Type “Content Strategist” into a job search engine and you’ll see plenty of results. Reflecting that trend, my own title was recently changed from Editor to Strategist. Five years ago, Content Strategists were rarer than unicorns. I’d know- I’ve been in content since 1997 and only recently started seeing the title come up. What’s happened in the content industry that’s driving this change?
This is, fundamentally a response to the early and rather flawed attempts many companies made to publishing into this new medium:
Many companies employed (and still employ) a strategy that web usability expert Gerry McGovern refers to as “launch and leave:” produce a ton of content, and then leave it sitting there unmeasured and unmaintained. Clay Shirky calls this abundance a result of post-Gutenberg economics, in which “the cost of producing [content] has fallen through the floor… .and so [now] there’s no economic logic that says you have to filter for quality before you publish.”
Of course, Clay Shirky was talking about the world in general there. If I have a random thought I want to share with the world in a blog post, a video, status update or whatever, the question is now “why not?” rather than “why?”. If I care about it, the only equation in my mind is “do I care enough to create and publish”. If the answer’s “yes”, there’s essentially no economic implication for me.
That equation is more complex in business. An employee’s time in the majority of businesses must lead to some form of business return, be it direct or indirect. So, while the cost of publication is trivial, the cost of effort expended in creation is non-trivial. The death of the newspaper or magazine “package” has lead some publishing business to start trying to understand how different piece of content actually serve your business interests online. I was involved in a big piece of work around that issue at RBI before my departure last year. There sorts of exercises are what Cheryl is talking about here:
Organizations are now realizing that content ought to earn its keep — it should drive conversion (sales, donations), or reduce call drivers (solve frequent and actual problems customers have). If it doesn’t, it’s just polluting the relevance and searchability of content that does. Clay Shirky defines the problem of information abundance as one of “filter failure.”
Enter the Content Strategist — your organization’s filter for quality.
People’s work time is, by definition, valuable. It’s paid for. So, companies are right to expect some form of return on that payment, and that means understanding the value of the content created and its relationship to how the company makes money. Hence, content strategy. What you’re actually filtering is the attention and output of content creators, not content itself. That’s an important distinction.