The fact is that all content strategists come into their roles by accident. Certainly, some content strategists assumed the title as a conscious decision but even they come to see that the job entails much more than they bargained for.
I have been mulling this question over as I prepare to participate in the Content Strategy Workshop that is being convened between October 9-10, 2012, in Portland Oregon. I will be giving the closing presentation of the workshop on this very topic - The Accidental Content Strategist. This event has been co-located with LavaCon Conference on Digital Media and Content Strategies where I will be also presenting (on Integrated Content Teams).
The line of reasoning actually picks up with some themes that I introduced in a talk that I gave earlier this year at Confab 2012 was entitled “Content Strategy: A Dangerous Method”. The purpose of this talk, and its use of the intertwined lives of Sigmund Freud and Karl Jung, was to highlight the fact that the role of the Content Strategist is a lot like that of the Psychoanalyst.
Not unlike people, organizations struggle to establish and maintain credible and constructive public personae. Organizations do this through what they disclose – what they publish. And these personae, in being made public, receive feedback from the world around them. Now beneath the surface of these personae there will be a number of forces in play. And this too is no different than how people go about their day-to-day lives. The core premise of this presentation was that the challenge for Content Strategists is to find a sustainable balance between the internal forces and the external pressures that bear upon these organizational personae. So Content Strategists commencing new engagements are actually a lot like therapists sitting down with new patients. They must get to know their clients, find out what drives are at work, explore the landscape of the public personae that are being projected, evaluate how effectively those personae satisfy the underlying drives, and finally work with the clients to align internal forces with external representations so as to establish a balance between the two that will be successful and sustainable.
Most Content Strategists have been active participants in constructing and evolving the public-facing personae of their organizations – literally giving life to their digital presences on the web, within social media and across innumerable mobile devices. In responding to the seemingly overwhelming demands being placed on their organizations to adapt to a changing publishing landscape, these Content Strategists have been forced to look inside their organizations and into the sources of the content that provide much of the substance that goes into their organizations’ presence. But in following the content arteries back into their organizations, these Content Strategist enter into unfamiliar territory where they encounter powerful voices that are very much rooted in what the organization does – what makes it different, effective and hopefully necessary. Content Strategists quickly find that they have some real challenges on their hands and challenges that are much more complex than those they have encountered before. They must find a way to strike a balance between a myriad of perspectives and this demands a process of communication, coordination and invariably compromise on all sides.
Now there are some Content Strategists who have started their journey from the other side of the fence, from the content processes that operate deep within their organizations and that, again hopefully, find their way into their organizations’ public expressions. These Content Strategists also follow a path of unplanned discovery. They have watched as internal content processes that once might have had the luxury of operating unseen behind the walls of the organization but that have been forced to open up and become interconnected with partners and people operating all over the world. These Content Strategists also find that they have new challenges on their hands. And once again the task at hand is all about establishing a balance between the forces that operate within an organization and those that bear upon it from outside, from the community of customers and users.
I have been heard to say that good content runs deep. What this really means is that good content, that is genuinely engaging, useful and sustainable, is content that establishes a vital connection between what an organization is really good at doing and what the marketplace really wants and needs. Done well, a Content Strategy acts as a catalyst that initializes a virtuous cycle of communication and feedback that in turn will benefit all organizational stakeholders, inside and out. This is something of profound importance. But it is almost never what Content Strategists figure they were setting out to do when they decided to step into this role. And it does not matter whether the Content Strategist started from digital user experience team or from the technical communication group that reports to product engineering. In both cases, Content Strategists will only discover the true magnitude of their tasks after they have jumped into the fray. We are all, it turns out, Accidental Content Strategists.
Acknowledgement: A Dangerous Method by David Cronenberg
The slides associated with the presentation, as delivered at Confab 2012, are below: