive, user-centric, device-agnostic internet?

The amount of available content about content strategy and UX is overwhelming—how do you manage to sift through it?

My boss jokes that I've already read all the articles on the internet, but my bookmarks folders and Medium account and Twitter lists are still overflowing with things I haven't read yet. It's tough! Especially now that I'm in implementation and not as much research, there's very little time for reading. I've started subscribing to a few newsletters that aggregate good articles and news bullets in the industry. And I've been really careful with curating Twitter lists of highly relevant folks who specialize in UX, SEO, content strategy, interaction design, information architecture, testing and data, etc. I still feel like, even on a good week with a couple hours of reading, I'm about two years behind!

Where do you see experience design and research going in the next few years?

I think the trends we're seeing in experience design will continue: voice activated, touch or gesture controlled, faster, more mobile-centric. Those are all in the works and still being refined. But I think we're also going to see a huge emphasis on accessibility in the next year or two. Google's already monitoring mobile experiences and pushing for building things "users first." The next logical frontier is "all users" - no matter where in the world they are, what devices they have access to, or what abilities they do or do not have. And I think that's going to suddenly bring the internet into a new age - there will be legal changes and requirements around accessibility, net neutrality is going to continue being more and more talked over, and the digital is going to run smack up against the tangible. I know this sounds kind of ominous and grand, but I think it won't be so much a revolution as a continuous honing of the internet as a tool to build a global community.

What gives you the most satisfaction from what you’re doing and why?

I love finding answers for people - in test results, in case studies, in articles and research. I love a good challenge and being left a bit to my own devices to solve that challenge. User testing is just that, all bundled up together. I'm offered a problem from a marketing team, given the space to develop multiple solutions and do research around what others have already tried, and given the tools to test each experience thoroughly. Then I get to sit with the team and go over the results, talk through their ideas and insights, and set a plan to move forward. It's so many parts people, strategy, users, and research - I love coming to work every day. It doesn't hurt that the CRO team I sit on is some of the smartest, funniest people I've ever had the privilege to work with.

 

 

Sally Bagshaw

 
 Photo courtesy of Sally Bagshaw

Photo courtesy of Sally Bagshaw

 

Content Strategist, independent consultant

"At the heart of it, everything that we do is about people. The best thing I've learned from UX colleagues is to understand how to find out more about people's goals, motivations and decision making."

Based in Brisbane, Australia, but working globally

Web Content Strategy | Australian content strategist - Thoughts and musings on content strategy by Sally Bagshaw
 

 
 

Your article Beyond Words: using content strategy for better UX is an excellent explanation of content strategy! How did you get into the field? 

I have a degree in business communication and have worked in the digital space since about 2000. Right from the beginning I was all about content. At first I managed a government department's intranet, then I moved to website projects and at one point I even managed a CMS implementation. The mix of communication, project and people management plus a few years as a copywriter built a really solid foundation to become a content strategist. It also helped that I'm a bit of a geek and can translate more technical ideas and requirements into conversations that non-technical folk understand. 

You seem to possess a fantastic command of not just content strategy but UX too! What advice would you give budding content strategists who want to solidify their UX knowledge?

We all should have at least some understanding of UX methods and processes in our content strategy toolkit as there's so much cross-over with our disciplines.  At the heart of it, everything that we do is about people. The best thing I've learned from UX colleagues is to understand how to find out more about people's goals, motivations and decision making.

I've also learned good techniques to validate ideas - from basic paper prototyping to more involved user testing.

So, my advice is if you work with UX folk, invite yourself along to their user research and testing sessions. See firsthand actual face-to-face interaction with the people using your product or service rather than looking at rows in a spreadsheet (not that there's anything wrong with that!).

You’ve illuminated content strategy so well you’ve made me wonder why I sometimes struggle to explain what I do! What is the hardest thing for people to grasp about content strategy?

Because most of my work is at the intersection of content, UX and technology, I find the biggest challenge is that people still focus mostly on the editorial side of content. Don't get me wrong - it's perfectly OK to create an editorial content strategy but it's still only one part of a bigger puzzle.

We often neglect the people side of things. Who's doing what, what resources do we actually need for great content, how do we empower people to make good decisions about content, how can teams effectively communicate with each other, how do we share and celebrate success. 

All the style guides in the world won't fix an internal culture that's broken.

The other thing is that good content strategy happens every day. It's not just for one campaign, one website launch or one project. We should be constantly improving, measuring and refining what we do.

I loved your blog post/conference presentation about taming fiefdoms and the reluctance to give up control. How do you get past that with clients?

As I touched on before, people are the hardest part of content. You have to appreciate that content is personal. Nobody woke up one day and thought - hey, I'm going to produce some really terrible content. So if it's your job to help create a better content experience, then you mustn't forget to support the people who will be planning for, creating and managing that experience in the long term. Some of this is through being empathetic, some of it is about being confident (people look to someone to help guide them through difficult times) but most of it is about listening. Listen to what they are saying and not saying. Invite the quiet ones to the table. Don't discard their ideas. Give them the tools they need to do a great job.

The other thing that helps is to have good user research. Remove personal opinion from decision making and base it on evidence. If you can tie actions to outcomes it makes it hard to argue for anything else.

Tell us about one of the projects you’re most proud of and why.

I recently worked as part of a team on a large project for a university. We were tasked with transforming the university's web presence from an old, outdated and unfriendly experience to something that was completely user centric. We also had to set up new ways of working internally, adopting Agile processes and building a strong content community across the different business areas and faculties (colleges).

The reason that I'm proud of this project is because throughout all the challenges we had (including navigating a complex, political environment, mountains of existing content, working out what to do with legacy systems), the team never lost sight of our end goal: helping the user. We tried new things, adapted and refined what wasn't working, and developed a fantastic team culture. We also created a really strong story about what we were trying to achieve that we shared with stakeholders. People felt that they were part of something that was going to have a massive, positive impact across the university. And it did.

 

 

Ania Mastalerz

 
 PHOTO COURTESY OF ANIA MASTALERZ

PHOTO COURTESY OF ANIA MASTALERZ

 

User Researcher, Optimal Workshop

"...the role of design and information architecture is to be invisible – to emphasize content without obstructing it.."

Wellington, New Zealand

LinkedIn, where you can connect with me and chat about all things research
Mixed Methods, where you’ll find me writing and editing content on all things UX research

 

 
 

How did you get into user research? 

I’ve always wanted to work at the intersection of human behavior and technology. Straight out of University (where I studied Psychology), I started my career as a Questionnaire Designer at Statistics New Zealand where I worked on designing surveys for collecting national statistics.

At the time, we were going through a shift from paper to digital data collection, which gave me the opportunity to do a range of usability testing of online forms. The process of feeding basic human needs into complex systems really fascinated me, and I decided to seek out an opportunity to make research an integral part of my role, which is when Optimal Workshop came along.

What do you like most about it?

User research is revelatory on many levels. I enjoy continuously testing my own assumptions, often being wrong and learning from the process.

It teaches you to be humble and empathetic – two qualities I think we could all benefit from cultivating further.

I enjoy the challenge of finding common threads in people’s needs and looking at the different ways the technology we build can empower them.

How do you think content strategists could make better use of user research?

Once at a conference, I heard the phrase “Content first, because everything else is window dressing.” It didn’t sit well with me at first, but after some time I realized that the role of design and information architecture is to be invisible – to emphasize content without obstructing it.

For me, testing content is just as important as testing the visual design or information architecture of our website. A beautiful and seamless design doesn’t make for a great user experience. A great user experience is when someone can find the information they are looking for and walk away confidently knowing they understood it.

I love the idea of spending as much time designing the words we use as we do the visual and structural side. This article by Angela Colter does a great job of explaining the importance of content testing – and if there is one thing I think content strategy could learn from research, this is it.

You recently spoke on card sorting at the IA Summit here in Chicago. What are some new applications for card sorting that content strategists might use?

My talk focused on how something as familiar as an online card sort can have many different applications, outside of just information architecture. Some ideas that I think are particularly relevant for content strategists include:

1.   Understand brand voice and tone

Source a variety of adjectives that may describe your brand (Brand Deck is a great set). Ask your users to sort these into categories such as “[Your brand] is”, “[Your brand] is not” and “Does not apply”).

This will give you an understanding of how your users view your brand, and whether it aligns with how you want to be perceived.

2.   Crowdsourcing content ideas

This is an example we used when planning the UX New Zealand conference in 2016, but it can apply to any place that involves the creation of content, whether it’s an event or blog.

We sent out a closed card sort to our community asking them to group potential topics into groups that either interested them or didn’t. This helped us narrow down the focus of our event and select relevant speakers.

It was highly effective and helped us get a better understanding of our audience and their preferences, making sure we’re delivering content that is not only of a high quality, but also as relevant as possible.

3.   As an internal consultation tool

Closed card sorting is a great tool for quickly involving others in the decision making process, capturing the voice of a wider group without the need for face-to-face meetings.  You can use it with external or internal users or stakeholders to help answer questions like:

  • Where should we start?

  • What is the most important thing we should work on?

  • Where should this content live?

  • What are our desired project outcomes?

  • Where do we focus our efforts?

  • What needs the most work?


For more ideas on creative ways to use card sorting, you can check out my slides from IA Summit 2018 here.

Your IA Summit bio said you are inspired by the intersections between technology, design and human behavior. Can you give some examples of interesting findings you’ve seen? Or something that might surprise us about how people behave?

I’ve always been interested in information processing and how imperfect we are all when it comes to making sense of the world around us.

We all use shortcuts (aka heuristics) to help us make efficient judgements and decisions, and we’re all riddled with biases that we cannot control. To get an idea of just how many factors may be influencing our judgement at any time, I recommend checking out the Cognitive Bias Codex from Buster Benson.

I think it’s important to have an appreciation for how imperfect, irrational and unpredictable humans can be in navigating the world around them, and acknowledge that while design can help guide behavior, you can’t never truly design someone’s experience for them.

It’s an interesting challenge designing with cognitive limitations in mind, and it’s something worth paying attention in our own work too. Becoming more aware of our own intrinsic biases can help us a lot in reframing how we view problems and solutions in our work and daily life.

 

Leticia Mooney

 
 PHOTO COURTESY OF LETICIA MOONEY

PHOTO COURTESY OF LETICIA MOONEY

 

Queen Pixie, Brutal Pixie Pty Ltd

"NOBODY understands content strategy; trying to sell it based on what it's called is a total waste of time...decision-makers don't care what you call it, they just want their problems solved."

Adelaide, South Australia

LinkedIn
Pixie
Personal website
Personal Patreon (because you've gotta try, right?)
Crunchbase

 

 
 

I love your tagline “making business human.” Give us an idea of how you accomplish that.

Thank you! Ok, before I answer your question, let's all get on the same page with what it means first.

We are (and, more particularly, I am) obsessed by the notion of humanity. What is it? How do we express it? What characterises it? How do people understand it? We aren't alone either; there is now human-centric design, human-centric UX, (etc). But the curious thing about that is that - for me - everything with people at the other end ought to be human-centric. Otherwise, who are you designing things for? Algorithms? Animals? Cars? 

This notion of what constitutes a human state isn't an easy one to answer, either. It's why I dedicate so many podcasts to the question (and have a wall filled with sticky notes to go exploring in thought experiments). In general, those that I've spoken to, from business owners to authors, suggest that there are some key components. They are: 1) listening; 2) empathy. The third component is one that I am by no means the first person to talk about (in fact, the first may have been Claude Hopkins, one of modern copywriting's parents), which is to write in terms that the audience understands.

So, for us, a human business is one that listens to its audiences (internal and external); one that exhibits and uses empathy; one that prioritises relationships; one that communicates effectively. It is also one that weaves these things into what it does, so it can still have really tight corporate strategy, it's just that it is a coherent one. (And by coherent, you understand me to mean corporate coherence, a state in which all aspects of a business are moving in the same direction for the same reasons. There are some great articles about that in Strategy+Business by PwC if you're interested.)

We achieve this through a methodology that incorporates corporate strategy, market and task research, understandability and usability testing, and what I've come to call 'audience advocacy', which is a fancy way of saying great communication at the right time for the right purpose for the right people, in the right way.


How did you get your content strategy education?

The million dollar question!

The 30-second answer is: I didn't. Formal content strategy education is a very, very new concept.

The detailed answer is more interesting.

I was trained as a professional & technical writer and editor, and I have a very old-school approach to business and publishing. That is: It's all about relationships and people. Editing, for example, has always been about audience advocacy. I took arguably the most specialised degree out of my university that was possible. This meant that for all of the components of my degree (major, submajor, cognate, electives), I took subjects from the same stream. So I learned how to write literally everything (fiction, non-fiction, creative nonfiction, business writing, technical writing, job applications, criticism, etc); how to edit everything; and everything about the publishing process. My career has not been all in one line like most people, because I don't function that way. 

In parallel with my uni studies, I worked as a music critic from about the age of 19: Starting with the uni paper. My first business was a bespoke publishing house; my second business was an online magazine titled Metal as Fuck, which was a branding and marketing sensation before I sold it (2007-2011). I scoped the entire platform based on my experience working for other online magazines (and my acquired knowledge of websites and basics of websites), designed the UX at the front- and back-ends; designed the approvals flow; briefed all the designers and developers involved; collaborated with industry (music industry) as to what it ought to include and how and why (etc), and so on. It was a drop-shipping eCommerce platform and a magazine, and was extremely unique because of (a) its focus (extreme metal only), and (b) the way we surfaced the industry, and (c) the way we were briefly able to sell incredible product really cheaply.

Our intention was to connect the fans to the back-end of the industry that they never see, so we did rad things like round-tables with the world's greatest music engineers and producers and publicists, and we were pioneers of community chats on Twitter. As a result of my efforts, we had 1000 fans on Twitter before we even had a product; paired with focused PR rather than advertising, we gained ground really fast once we launched. I was the publisher, but in time also the editor (our first one we had to let go), as well as the person running everything else. And yes, I worked about 120 hours a week for no pay for about four years doing it. :) By the time I sold it to Radar Media, we had writers and photographers in every city of Australia, and also in Mexico, Brazil, the USA, Canada, Taiwan, South Africa, England, Scotland, Norway, Finland, Germany, Sweden, and at various times had people from Japan and Russia and NZ and wherever else they appeared. The massive metal festival in Germany, Wacken, put in rules about 'no new media' which we got through because of our strategic approach; and were the first Australian press to cover Bloodstock (UK), Summer Breeze (GER), Wacken (GER), and Party.San (GER). 

This taught me a bunch of things, including:

  • How to build a fabulous platform
  • How to market a fabulous platform
  • How to promote it (I learned from the PRs and publicists I dealt with on a daily basis)
  • How to create engaged audiences
  • How to get buy-in from people in significant places a long way away
  • How to manage 100% remote teams
  • The reality of running a global business from South Australia (hint: very, very, very little sleep and no down-time)
  • The fact that it's music business not music friendship
  • How to mentor writers effectively even when you never see them
  • How to (and not to) monetise an online publication
  •  .... and much more besides.

It's also the vehicle by which I wrote and released my first book, Music Journalism 101, which was the first course of its kind in the world. I published it as a series of blogs, and produced the book after years of people begging me to do so. One of my writers from then is now producing her own publication in South Africa, and recently told me that it's her guiding light for setting up process. Which is amazing!

After I sold MaF, I ended up working in bunch of interesting jobs before  in a call centre taking complaints about newspaper delivery. It was THE PITS! But it also taught me how people view product. It's never the product, it's the place it has in people's lives. It's the ritual in which the product takes place. It's what you might call the bread and butter territory for strategists like Gerry McGovern. 

It also taught me how business failure (meaning, failure to deliver product according to promises made) causes mass exits of loyal customers. About two years into this job, enduring endless teams of "consultants" who were "studying the reasons for the failure to convert and retain", and watching marketing teams fail to connect with customers, and dealing with software that had reporting descoped by people who didn't understand it, and building internal sharepoint sites that other teams begged me to build for them, I realised something.

That something was that I had the strategic knowledge that could have prevented so many of the problems that plagued us on a daily basis! And when this dawned on me, I realised that everyone is just making it up in business. It's not that News Advantage had any more knowledge than anyone else. They were just bigger! They'd just been selling newspapers since 1858 in one form or another. They just had more money! They were still just making it up, based on what they'd done before. Every founder hits this realisation at some point, and it is a seismic shift in how you view the world, let me tell ya.

Anyway, what NewsAdvantage lacked was the strategic oomph to really do anything to pull it all together. After I had that realisation, I understood that I could add a lot of value to other companies, even large, established companies. 

And then after an interesting turn of events I found myself out on my own again.

At that point (2013) I discovered this newfangled phrase content strategy that seemed to describe much of what was my skillset, so I grabbed it and ran as I started validating my new startup.

Like most entrepreneurs, my education wasn't in an institution. It was by learning from every single person around me, every single day, while reading whatever books I gravitate towards to solve this week's problem. And that's still how I learn.

How do you help your clients understand what content strategy is?

I wrote an article about that. But now (2018) I don't bother. I talk to them about their problems in their terms, and sell on that basis. NOBODY understands content strategy; trying to sell it based on what it's called is a total waste of time. This is a very blunt way of saying that the only people it matters to now are those people looking for jobs, or trying to recruit the skill-set - but even then, I suggest you'd end up with an extremely mixed bag of applicants and roles, because marketing has done more for the distribution of the term than the true content strategy fraternity has ever done. (Sorry guys, just what I see.) 

In business terms and sales terms, decision-makers don't care what you call it, they just want their problems solved.

What are the biggest challenges in doing content strategy for law?

There are so many! They are still having conversations like, Why do I need a website, if that gives you an idea. :)

The critical challenge is that the legal market is small, and entirely relationships-driven, and most lawyers know each other. So, as a non-lawyer, that's an interesting challenge. The next biggest challenge is the fact that law firms are run by lawyers, and that many lawyers don't understand business, but they do think all this stuff is fluffy and BS. It's a very reactive industry. I've had lawyers stand in front of me after I've given a presentation and say, 'You know, all this business stuff? I couldn't give a sh*t'.

For all of the challenges, though, there are absolute gems, shining lights. And as the industry undergoes significant shifts, we're going to see more of the adventurous, communication-minded lawyers running boutique firms and really caring about their audiences. They're already emerging (a great example is Hive Legal in Australia, which began with human-centric design principles), and it's such an exciting place to be.

What’s the content strategy community like in Australia?

Man, it's tiny. Unless you ask a marketer, then it's pretty big! (They'd be talking about something else though.)  I think all the key content strategists I could count on 10 fingers. And at least two of them are Kiwis. Ha! I'm in Adelaide, which is 3.5 hours flight from Brisbane and Perth, 2 hours to Sydney, an hour to Melbourne. We're a long way from anywhere, and our town is extremely small (1 million). There are loads of developers here who don't know what accessibility is, let alone content strategy. So, while our community (such as it is) is super friendly and supportive and brilliant, there really aren't many of us. We get about 20 people to a meetup, and that's because we're content strategists, plus the UX community, plus the Write the Docs community.

What’s your favorite part about what you do?

The point at which I hear clients say things like, I love you guys so much I am never letting you go, because it says we've delivered them a whole lot of value. That's a pretty special moment.

 

 

Carrie Hane

 
 Photo courtesy of Carrie Hane

Photo courtesy of Carrie Hane

 

Founder & Principal Strategist, Tanzen LLC

"The biggest challenge I face as a consultant is getting past the notion that content strategy is writing and messaging."

Washington, DC

Tanzen Consulting
Medium

 

 
 

Congratulations on your new book! What gave you the idea? 

A few years ago, after working together on the 2015 IA Summit, Mike Atherton (my co-author) and I were talking about the different ways people used the term "content modeling.” We realized there our work intersected – he’d been doing domain and content modeling outside an interface while I’d been using a content model for CMS implementations. When that end-to-end process was put together, it was different from what others were sharing. So we started by creating a workshop for UX, IA, and content strategy conferences. When the idea of a book on domain modeling was presented, we decided to do it. But we’d cover the entire process, not just domain modeling. And so, Designing Connected Content came to life. 

Content strategy is still a new field but you’re running a consultancy to train people to see content differently. What challenges do you face?

The biggest challenge I face as a consultant is getting past the notion that content strategy is writing and messaging. I focus on the people, processes, and systems involved in creating, connecting, and managing content. You could call it back-end content strategy. Just like there is front-end and back-end development, we have that with content strategy too. My company focuses on what happens behind the scenes to make it all work.

Changing how content is produced and making it more effective takes education. The web has become everyone’s job but very few people were trained in how to make it good. Many people who manage websites, write web content, publish email newsletters, post to social media channels, and make videos fell into for one reason or another. It’s too important now to be publishing digital content without some knowledge about what makes content effective.  

What do you think most clients and stakeholders get wrong about content and how should we, as content strategists, best help them?

Too many organizations think that they are user-centric, but really, they are only rewrapping their websites and content in new packages that still reflect the organization’s desires instead of meeting the audiences’ needs. They start by thinking, “How do I write this web page” instead of asking the questions, “Who is the target audience? What do they want? How can I make content useful that is useful to them?”

In my training and consulting (which is sometimes more like coaching), I focus on defining the audience and their needs along with planning a structure that allows content to be reused across all channels and interfaces. Every content strategist and user experience professional should be relentlessly asking “why” and reminding stakeholders about the users and their needs. They should be practicing what I call “strategic nagging.” We need to patiently and persistently repeat a message for it to get absorbed by the people we work with. Content strategy is change leadership. Practitioners needs to step into the leadership role.

Carrie, when you work with clients on content modeling, what’s the most difficult part for them to understand and why?

The most difficult part is getting people to get their heads out of the website. The content modeling I do is for an organization, not a particular website or product. When we do this, they can use it for all their products, websites, and communications channels.

There is also a lot of ambiguity because it’s a new way of thinking about content for most people. Because they’re used to thinking first about what it’s going to look like, it can be difficult to get them to focus on the attributes of a resource as it exists outside of a digital interface display. But as they go through the process, we can see the light come on and they start getting excited about the possibilities that lie ahead.

What kind of challenges do you see coming up in this field? What kind of opportunities?

One of the challenges I see in the content strategy field is having alignment within the community about what content strategists do. It’s not really a “define the damn thing” problem, but one of being a very broad field. Content strategy encompasses so many different aspects that just calling oneself a content strategist – or hiring one – can mean so many different things. I’ve seen some threads in various communities where people are telling others that they aren’t real content strategists. That’s not helpful. If we can’t reach agreement among ourselves, how are we going to get taken seriously by the business people who need us to be successful?

Another challenge I’ve only recently seen mentioned publicly, but I’ve thought about for several years, is that the field is made up largely of women. And that comes with the same baggage as other “women’s” fields like nursing and teaching: lower pay and less respect. It’s something that’s part of the bigger equality discussion and won’t be solved apart from that.

The opportunities are huge, though. As “content strategy” gains traction, businesses embrace design as a differentiator, and screens fade to the background (think voice interfaces) as content rises to the surface as the most important thing an organization has, people who practice content strategy will become more important and in demand. We who do the care and feeding of the content and its management and delivery systems will have more influence on businesses and products. Content isn’t going away, it’s going to keep increasing in quantity. By applying a strategic approach to the ever-multiplying content, we can improve the quality too.

 

 

Andy Welfle

 
 PHOTO COURTESY OF ANDY WELFLE

PHOTO COURTESY OF ANDY WELFLE

 

Senior UX Content Strategist, Adobe

"I love that I can build systems and virtual experiences using words and ideas like designers use visuals — words matter, and it feels good to be a tireless advocate for those words."

San Francisco, CA

Welfle.com
Andy.coffee
@welfle

 

 
 

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

I spend a lot of time on Twitter and Medium, mostly when I’m commuting or switching gears at work. So many of my industry colleagues are great writers, and love to write, so there are fantastic articles out there to be found about UX, the web and content strategy. I especially love “Write Like a Human” or Facebook Design’s publications on Medium. UX Booth is also a great resource for industry trends and relevant perspectives.

Describe a typical workday:

There are usually a lot of meetings. I’m the first in-product content strategist to be at Adobe, and one of my big tasks is to start a practice from scratch, so I spend a lot of time time doing meta-work — explaining content strategy, how it intersects with design, and how it diverges. And because it’s brand-new here, there’s a lot of demand, even though there’s just one of me (for now!). I do have to say “no” a lot.

But, in an effort to turn that into a “yes, and…” and still build some visibility within this huge company, I started weekly content strategy office hours. So if it’s a Tuesday or Thursday, you can probably find me in a booth in the cafeteria meeting with designers and product managers and advising about the language they’re using in their product. I don’t have the time or capacity to do a lot of tactical work there, but I try to advise where I can.

What led you to this field and what do you like best about what you do?

I started my career in digital marketing — planning strategies for and and executing upon social media campaigns for clients at a little agency in the midwest. While I loved the editorial aspects of what I was doing, the marketing work didn’t speak to me. It’s a noble profession, but personally, I felt like my goals were sometimes at odds with the user, whose needs and experiences should be paramount. 

I started looking seriously at UX and product content strategy, which felt like a better fit for me. I was suddenly thinking about terminology in interfaces, language systems, taxonomies, information architectures and other messages rather than the very marketing-driven messaging I was before. There’s a lot of amazing work to be done on the marketing side of the aisle, but I realized it just wasn’t for me.

I love that I can build systems and virtual experiences using words and ideas like designers use visuals — words matter, and it feels good to be a tireless advocate for those words.

If it doesn’t violate any confidentiality, can you describe a recent challenge and how you solved it?

I’m pretty new at Adobe, but I’m quickly learning the most effective thing I can do at this point is to be an advocate for content strategy, or at the very least, help product teams think more about the language in the experience. How do I balance the need to go deep on a product to demonstrate value, as opposed to making a wide but shallow impact to increase visibility? Pretty early on, I interviewed a lot of coworkers in various roles, set up a process for how I would engage with the team, and how they’d like to engage with me. It’s important to be flexible, of course, but it’s more important to be clear and transparent in how you work and what you bring to the table.

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

I guess it’s a bit cliche to mention, but as chatbots and voice interfaces become better and more prominent, I think that we’ll see visual design and language design merge more and more into one design singularity, but maybe with specialists within that discipline. When I was at Facebook, I experimented with a designer on a voice interface, and we quickly realized that we were doing the same work; structuring sentences, thinking about stress cases, researching natural language, et cetera! It was actually really fun, and it helped us develop some empathy for each other and our respective disciplines.

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

Content strategy is a hard thing to grasp to those who are new to it. I always recommend reading a couple of introductory books to see if it seems like a good fit for you: Elements of Content Strategy by Erin Kissane and Content Strategy for the Web by Kristina Halvorson are my favorite. If those books speak to you like they did for me, proceed! 

Also, be sure demonstrate your ability to think in systems. At least for UX or product content strategy, I think that’s often what recruiters are looking for in candidates besides being a strong writer. By "systems thinking", I mean that in product content strategy, we need to be able to think about the whole end-to-end experience, and how words and design elements interact with each other. It has a lot to do with using terms and phrases consistently, but also takes into account where a user is within the process of what they're doing.

What are you doing when you're not at work? 

If you stalk me on Twitter at all, you’ll find that I’m a bit obsessed with wooden pencils and stationery. I have a blog I’ve maintained for years about pencils, and in the last three years, a couple friends and I started a podcast about the same, and built up a pretty decent audience. Turns out analog tools of creation are still relevant in a super-digital world.

And if I’m not working on those projects, I’m probably at home hanging out with my cats or exploring the city with my partner.

 

 

Melissa Rach

 
 PHOTO COURTESY OF melissa rach

PHOTO COURTESY OF melissa rach

 

Dialog Studios

"These days every agency under the sun sells “content strategy”—and every one of those offerings is different. That’s not necessarily bad, but it’s confusing. I think as the industry matures, specific subsets of content strategy are emerging that are more clear, standardized, and sellable. "

Minneapolis, MN

 

 

 
 

Describe a typical workday:

Melissa's dog, tilly

I own a content-focused agency with two business partners, so I have a lot of flexibility in my days. I start every by day by talking to my assistant, Tilde (a.k.a. Tilly the Labrador), about whether we’ll work at home or at the office. After that, every day is different. Some days I work all day (and all night) on client projects, some days I do research or admin stuff for our agency, and some days it’s all sales meetings or client workshops. If I’m on a big client project, I’ll work heads down at the computer for 10+ hours a day, for several days in a row … and Tilly gets really bored with me. But most of the time, I’m able to contain things to a normal work day. This is the best job I’ve ever had.

You’ve studied archaeology. There must be commonalities with content strategy?

When people hear that I have degrees in journalism and archaeology, they usually scoff at the archaeology degree and say something like, “Bet you use that a lot.” Well, actually, I do. Maybe even more than the journalism degree at this point. 

Archaeology is a study of people—understanding their needs and behaviors. It involves creating big-picture hypotheses and proving/disproving them using extremely detailed research, mapping, and categorization. Archaeology is a team activity, but it also includes a whole lot of self-directed alone time. These are all skills that have been immensely valuable to me as a content consultant.

I intended to be a science journalist for National Geographic or Archaeology, but content work is the next best thing. And, it’s less dusty than archaeology.

So many people—even those we work with, sometimes--still don’t understand what content strategy is. You co-wrote Content Strategy for the Web, Second Edition, with Kristina Halvorson and are credited with developing the content strategy quad. How did you become so adept at explaining our field and its processes to others?

I’ve just practiced a lot. I’ve been in the content industry for more than 20 years, so I’ve had plenty of time to work on my messaging. Honestly, though, I rarely launch into a detailed explanation of content strategy in my daily life. I didn’t even come up with the quad as a way to explain content strategy. I came up with it as a way to organize a big client deliverable—and realized it worked for other projects, too. 

The biggest hint I can give to people is: don’t get hung up on trying to “define the field” or using the phrase “content strategy.” It’s not necessary to most conversations. Just like any other content, you need to tailor your pitch/explanation to your audience. Use the words that are clear and meaningful to them. Put the work you can do into the context of their situation. Let’s look at a few scenarios where you might feel the need to explain your content work:

·       Family reunion (you need a one-liner to give Aunt Maggie the basic idea): “I help my company create and organize all the information we give to our customers on the web, in brochures, and other places.” (I know that’s overly simplistic, but it’s enough for starters.)

·       Professional networking (you need an elevator pitch that sets you apart): “I specialize in content projects for large organizations. Most of my projects focus on [YOUR FAVORITE WORK HERE (e.g., messaging, editorial planning, taxonomy)].” 

·       Discussion with a prospective client or internal project sponsor (you need to find out if you are a good fit for the job): “I hear you have some content needs. What’s going on?”  Then launch into services and examples that are relevant to them.

Can you describe a recent challenge and how you solved it?

I have a current client (a global organization) that doesn’t sell products online—even though their customers are begging them to. They have good reason for limiting ecommerce: It’s in the customer’s interest to buy the product with the help of professional. So, we have to find to make the online brand experience valuable with content alone.

By researching successful similar content models in other industries and reviewing user research the organization already had, we are working on:

·       Creating a clear path for users to get to the professionals that can help them

·       Providing messaging that tells why the organization doesn’t sell online and how that’s a benefit to the user

·       Designing a site full of educational information that the users and professionals can use together

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

The phrase “content strategy” appeared about a decade ago, as a rally cry to get the people to realize that content was an important part of creating online properties.  And, as a rally cry, it worked. Most people in marketing and technology today will acknowledge that content is, in fact, critical to success—not just for online properties but for their business as a whole.

However, as the label of a distinct discipline, “content strategy” jumped the shark. These days every agency under the sun sells “content strategy”—and every one of those offerings is different. That’s not necessarily bad, but it’s confusing. I think as the industry matures, specific subsets of content strategy are emerging that are more clear, standardized, and sellable. (Actually, some of those subsets—such as information architecture or editorial planning—were defined before the “content strategy” label and are making a comeback.)

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

Four things:

1.     Be flexible and don’t be afraid to try things outside your comfort zone. Never done a content audit? Try one. Asked to work on a taxonomy? Go for it.    

2.     But, you don’t have to be an expert in all areas of “content strategy.” Nobody is.

3.     No matter what the books and blogs say, there is no one right way to do content strategy stuff.  Sometimes you need to look outside content strategy for answers. Solving a hard workflow problem? See what human resources experts recommend.  Need to know more about creating sharable content? Talk to some public relations pros.   

4.     Last, and most important, remember content work is a service. You aren’t Hemingway writing a pièce de résistance on beach in Cuba. You’re serving your client (internal or external) and the user. Your work is going to be constrained by user preferences, budgets, timelines, legal guidelines, etc. It’s your job to make the best content you can within those constraints. (Sorry about the dreams I just crushed, you can still be Hemingway on your own time.) 

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

Oh, boy, I’m not the right person for this one. I learned a long time ago that I if I go onto social media every day, I never get any work done at all. There are too many interesting things to learn about. And once I start learning about a topic, I need to learn alllllll about the topic. I can’t do it in short bursts—I’m not wired that way. If I do go on twitter, it’s for a specific client project … or J.K. Rowling and Carrie Fisher.

I reserve time once a month or so to scan the whole industry instead of following a specific blog or person on twitter. My favorite sources aren’t content strategy-specific, they’re scientists and researchers who study things that help me understand how people learn and how media use impacts us. (I’m still a science geek at heart.)

For example, I like to check out:

·       Annie Murphy Paul’s blog on education

·       Dr. Pamela Rutledge’s blog on Media Psychology

·       University of Rochester’s Brain & Cognitive Sciences website and twitter account (@UoR_BrainCogSci)

·       Trendwatching’s free stuff

 

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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