A little while back I went to a Meet Up for a Coursera class that just wrapped up at Northwestern University called, “Content Strategy for Professionals 1: Engaging Audiences for Your Organization”.
The course is lead by Prof. John Lavine and Prof. Candy Lee of Northwestern’s Media Management Center and Part 2 has just started up.
The purpose was to meet the professors, other locals taking the course, and get our burning content strategy questions answered by the experts.
During the discussion, I made an observation about many people who seem most equipped for “Content Strategist” roles at agencies and organizations: Many who find themselves with that title seem to come from journalistic backgrounds working as editors, reporters or even bloggers.
e.g. People who understand narrative. People who know how to get our attention and keep it. People who know their audience.
Underneath the titles are a set of skills and attributes that are pretty consistently found in good content strategist.
I asked our experts what they thought those skills might be. Here’s my attempt at summarizing their response from my perspective.
Most jobs require a degree of critical thinking. That usually boils down to thinking rationally and logically.
For a strategist that means understanding the context of the subject matter and asking the right questions.
But thinking critically is only part of the communication equation. It’s important to understand how to speak to the part of the brain that influences behavior, too. That part isn’t so rational.
Strategist understand when and how to use both languages.
A deep understanding of the audience that you’re communicating with is crucial. What are the top 5 blogs your ideal customer reads? Who are the top 5 people they follow on Twitter? etc.
But what’s more important than understanding them is actually catering to them.
A good strategist is good at focusing on what the customer cares about — not what you’d like them to care about.
It’s easy to talk about what you’d like to talk about. And that’s fine, too. But your audience might stop listening.
Firm Grasp of the Written Word
This isn’t just about having aced every grammar course since you first picked up one of those fat pencils — although having good editors eye is imperative, too.
This is about understanding the structure of a good story and how they play out in different mediums.
It’s about being about to tell that story in a way that entertains, inspires, informs or challenges the audience.
Sometimes you have 160 characters and sometimes you have 2,000 words.
A good strategist knows how to strike that balance.
As much as what you’re saying is important, as are the visuals that go along with it.
More so, depending on the audience, the content and the context.
Visuals contribute to conveying the tone. They say things without saying anything.
They can be the magnet that draws someone into your content or pushes them away.
A good strategist understands the role of visuals. And if they can’t create them, they have a good idea of who to hire that can convey what needs conveying.
Managing what you Measure
There’s that old, (somewhat tired) Drucker quote that goes, “if you can’t measure it, you can’t manage it”.
True, but a pool of data without focus on the what’s essential can lead to analysis paralysis.
I guess it’s why they’re called, “KPIs”, KEY performance indicators. But that term shouldn’t be thrown around loosely.
A good strategist is more concerned with what to measure than the idea of measuring.
And what you measure should be tied back to the objectives.
H.G. Wells (September 21, 1866 — August 13, 1946) once said, “Adapt or perish, now as ever, is nature’s inexorable imperative”.
Nothing has changed since he said those words.
In the brave new world of world technology, how we communicate changes faster than GOP candidates positions on foreign policy.
Being able to surf the ever-changing tide as it pertains to the human behavior is important for a good strategist.
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