So… You Want to Be a Content Strategist
Content strategy planning is defined by many things. While it can cover creating useful content across many channels, most in the industry agree with content strategist Kristina Halvorson’s definition:
“Planning for the creation, delivery, and governance of useful, usable content.”
Why content strategy?
In 2015, content strategy was one of PayScale and CNNMoney’s top 100 careers with an expected 32 percent job growth. In today’s world, the median income of a content strategist is near $73,000, and can climb to six figures in larger metro areas in the United States. Whether it’s your love of telling stories or your desire to help users have the best web experience possible, content strategy can be an invigorating and interesting career for many.
“Credentials aside, the best content strategists all exhibit three similar characteristics,” writes John McCrory, group director of content strategy at Huge, “they have excellent storytelling abilities, an instinct for organization, and the ability to see the big picture.”
However, considering only a few institutions are offering formal education in content strategy, how does someone become a content strategist?
Start your own website.
There’s no better way to get your feet wet in content strategy than to attempt it on your own. By starting your own website, you’re putting yourself in the driver’s seat of producing and maintaining valuable content.
But what kind of website should you create? Consider a blog to start, or create a portfolio to showcase your background and experiences. Building your own website can also help you gain experiences with metadatas, like page titles and descriptions, as well as organizing and maintaining your content.
Using free, helpful tools like Google Trends or Google Keyword Planner can help give you insight into terms related to your website content and what information is attracting audiences across the web.
There are many free platforms to start a website and test your ideas. WordPress is free and offers custom domain options for a nominal fee, and other dynamic platforms like Wix and Squarespace give you easy-to-use power for implementing your website’s layout and design scheme.
Take a shared learning course online.
With the increase in technology jobs, including content strategy and content marketing, there have been several higher education institutions, as well as companies, who have taken to creating MOOCs — or massive open online courses.
Coursera is a great place to find MOOCs, specifically in content strategy, like this one from Northwestern University. The class follows several segments along with peer-reviewed assignments and a capstone project. You’ll learn great tips about how to communicate with audiences, develop personas, engage social media, and create content plans to keep your digital presence moving in the right direction.
If you want to try your hand at the basics of effective content marketing, the University of California – Davis offers a MOOC, also on Coursera, that is led by Sonia Simone, chief content officer for Copyblogger.
Invest in industry professionals.
Though content strategy as a career is a fairly young profession, there are several experts in the industry who have written books and insightful blogs that spread knowledge to “rookie” content strategists like you.
Kristina Halvorson’s Content Strategy for the Web is a great beginner’s read to understand the various pieces of content strategy, from publishing and managing content to organizing site navigations and hierarchies. Anne Handley’s book Everybody Writes is also a great way to get your mind thinking like a strategic content writer.
You can also subscribe to newsletters and blogs from other great content-centric companies and brands including:
- Moz – Great for search engine optimization news, tips, and strategies
- Contently – From content writing and marketing to digital strategy, Contently has something for everyone
- HubSpot – Also full of content strategists, HubSpot has a plethora of information about content and the web, as well as training courses and webinars
- Content Marketing Institute – Offers a free monthly magazine subscription, as well as blogs and webinars across the content world
Content strategists, too, should consider user experience (UX) in everything they plan and maintain. Nielsen Norman Group is a fantastic resource for usability studies on the web, and they also have certifications and courses to become a UX expert yourself. UX Booth is also an online-only publication that is loaded with great articles about nuances in the UX industry.
…Don’t forget about social media
Twitter is a great place to catch writers from these brands and others, and you’ll often see them sharing articles that make them tick. As you subscribe to blogs and newsletters, share these on your own professional Twitter or LinkedIn account to grow a catalog of great resources you can rely on later.
LinkedIn is a great tool to boost your professional experiences and resume, and also gives you the option to share posts and write your own articles. Check out these recommendations for building a stellar LinkedIn profile from LinkedIn influencer Bernard Marr.
Network with other content strategists.
One thing content professionals are really good at these days is staying in touch with each other and sharing strategies and ideas. Whether you connect with others through your MOOC, or you join a Slack community for live conversations and brainstorming, networking is a great way to expand your knowledge in content strategy while putting your skills to work.
If you prefer to rub elbows with peers in a one-on-one setting, there’s no better chance to do that than a conference. Fortunately, content strategy and marketing conferences have been popping up across the country over the past few years, and there’s one accessible in almost every region of the country.
…Attend a content-centric conference
Confab, a content strategy conference hosted by Kristina Halvorson and her agency, Braintraffic, includes two full days of sessions from experts around the globe. Workshops are also available the day before the event for a more hands-on learning experience in several different industries.
Content Marketing World is a similar conference with workshops and back-to-back sessions, with incredible guest speakers and networking opportunities for attendees.
World IA Day is another great conference, often hosted hyper-locally in communities from coast to coast. IA World primarily focuses on information architecture (IA) and gives attendees a chance to meet other navigation-minded content strategists who share strategies and approaches to work, from agencies to freelance opportunities.
Curta has made it easy to keep track of the ever-evolving list of content conferences with their comprehensive conference list. Keep this one bookmarked and mark your calendar for ones that interest you most. Fees vary between conferences.
Don’t let your past experiences curb your interest.
There are plenty of folks from all educational and professional backgrounds moving into the content strategy stratosphere. Journalists, for example, bring to the table their curiosity and passion for organizing information in an audience-friendly way. If you have a degree in English, you know what goes into good writing, and this can be easily transferred to content marketing. Library science backgrounds make a great fit for organizing complex content and managing taxonomies.
No matter what your background might be, content strategy might be a great fit for you if you have a passion to create and maintain great content and user experiences on the web.
Erin Schroeder is a senior content strategist and writer at Geonetric, where she helps healthcare brands organize user-first websites, content marketing, and brand messaging. As a former journalist, she never lost her love to write. You'll also see her articles on content strategy and user experience around the web, including UX Collective, UX Booth, and Prototypr.