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Published on June 11th, 2010 | by Rahel Bailie


Abilities and aptitudes for a content strategist

For some careers, there is an established path. There are educational programs, professional development paths, professional association training programs, and mentors to guide those wanting to make a career transition. In the world of content strategy, not so much; 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? Or, from the perspective of a content strategist, what should you be prepared to bring to the table?

Putting myself in the hiring chair, I would look for someone who works well within a T-shaped creative process.  The linked graphic is from David Armano, and meant for professionals working at the intersection of interactive marketing and experience design. However, these are the same talents distinguish content strategists from smart writers or smart technologists. These are the people who have insights into content, can develop a big idea from a content corpus, and articulate that idea in conceptual terms. They have to care that content is not just useable, but useful and desirable.

Let’s face it, a single strategist likely can’t be a master at all the details in every aspect. However, the strategist is not the person who asks: how do you want this content delivered, but after an analysis, tells you how the content should be delivered, and why, and to what benefit. The strategist should be able to do so using core consulting methodology, simplified here for sake of space: determine current state, analyze the requirements (of the business, content, and users), determine future state, identify gaps, and create a roadmap from current to 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. You may be able to inventory content without understand a lot about its nature, but 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 a CMS project team or an ongoing user experience or creative group or product development team. 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. This means an understanding of traditional and emerging business models, and communication paradigms that support various types of marketing and customer relationship efforts. It also means that sometimes the strategist may be called upon to create what are generally thought of as information architecture artifacts: conceptual IA models or wireframes. Though this may be a small part of the overall activities, knowing user-centered and experience design processes is an important part of a content strategist’s toolkit. Knowing how to apply these techniques to content is definitely worth bonus points.

It also helps 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. In other words, they are not the carpenters to whom every problem looks like it needs the same hammer-and-nail solution. I’m not talking 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.

Related posts:

The extraordinary world of content strategists

Content strategy: The skills conundrum (coming Jun 14th)

Skills to transition to content strategy (coming Jun 16th)

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About the Author

Rahel Anne Bailie is a synthesizer of content strategy, requirements analysis, information architecture, and content management to increase the ROI of content. She has consulted for clients in a range of industries, and on several continents, whose aim is to better leverage their content as business assets. Founder of Intentional Design, she is now the Chief Knowledge Officer of London-based Scroll. She is a Fellow of the Society for Technical Communication, she has worked in the content business for over two decades. She is co-author of Content Strategy: Connecting the dots between business, brand, and benefits, and co-editor of The Language of Content Strategy, and is working on her third content strategy book,

6 Responses to Abilities and aptitudes for a content strategist

  1. Lisa Trager says:

    May I also add, that from my experience, a content strategist should be someone who is both a left and right brain thinker. That is, they must bring in logical, rational, and analytical thinking, yet be creative and have the ability to think conceptually and bring in ideas that are innovative and unique.

    Great series Rahel, can’t wait to read the next one!

    Lisa L. Trager

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