What Does a Content Strategist Do?

Who is responsible for the activities and decisions that impact content quality and performance? The answer’s not so clear-cut. Let’s break it down.

Let me begin by saying there are approximately one gagillion new titles for “person who somehow deals with content” being created every week right now. (This is a fact I can back with actual statistics.) (OK, not true, but I’ll assume point taken.)

But it is true that I’m getting multiple tweets and emails asking for clarification on what exactly a content strategist is ... and isn’t.

Why is this a pressing issue? On just the first page of jobs that show up under “content” on LinkedIn, I see open positions for:

  • Content strategist
  • Content marketing strategist
  • Product content strategist
  • Enterprise content strategist
  • Content manager
  • Content delivery manager
  • Content designer
  • UX writer
  • Digital content creator
  • Content specialist
  • Content enablement specialist (what is this)
  • Director, content and experiences (OK really what IS this)

This mishmash of titles sucks for a) people trying to find a job that matches their experience, b) organizations trying to find those people, and c) people within organizations who are trying to figure out what their colleagues do.

Sadly, I am not going to solve the mishmash challenge, and neither will you. This is the rapidly evolving world of content-[fill in the blank] challenges in which we live.

However, I do think it’s useful to have some sort of baseline for what separates the work of a content strategist from, say, a content marketer or technical communicator. Where you take the title and areas of specialization from there will depend on your organization and/or skill set. But this is how I see the “big tent” in which the content strategist works.

First, let me do a quick level-set on what content strategy is in the first place. For the purpose of this post, I’ll fall back on my own original definition:

Content strategy guides the creation, delivery, and governance of useful, usable content.

Things have changed juuuuuust a little bit since I introduced that definition in Content Strategy for the Web, but it holds up (for now) in that it encapsulates the core areas of content strategy activities as follows below.

In order to establish strategy to guide content activities and decisions, content strategists:

  • Gather information about our priority audiences (to include user interviews)
  • Help determine which organizational/business/functional goals will drive our content-related decisions
  • Analyze existing content and content ecosystems
  • Interview stakeholders about their roles, experience, needs, and expectations
  • Create content strategy frameworks
  • Establish metrics for success

In order to create useful, usable content for our audiences and users, content strategists:

  • Collaborate with designers, developers, researchers, and product managers to design and build products, websites, and ongoing content programs
  • Recommend specific content topics and types in order to meet priority users’ needs
  • Create content requirements matrices
  • Create or incorporate editorial guidelines (to include voice and tone)
  • Create editorial calendars for ongoing publishing requirements
  • Create and maintain resources for internal stakeholders to find, reuse, and/or repurpose existing content

In order to deliver content in a way that is useful and usable, content strategists:

  • Analyze products, platforms, websites, and channels for content delivery (or publishing) requirements
  • Organize content
  • Structure content
  • Create or incorporate SEO guidelines
  • Contribute to content management system design and decisions

In order to establish governance that keeps our content useful and usable, content strategists:

  • Analyze, design, and implement content operations models
  • Create (and/or uphold) content policies, standards, and guidelines
  • Train content contributors, reviewers, and managers

This is not a comprehensive list of everything a content strategist can (or should) do.

In fact, I have never met a content strategist who is deeply experienced in every single thing on this list. Every content strategist I know specializes in a subset of these activities. However, the good content strategists can speak intelligently about every (or nearly every) activity: what it is, why it’s important, and how their work is connected to or supportive of it.

This is important because the people with these responsibilities—no matter what their job title is, or how their responsibilities are parsed—truly need to collaborate regularly on projects or in the day-to-day of company operations. A content strategist cannot live in a silo, no matter how broad or how laser-focused their responsibilities may be.

And that, I think, is probably the number one thing that a content strategist actually does: make connections, facilitate conversations, ask smart questions, and generally trying to connect the dots. Because when you are navigating editorial considerations, UX design, IA, process design, operations requirements, and standards definitions, you can’t just keep your head down and hope no one notices you.

And listen. As more and more people take on the content strategy mantle, don’t worry about the tent getting too crowded. It’s infinitely expandable. Just make sure you keep reaching out, saying “hi,” and getting to know your fellow tent-mates. As far as I’m concerned, this party is just getting started.

Kristina Halvorson is CEO of Brain Traffic, founder of Confab Events, coauthor of Content Strategy for the Web, and host of The Content Strategy Podcast.

The Content Strategy Podcast

Want more good content strategy stuff? Listen to The Content Strategy Podcast with Kristina Halvorson. New episodes (almost) every other week. Transcripts available too!

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