You might be a content strategist if...
- You obsessively organize your closets, book or album collections, and kitchen cabinets.
- You keep an archive of the packing lists of every vacation and road trip you’ve ever taken.
- You know there is only one correct way to stack the dishwasher.
- You organize your shopping list as a map of the grocery store.
- You live for the “aha moment” that comes when you see a pattern emerge from the details.
If finding ways to make complex systems of information clear and intuitive is what you live for, the growing field of content strategy may be the profession for you.
With content becoming an essential part of the successes of organizations as diverse as Lego, GE, IBM, NPR, GoPro, and Denny’s, the relevance of content strategy today is broadening to a greater variety of industries and organizations, including politics, high technology, luxury fashion, and financial services. The explosion of content in our digital world—from feature articles and branded videos to immersive virtual reality films—is driving ever-greater demand for those who can plan, manage and organize content efficiently and effectively.
To meet this demand, content strategists are breaking into the field from a variety of backgrounds.
For example, Alana Miller used her degree in library sciences to land a plum job at the Museum of Modern Art. But what she truly loved was structuring information, and content strategy allowed her to use her library science skills in a more diverse and changing set of challenges.
Gina Pensiero graduated with a degree in American culture and worked as a content coordinator at Audible and a copywriter for Huge before she transitioned to content strategy. She found this new role more exciting because it wasn’t quite so technically focused or business-related, but it allowed her to combine user experience and content in a fun and fascinating way.
In content strategy, aptitude trumps training. Your analytical and strategic thinking skills will often outweigh tactical expertise. Maybe you’re an investigative reporter who has a passion for organizing evidence from interviews. Or maybe you’ve worked as a bartender but your favorite part of the job was creating complicated cocktails in a systematic way. Perhaps you spent time in radio and enjoyed synthesizing set lists for different audiences throughout the day. Each of these roles involves thinking strategically about content to achieve an end goal. If that comes naturally to you, you may have a great future as a content strategist.
Credentials aside, the best content strategists all exhibit three similar characteristics: they have excellent storytelling ability, an instinct for organization, and the ability to see the big picture.
Ideally, you should have some experience in a discipline that has prepared you to think critically, especially in a digital framework. You’ll also need to communicate your findings in a compelling and cohesive way, so it helps to have a bit of presentation panache.
Sound like you? If you think a role in content strategy might be right for you, here are a few steps to take.
1. Have an Opinion
Read more, scroll more, click more, and start thinking beyond the computer screen. Take notes on how your favorite digital products and experiences are structured. Pay attention to brands creating a lot of content, particularly those that enable users to personalize their experience. Try exploring a few of the many thousand Zappos product videos to reverse-engineer how the company organizes content production. Or take notes on how Mint personalizes its savings recommendations throughout its digital experience.
Consuming content in any form can help you think critically about ways to organize and structure it. If you can explain why certain formats work better than others in a given situation and can express opinions on content structures and user journeys, you’ll be able to demonstrate familiarity with basic content strategy approaches and concepts.
2. Expand Your Toolbox
A great content strategist develops far-reaching insights out of the details. Spreadsheets will be your friends, and knowing advanced tricks for using them to efficiently analyze information about content is a must.
You’ll also be working on the back end of web sites on organization and publishing platforms called content management systems (CMS) and digital asset management systems (DAMs), so having familiarity with some popular offerings can definitely help. Beginners can start dabbling in WordPress, a free CMS used for many personal websites and blogs.
3. Reimagine Your Resume
If you want to impress a company with your organizational and storytelling skills before you even walk through the door, start with your resume. When a distinctive and well-thought out resume crosses my desk, I give it a longer look.
See how you can reorganize and simplify categories on your resume to tell a better story about your skills and experience. Consider the ways in which your application can become a visual extension of your own personal brand. Read for scanability and compelling elements. Make multiple prototypes, and ask a mentor or a peer to suggest improvements.
4. Practice the Craft
Put your skills to the test with a freelance gig. Try your hand at organizing content on a small scale first, whether that’s tackling content for a new mobile app or offering up your expertise on a particular project for a small agency.
No bandwidth for another job? One option is to become a content strategist for your current employer by preparing an audit of its current digital presence and offering solutions and upgrades. Building a case study like this shows initiative and can energize your creative thinking. You can present your suggestions to decision-makers in the hopes of inspiring change or, at the very least, you can save your presentation as a part of your portfolio.
5. Attend Content Strategy School
Learn the basics of editorial and information strategy from the experts by signing up for classes. At Huge’s content strategy school, for example, students are led by an expert team and get to plan programs for real clients. It gives you a peek inside how the system works and then drops you in the trenches to help solve real problems. It’s extremely challenging and super rewarding. Best of all, students graduate from the CS School with a robust portfolio of content strategy work and are ready to hit the ground running.