Making the business case for content strategy – exclusive excerpt from Rahel Anne Bailie and Noz Urbina’s new book

Content-strategy-book-coverFinally, a book on content strategy that empowers clients, employers and other decision-makers get to grips with content strategy – jump to our sneak preview below for an exclusive read!

In Content Strategy: Connecting the dots between business, brand, and benefits, Rahel Anne Bailie and Noz Urbina have put together the first content strategy book to focus on what project managers, department heads and other decision-makers need to know about content strategy.

This fills a huge gap – making the case for the buy-in of content strategy. As we’ve seen in Firehead’s recent survey on hiring trends in content strategy, there remains much confusion as to what a content strategist actually does and what skills employers can expect when hiring one. This book helps to pin that down, and is the perfect complement to the growing number of content strategy handbooks.

We’re excited to see this book come into print for two reasons. One, we’re very happy to see a client-oriented book that we can recommend to the organisations we recruit for. Secondly, CJ Walker, owner of Firehead, edited the final draft for publication and really enjoyed reading it.

So much so, that she asked if we could reproduce an extract here on the Firehead blog. We think both content strategists and employers alike will find this section particularly useful. It’s from the chapter on “Finding the Content Strategy Skills You Need” which explains what content strategists should be able to do, where the role’s boundaries lie, and the kind of skills and aptitudes a hirer should be looking for.

Content Strategy: Connecting the dots between business, brand, and benefits by Rahel Anne Bailie and Noz Urbina is out on 20 December 2012.

Finding the content strategy skills you need

In the days when the responsibility for strategic-level content decisions rested elsewhere, having writers “just write” was a viable approach. Those were simpler times – like back in the days when a website could be built by “just coding some HTML.” Now, it’s more likely that strategic decisions around content need to be made by an intermediary – someone who has both a strategic view of the business goals that content is expected to support and an intimate understanding of the implementation side of content. What is important is that a writer is not a content strategist. The skill sets may overlap, but the focus of the role is quite different.

Capabilities and aptitudes for a content strategist

In the world of content strategy, as of yet, there are no college programs, professional certificates, or training courses through professional associations. Given the lack of readily-available information, what does one look for when engaging a content strategist?

A single content strategist likely will not be a master of all the details of every aspect of content strategy. Instead, a content strategist uses core consulting methodology to determine how content should be delivered, why, and to what benefit. The core consulting methodology – simplified here for sake of space – determines current state, analyzes the requirements (of the business, content, and users), determines future state, identifies gaps, and creates a roadmap from the current to the future state.

Understanding the nature of content – from genre analysis to taxonomy to delivery models to line editing – is a given. Processing content is not like processing data; it’s a lot more subtle and complex. A content strategist needs to have some sort of content background – English, writing, journalism, library sciences, translation, or related fields – to understand the qualities and properties of content. Having the ability to inventory content without understanding a lot about its nature is one thing; undertaking any sort of content analysis or taxonomy effort or content rewrite implies some measure of skill at content development.

The content strategist should be able to work as part of the larger team, whether that be an engineering department, a CMS integration team, a user experience team, or a communications group. More importantly, a strategist should understand how important it is to be part of the big picture, and understand how to integrate the content strategy within the larger organizational plans.

It is definitely helpful when content strategists are technology aware – in other words, knowledgeable enough about current and emerging technologies that they can recommend strategic ways of implementing content. One director of content strategy at an interactive agency asserts that a content strategist, by definition, must have a working knowledge of XML; without it, you have a writer, not a strategist.

This is different than technical acumen – there are way too many complex software apps out there to be both a content strategist and technologist. But the strategist should have enough conceptual knowledge to understand how content should or could flow through a system, and which types of systems will deliver the goods for a particular business need. This means system awareness, knowledge of implementation best practices, content migration techniques, content standards, and an understanding of the interrelationships between people, processes, and technology.

Different skills, different solutions

A content strategist should have a range of skills that span the particular practice area. A content strategist in a PR agency will require different skills than one working with a manufacturer. While both content strategists will have common baseline knowledge of content, the specialties could be significantly different.

Does that mean a deep knowledge of all the major tools on the market? Not in the least. However, the strategist does need to have enough experience with a range of these tools to know the differences between how they process content, and through that, how to make sound assessments of new tools. The strategist also needs to know how to exploit the content, and how to determine which system works in which situation.

The temptation of organizations to want a laundry list of software skills underlines a lack of understanding about the field, and about the benefits that a content strategist can bring to a project. In the spirit of “the music is not in the violin,” the ability to use a range of software tools is not what makes a good strategist. Many industries “hire for aptitude; train for skills.” This seems like sound advice for the practice area of content strategy, particularly because so much of the work is tied to aptitude.

© 2012. Republished with permission of Noz Urbina and Rahel Anne Bailie. Further information can be found at Thecontentstrategybook.com 

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