Content Strategist: What On Earth Is That?

In March, I finally became a Content Strategist, a profession I’ve been trying to get into since I took up the CIM Digital Marketing Diploma in 2015. However, when I tell people that I am now a Content Strategist, I’m often greeted with a blank look and a polite nod. I can’t blame them. Until a few years ago I didn’t even know that there was such a thing as content strategy.

My First Encounter. My first brush with content strategy was in 2012 when I was hired to become the “content person” of a startup digital marketing agency. As “Digital Content Strategist” for the agency, I wrote copy, of course. However, I also designed the structure of websites, wrote scripts for online videos and social media posts, and entered website content into software called “content management systems”. It’s not until I read the book Content Strategy by Kristina Halvorson that I found out what I was doing was “content strategy”.

It Has Some Other Names Too! In Malaysia, where good writing isn’t as cherished by organisations as I’d like, most companies don’t even know they need content strategists let alone feel the need to hire one. But in truth, these people already exist in organisations. They are just called by other names: Head of content, Digital content manager, Web writer, Web editor to name a few. Even some social media managers have content strategy tasks.

So What Do They Do? This is an industry that loves jargon, and I’m not a fan of that because it makes this profession more “exclusive” than it is. (I’m not saying that it’s not an amazing, fun job, but that they’ve existed in other forms in the print media.) But I concede there’s a need for “special words” because it’s pretty hard to describe what content strategists do succinctly. Some things content strategists do include content audits (analysing the content produced to see if it’s done to the best practices), design editorial workflow (create a system where copy is created and published), governance (managing content in a way that works with the company’s staff, policies and systems), write content marketing materials and last but definitely not least create a content strategy that will ensure the content produced will help a company achieve its goals

What skills do Content Strategists need? Content Strategy is a hybrid discipline itself. The content strategist has to get his or her hands dirty in every step of the content creation process. She or he must know what makes good copy, search engine optimisation, if a website will help or frustrate the user experience or UX, marketing principles that will guide her writing and content strategy and planning systems. Because not only will she be creating content she has to oversee the management of it. And that means a lot of documentation.

The personality of a content strategist.  You must love learning – it will never stop in this industry because trends change lightning fast. Enjoy variety too, as I said, you will wear many hats in this job. Be okay with being uncomfortable. The steep learning curve is one. The “dealing with people and set systems” is another (governance). Which is why you must also and finally, be a people person. You are not just dealing with words, photos or videos. You’ll be getting to know people, work with them and try to reason/negotiate and persuade them as you push forth your content strategy.

This is a new and vibrant profession. I really do hope the role becomes more in demand in Malaysia one day – it’s kinda lonely being one of the few in town! Also, there’s a dire need for better content management in Malaysia!

This is also a way for wordsmiths to move up a step in their careers. If you enjoy writing, planning, learning new things and are relatively web- and social-media savvy, this may be the career for you!