Appreciating Content Strategy as a Whole

Since I’ve started reading articles and listening to presentations about content strategy, I’ve got the impression that people are talking about a lot of related parts, but I haven’t got my brain around it as an organic whole. For example, part of content strategy has to do with branding, and another addresses production and delivery of content, while yet another is about workflow.

I think it’s a tendency—at least in Western cultures—to build a whole by first defining the component parts. When we have no sense of something as an integrated whole, we start with the pieces, like a jigsaw puzzle, expecting that the picture will emerge if we get all the pieces right, in their proper place. When we take this approach, we strive endlessly to distinguish more precisely what’s “in” the field and what’s “out.”

In my opinion, that approach creates more confusion because the finer and finer distinctions carry less and less importance.

Worse yet, because content strategy spans the life of a website, it can to refer to different things at different times. Content strategy is, in fact, a really big thing, and it has a lot of pieces-parts. In the largest sense, it refers to all the decisions you make about the content on your website. But it also refers to:

  • Process: The overall, umbrella process of identifying what content should be created, for whom, how that content will be created, and what measurement system should be put in place to monitor its effectiveness.
  • Documents: Matrices, process maps, style guides, and spreadsheets—you name it.
  • Practice: The skills involved in analyzing content and making content decisions.
  • Roles: The person who practices that discipline.
  • Activities and Tools: All the analysis, design, development, and any other tasks in which one might engage to make content decisions.

And that’s just the beginning, probably. No matter how you try to define content strategy, no matter which facet of your content strategy you may be addressing at the moment, it’s always just one of a bunch of interrelated parts. To someone else’s eyes, you might really be doing marketing or user-centered design. You might be using information architecture tools, like card sorts or comparative analysis. You might just be doing basic business planning.

It seems to me, though, that while it is critical to acknowledge the interrelationships, when you’re starting out, it is absolutely fruitless to draw the distinctions. If I were very clever, I’d probably try to create a visual representation of all these interrelationships, but for now, I’ll just recommend this as an appropriate approach for noobs:

  1. Don’t worry about what content strategy is and what it is not.
  2. Pay attention to your content, any chance you get.
  3. Aim for realness and relevance, usability and usefulness.

Just think about it this way: If you’re doing something that deals with your content, then it should be shaped by the content strategy.

If you get that far, then by all means, keep going, but start by spending some quality time with your content. Only by rooting yourself firmly in what you really have to say—and what your users need from you—will you be able to begin to benefit from the finer points of content strategy, however you define them.

About: rsgracey

@rsgracey has spent his life moving from one area of interest to another, collecting knowledge, skills, and experience (and TOOLS!) for a wide range of creative and professional fields. If you need someone to help you "think through" any problem of information, communication, and the community, don't hesitate to call him in.

One single comment

  1. Shelly Bowen says:

    Well put! I’m just so happy more and more people are appreciating content strategy at all.