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Seven Essential Skills for the Content Strategist

by Jason Hirthler  |  
April 18, 2013

In this article you'll learn:

  • Why strong content strategists bring editorial skills to the table, including an author's gift for narrative, an editor's talent for precision, and a curator's ability to pick the best.
  • Why content strategists' also keep an eye on the crowd, with a campaign manager's focus on the message, a publicist's talent for getting seen, and an analyst's love of the data.

The word "content" is about as necessarily vague as the word "change" is in political circles. It has become a portmanteau, a kind of verbal suitcase into which people pack whatever meaning they like.

That may be a necessary evil of the marketing trade, since the discipline of content strategy is hard to define in a brief but holistic way.

It touches so many other skill sets, and straddles the line between departments so regularly, that one can be forgiven for a relativist approach to the discipline. For example...

  • For people concerned with enterprise issues, content strategy largely refers to governance, migration planning, and technical issues related to integration into content management systems.
  • For media mavens, content strategy conjures thoughts of content production, distribution channels, and associated editorial strategies.
  • Writers often see content strategy as a way to think about copy in a more holistic manner, and how it comes together in a clear narrative architecture.
  • For information architects, content strategy can summon a sudden vision of taxonomy spreadsheets, content models, and massive site inventories.
  • And, finally: in her article "Content Strategy Is Not User Experience," Erin Kissane, author of The Elements of Content Strategy, notes the differences between content strategy and user experience, and usefully enumerates how different disciplines define the term.

Now try to sum all that up in 10 words...

Instead of whittling down the definition into a few lapidary phrases, I've found it useful to simply bring more concision to skill sets involved in the content strategist's role. Although not exhaustive, the following are some of the skills I've seen applied.

1. A curator's Capacity to Recognize and Aggregate Quality

Curation is growing in importance because somebody has to parse the quality from the quantity.

A curator is not simply an aggregator. Marketer Rohat Bhargava, on his popular blog, proposed some interesting approaches to curation that remind us that, done well, curation is always more than aggregation.

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Jason Hirthler is content strategy director at MRY. He's been a content strategist and writer and has 17 years of experience in marketing and communications. He cut his content strategy teeth working on Olympic bid campaigns.

LinkedIn: Jason Hirthler

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  • by Matthew Thu Apr 18, 2013 via web

    It's interesting that you didn't mention technical knowledge in there -- related to HTML, CSS, or any other web technologies out there. Either way, this is a very nice codification of the types of things content strategists should look to be able to do.

  • by Beth Worthy Fri Apr 19, 2013 via web

    "Content strategists should participate fully in the discovery phase of new work, not least to master the brand segments and the audience-specific messaging that needs to unfold within a site or across a campaign"-best line of this post, which I came across. I think its really important to include this section in the content strategy as to be updated with the current day-to-day happening can be really beneficial for the business.

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