Content insight / Content Strategy

‘Content Strategy’ is a buzzword. Discuss.

Elena Plaiter
It’s something i’ve been asking myself recently and last week’s Content Strategy Association debate did just this. As I delve into more and more Content Strategy (CS) books, and blogs and events, I was beginning to wonder if there was something I was missing.

CS seems to be the stuff I already do, that I never bothered to label. So a good healthy debate to bring out the arguments was very useful. This is not a direct reporting of proceedings, but what i took away from the session, laid out in a way i found useful.

In this case ‘Publisher’ refers to offline and traditional publishing.

For the motion

  • Content strategy is editorial professionalism. It’s a way of adding value to marketing communications.
  • You might be employing CS, but you never call it that. Customers won’t stick with you if your content is bad, or they will, but grudgingly, because there’s no alternative. So obviously you strive to make your content as good as it can be, without relying on the label ‘CS’.
  • CS is an amalgamation of terms that refer to the selection, management and presentation of editorial content. ‘Commissioning Editor’, ‘Editor’, ‘Producer’, ‘Publisher’ all roll up to form a ‘content strategist’.
  • The business needs to label what they do to make sense of it. Content strategy is not as ingrained in digital as it is in Publishing, hence the need for a superfluous term. Content producers have been honing skills (SEO, web writing, content formats, editorial judgement, and stats analysis), and become quicker at publishing but now the people producing content are no longer necessarily editorial people. So CS is a package/label to help them make sense of it.
  • CS is a business solution to how websites can continue to be relevant to customers. It exists because business have failed to manage their content, and don’t know how to. It’s a result of failure, that efficient business processes would prevent. Is a Content Strategist therefore the same as a business process analyst? Do we have more and more content strategists because we have more business failures?

Against the motion

  • CS is about delivering business ROI, audience engagement and content creation. It’s more than selecting, presenting and publishing content. CS is about the right mix of content in the right formats to stretch ROI. It’s about where to compete and where to win. You need to use your resources well to deliver.
  • CS embodies all forms of web content but Publishing is content driven. CS may have just started when web was all about text, but now strategists have to work so much harder. There are so many content formats now – e-commerce, community forums, social media.
  • CS is about making decisions based on data and engagement. Editors live and die by their circulation figures but the internet is a 2-way conversation – you need engagement.
  • Businesses that don’t have Publishing backgrounds need CS in order to succeed (mainly the governance and processes but). Publishing has its operations which work in a linear way, but the web is anything but linear. Businesses that don’t have creation, delivery and governance backgrounds need efficient processes to succeed.
  • CS helps online deal with the many issues it faces that Publishers don’t. Online has to deal with legacy layers, the production of consistently good content by multiple authors, archiving procedures and so on.
  • CS is about having an end to end view. Content Strategists aren’t in a planning silo, a commissioning silo, or an editing silo. You need someone with individual accountability for producing high quality content.
  • We need CS to solve business problems which are different now. Businesses used to invest in advertising, but content is the new advertising – budgets go into content creation. Coca Cola is moving from creative excellence to content excellence. AOL have appointed a chief content officer to create ROI.
  • CS is central to helping businesses make decisions based on the content they produce. Today’s content used to be tomorrow’s chip paper. Never before have customers been so bombarded with so much content. And now content is not just owned by channel owners – people self-publish (blogs etc.). Yours needs to cut through for commercial success. ‘Editorial’ alone won’t suffice.
  • CS isn’t a buzzword – it’s a commercial imperative. It brings ROI and economies of scale. You need to tell your customers, internal stakeholders and the world what it is you do.

Breakout debates
Is content strategy product strategy?
No – content strategy is a distinct part of the product and UX. But technology is not somebody else’s business – you can’t separate technology and content out anymore.

Do business analysts need editorial experience and knowledge?
Some knowledge’s (e.g. knowing that mentioning Jodie Marsh will spike your traffic) need more than just a strategist – need someone at the agenda setting level.

How does CS and marketing integrate?
‘What are we going to do’ and ‘where are where going to place it’ is the essence of marketing. The business sets the proposition and the marketing team say how you communicate and plan for it in the user journey. Now there are even more touch points for user interaction. CS takes the proposition and makes sure that it is consistent and that all content supports the proposition while taking user needs into account.

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