As a student of communications you’ve likely come across the term “content strategist.” Right? It’s everywhere––on various job boards and professional networking sites. But what exactly does a content strategist do? The definition is often inconsistent, referring to various terms used in marketing, web design, SEO, UX research and design, copywriting, social media, video production, etc. It’s puzzling.
Luckily, Senior Content Strategist Matt Fisher of Instacart gave a detailed and personal presentation to the MAPC speakers’ series on how he became a content strategist and what it means to be one. The industry wisdom he shared covered aspects of strategic and technical communication and helped to put together the puzzle of content strategy. He also offered essential advice on what employers are looking for and why, supported by his insights into the evolving industry of marketing and communication.
From Literature to UX Writing
Fisher described himself as a skater from Berkeley whose career path has been far from linear. He spoke about the “paralysis of not being sure what to do” and going from one job to the next. Yet through that diverse experience, he was able to pick things up along the way and used everything as a learning experience. For example, his master’s in English taught him to distill long, dense reading to its essence; being a freelance writer taught him to synthesize extensive source material and meet tight deadlines; writing marketing copy for Bank of America taught him to turn dry content into something more compelling; and finally, his work in Adobe’s PR department taught him that PR writing might be good for some people but it was not for him.
After years acquiring these diverse experiences, Fisher began “honing in on his craft” at the company Hotwire–a popular travel website headquartered in San Francisco. At Hotwire, Fisher learned the craft of UX writing, which is essentially “helping users achieve their goals with language” that is clear, concise and useful. He described UX writing as an essential component of content strategy that focuses on the bottom of the marketing funnel where businesses need to keep their customers engaged and interacting with the product. He also said the most rewarding aspect of UX writing is that there is data to back up the process, meaning that UX testing helps writers and designers determine if their content is meeting business goals. Above all, he recommended people interested in content strategy obtain a solid understanding of UX design.
But UX design is only one of many pieces of the content strategy puzzle.
The Tumultuous Landscape of Content Strategy
According to Google, “content strategy is the crafting and development of all product messaging.” Fisher would add that it is also “providing the right content to the user at the right time.” So what does that mean in today’s digital marketing space where we are dealing with a vast amount of content: text, logos, graphics, video, audio, downloadable files, buttons, icons and more? Not only is the marketplace crawling with new types of media but platforms and algorithms are changing all the time, making it a tumultuous landscape to navigate for professional communicators.
One way to understand the role of a content strategist is to consider the role of a magazine editor––back in the day when print media was popular. A magazine editor was in charge of setting the tone of the publication and responsible for language, layout, images, etc. Now consider today’s magazine as a multi-channel, multi-media web of information. It still must have oversight to keep continuity, and in fact more so because there are so many moving parts. The oversight requires strategic thinking and planning around the mission and values of the organization and technical skills to execute the messaging.
Today’s content strategists should also keep in mind that marketing is very different than it used to be. Instead of hard selling customers on products, marketers are building relationships by providing quality content and user experiences. People trust companies that educate them and help them achieve their own goals. Content strategy evaluates this relationship and works on creating content and experiences that people will benefit from.
And this is the role of a content strategist.
So as students of communications, if you are looking to get into content strategy, think about the communication skills needed to navigate the multi-channel, multi-media web of information and how to implement a set of values through the messaging you create.