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Content strategy is, in fact, the next big thing

by Kristina Halvorson on February 25th, 2010

In January of 2009, I started telling people that content strategy would be the next big focus for organizations worldwide. I even went so far as to say, “Content strategy will soon be getting more attention than social media.”

Lots of folks smiled encouragingly, patted my shoulder, and told me to get back to my style guides. Some people just laughed at me. And that’s when I hit them over the head with my content inventory. Bam!

Well. Guess what.

Numbers don’t lie.
Here’s a look at Google search returns for “social media” over the past few years: 

2005: 9,150,000
2006: 41,600,000
2007: 165,000,000
2008: 359,000,000
2009: 1,230,000,000
 
And now, here’s a look at Google search returns for “content strategy":
 
2006: 5,930,000
2007: 8,340,000
2008: 137,000,000
2009: 337,000,000
 
I’ll refrain from saying "I told you so." I’m classy like that.
 
Content strategy is more or less on the same trajectory as social media was three years ago. Why?
 
I think it’s because the reality of social media initiatives—that they’re internal commitments, not advertising campaigns—has derailed more than a few organizations from really implementing effective, measurable programs. Most companies can’t sustain social media engagement because they lack the internal editorial infrastructure to support it.
 
They don’t have a content strategy.
 
It’s not that this hasn’t been a problem for years. It’s simply that social media has made the problem more obvious (and more public) than ever before.
 
“Everything starts with a mission, and is fortified by the content we create.”
Social media rockstar Brian Solis recently published a landmark article that finally begins to identify social media for what it is: a component of content strategy.
 
In Why Brands Are Becoming Media (Mashable.com), Solis writes:
 
One of the greatest challenges I encounter today is not the willingness of a brand to engage, but its ability to create. When blueprinting a social media strategy, enthusiasm and support typically derails when examining the resources and commitment required to produce regular content.
 
He goes on to say:
 
In the near future, brands and organizations will create new or augment existing roles for editors and publishers to create timely, relevant, and captivating content on all social media channels. This work is in addition to the other reactive and proactive social media campaigns that are already in progress.
 
Solis discusses the need for publishing calendars, editorial oversight, content performance analysis, and cross-discipline collaboration:
 
New media necessitates a collaboration between all teams involved in creating and distributing content, including advertising, interactive, communications, brand, and marketing — with an editorial role connecting the dots.
 
Is this sounding at all familiar?
 
This is enterprise content strategy in action. And it’s not just going to help us get social media right. It’s going to fix our content.
 
I’m not just talkin’ style guides, here.
Last year, I wrote a book called Content Strategy for the Web. It offers a pretty straightforward approach to planning for content in your web initiatives. The good news: I’m starting to get daily emails from people telling me how radically it’s changing their project processes and outcomes (in a good way, thank you very much).
 
And so, obviously, I’m a big fan of content strategy at the web-project level. It brings happiness and joy to all who practice it. (It makes us so happy here at Brain Traffic, it’s all we do.)
 
But content strategy isn’t only about projects, and it’s certainly not just for websites.
 
That said, web projects are a terrific place to see content strategy in action. At the project level, we see almost immediately how content strategy’s tools and methods can literally transform how we consider and care for our content, how they can streamline processes and conserve resources. We can quickly measure our customers’ reactions to finally getting useful, usable, engaging, actionable content.
 
But once we’ve witnessed content strategy’s effectiveness at the project level, it’s time to take several steps back and examine our organizations. Because content strategy can’t be truly effective over the long term without an internal editorial infrastructure to support it. And that means widespread organizational change.
 
The proof is in the practice.
At its core, content strategy isn’t really about content inventories, or messaging, or publishing calendars, or governance policies. It’s a way of thinking that has direct impact on the way we do business. And the way we do business must include a clear focus on how we create, deliver, and govern our content. Because more than ever before in the history of commerce, content has become one of our most valuable business assets.
 
It’s here. It’s real. Content strategy is the next big thing. But, people, let’s not do what we’ve been doing for so many years with the trends the pundits sell us. Let’s not gloss over content strategy by focusing solely on what we should be doing; let’s also focus on the why and how. Let’s work together to dive into the mechanics of it, the driving philosophies, the real-world resource requirements. Let’s share success stories from brands both big and small. Let’s not confuse tactics for an achievable, measurable plan.
 
Let’s start considering content at the strategic level so we can start to deliver the right stuff: content that matters, both to our audiences and to our bottom line.
 
 

 

  • vinnyverma

    We're facing similar challenges in our business.

    Businesses able to quickly build a sound editorial infrastructure will have a clear competitive advantage until others catch up.

    I wonder if businesses will begin outsourcing the editorial components of their business?

  • http://www.theoceanagency.com/ Timothy Lin

    Hi Kristina,

    Read your book and totally agree with you. Content Strategy is the way of the future, and we're dedicating a lot of resources to create content that drives both search engine optimization and social media. It's big for SEO because after 1 year of writing with a solid strategy, you can have a relevant content inventory that you can syndicate out to the web. With social media, we've seen that content is one of the main ways to engage with a brand's audience. Kudos.

  • Kathy Sierra

    Why you even have to write a post like this is still something I find astonishing. Not because I don't agree, but because it seems so very very very dead obvious.

    And yet… most of the rest of the world still pursues a zillion other possible ways to gain mind share / market share / followers / fans / friends/ VC money / whatever while missing the one true, beautiful, and (sort of) simple solution: content strategy.

    I may define “content” with a slightly different focus, but I could not possibly agree more with your conclusions. I think it is the closest thing to a “magic formula” as anyone could hope for. But hey, if others want to continue playing dice, that's OK too.

  • johnstonayala

    Hi Kristina,

    This is a great post and a really important one. I think you hit it right on the head with this:

    “It’s a way of thinking that has direct impact on the way we do business. And the way we do business must include a clear focus on how we create, deliver, and govern our content. ”

    I think this sort of goes hand in hand with the pats on the shoulder you received with your ultimately correct prophecy. Because content is such a big, messy animal for most people to think about and understand, it ironically gets swept under the rug or glossed over when that is the last thing that should be happeing. It's like that big spring cleaning or house makeover you've been planning but just can't seem to get to, so you just choose not to think about it at all. Furthermore, I don't think many businesses understand how absolutely integral content strategy is to successful branding and in turn, the success of many business models. I agree with Karen, it does seem so obvious, but I think that is where we come in as far as eliciting CS's value and getting this message across. I am currently working on some writings on my blog where I'll be talking about some of these issues posting in the next week or so…

    Anyway, thanks so much Kristina and I need to get your book!

  • benofnielsondesign

    This is so true. The trick is that most businesses do not have the time or talent to generate good content consistently… so we see startups like http://www.groggle.com coming around to try and fill that gap. As it becomes a necessity to compete in the web game I think it will become a structured, instructed discipline and maybe even a college major and consistent job description. “Web Content Majors Wanted – Associate Content Creator positions filling fast”

  • http://npressnewsletter.com/ Sarah Nelson

    All of my clients struggle with content. They get so excited to create a social media presence for their brand and then quickly run out of things to say. You've nailed it.

  • debbiewilliams

    Kristina,

    You've (very clearly and articulately) spelled out exactly what we've been talking about internally and trying to tell clients. Content needs a plan. Period. Throwing something out there to see if it sticks or having a fan page just to have “fans” without delivering relevant, useful information is ineffective.

    “Everything starts with a mission, and is fortified by the content we create.” Hurrah! So obvious but still so unclear for many.

    We couldn't agree more with all of your points! Thanks for such a great blog post.

  • http://www.russhenneberry.com/ Russ Henneberry

    Hmmmm… I really hope content marketing will be as hot a buzz word as social media — it is is what I am very passionate about.

  • http://vsellis.com Scott Ellis

    Phenomenal writeup! I wrote an introductory tutorial a few months ago for building a content map (strategy) for your website (somewhat WordPress centric but applicable broadly http://www.vsellis.com/qx1 ) because I saw so many clients struggle with basic content organization. Makes me feel good to know I was on the right track but there is still a long way to go.

    What do you foresee as the biggest challenges for content strategy over the next year? Where are most people/businesses missing the mark?

  • matthewtgrant

    I am curious what you mean by the phrase “driving philosophies” behind content strategy?

    Also, I've definitely seen a steadily rising demand for content related projects and have also found that positioning myself as someone who does “content strategy and development,” rather than as a writer or a copywriter, gets me into much more interesting conversations.

  • EmilyMolitor

    This is so true! Developing a strategy to deliver the right content is logical but often a missed step in the process. Just this week at the Online Marketing Summit, moderator Joe Pulizzi asked how many people in a room full of marketers had a content strategy in place and the number of people raising hands was few and far between. Many of these marketers were aggresively notetaking as speakers (Mike Stelzner, Joe Wuebben, Lawrence Coburn, Simon Kelly, and Arnie Keunn) went over 10 key points for establishing a content strategy. Check out the points at http://smartblogs.com/socialmedia/2010/02/24/li....

    Thanks for this great post Kristina!

  • http://www.decimal152.com/blog J. Todd Bennett

    Content strategy is really hard. Widespread organizational change? Hey, what's that shiny object over there?

    In all seriousness, we still have a lot of work to do before orgs will start to see the value of content as an investment (of time, people and money). I still fight to get some senior level leaders to see the value of their website in general. That said, I think we're making serious strides in the right direction.

    People do like shiny objects (web designs). They like them even more if they think they're free (social media). Maybe what content strategy needs is a shiny object– a sort of trap that hooks 'em into doing content strategy without knowing it! Let me know if you find one ;-)

  • CC Holland

    Kristina, fantastic writeup and great points throughout.

    Great for those of us who've already drunk the Kool-Aid to help spread the word to those who haven't yet jumped on board. With my corporate client, the struggle has been to extend the domain of content strategy beyond just Web content to create a consistent, coherent approach across all the content they create.

    Thanks for giving me some more ammunition for the battle!

  • danieleizans

    Preach Kristina! Preach!

    I think the biggest struggle, especially for bigger brands is addressing one of the last points you made in your wrapup

    “Let’s not confuse tactics for an achievable, measurable plan.”

    I can't tell you how often I find folks confusing tactics and a strategic plan. It absolutely kills me. I find that so many brands out there are looking at content (espeically stuff in the social media space) as this wonderful shiny bauble that they want to grab. They don't know what to do with it. They just know they want it. Enter the next big thing. What we owe all of these brands as strategists is giving them the understanding, helping them not only walk from that crawl but run with that measurable plan.

    You've said all the things I was trying to make in my post the other day in a much more eloquant way. Great stuff as usual.

  • http://braintraffic.com Kristina Halvorson

    That's an excellent question and one our clients are constantly asking for advice on. My own opinion is that they've already tried doing this with vendor agencies but it hasn't worked. Whether or not companies know it, I think it's a big part of they're churning through AORs these days. In-house editorial is going to be a mandatory investment in the long run, if brands really want to compete online and elsewhere.

  • http://braintraffic.com Kristina Halvorson

    I love that you connect the dots with SEO and social media. These are the two most-hyped practice areas of the past 3-4 years, but to your point, they can't be successful over the long-term without a solid content strategy driving and unifying them.

  • http://braintraffic.com Kristina Halvorson

    I love that you connect the dots with SEO and social media. These are the two most-hyped practice areas of the past 3-4 years, but to your point, they can't be successful over the long-term without a solid content strategy driving and unifying them.

  • http://braintraffic.com Kristina Halvorson

    I KNOW. I think the reasons people have been ignoring it for so long are pretty straightforward: It's messy. It takes time. We don't have the roles and resources allocated. Editors aren't empowered. Marketers are measured by quick wins and questionable analytics.

    More than anything, there's so damn much content out there that we see it as a commodity, something we can just bury or throw away. (Or buy a multi-million dollar CMS to fix.) Yeah. Not so much.

    I found this interview with Walter Kiechel (author, Lords of Strategy) really relevant: http://tr.im/PNTq

  • http://braintraffic.com Kristina Halvorson

    Hey, thanks for your comments… be sure to give me a heads-up about your upcoming post.

  • http://braintraffic.com Kristina Halvorson

    And thanks for your input! Just to clarify, that great quote is from Brian Solis.

  • http://braintraffic.com Kristina Halvorson

    Content marketing and content strategy are two sides of the same coin! :)

  • http://braintraffic.com Kristina Halvorson

    I KNOW. I think the reasons people have been ignoring it for so long are pretty straightforward: It's messy. It takes time. We don't have the roles and resources allocated. Editors aren't empowered. Marketers are measured by quick wins and questionable analytics.

    More than anything, there's so damn much content out there that we see it as a commodity, something we can just bury or throw away. (Or buy a multi-million dollar CMS to fix.) Yeah. Not so much.

    I found this interview with Walter Kiechel (author, Lords of Strategy) really relevant: http://tr.im/PNTq

  • Autonomous

    I am marketing in African, afropean style and we haven't even really begun to understand social media. In laymens, what is content marketing. If i understand this all correctly i have the perfect product scenario to provide the so called “tipping point” its working because we're moving USD and numbers. i want o understand the thinking behind this as i am certain it ill echo what we in Africa face everyday.

  • http://wordswillsaveme.wordpress.com Teresa Basich

    Look at me, late to the party. Hopefully fashionably, at least.

    I recently landed a new gig as content marketing manager, but it's really more a combination of content marketing and content strategy, so your book has been an invaluable resource for me.

    That obnoxious introduction out of the way, it's incrediblejust how tough it can be to drive home how a comprehensive content strategy drives social media success. Like Kathy mentioned, it seems obvious that the one connects to other, and right back. But the work that goes into it really seems to create a barrier of acceptance.

    It'll be interesting to see how content strategy makes its way around the 'net as people catch on to just how integral valuable content and the regular production of it are to a solid business model. I'm fascinated to see how organizations start responding to the need for additional editors, publishers, *and* strategists.

    Great post, Kristina. If I can call myself a geeky Halvorson fangirl, then color me that. I'll do my best not to be too creepy, but, you know, the work you do is helping me better understand and dive into my role and get a grip on the work ahead of me, so…it only seems right to be at least a fangirl of you and Brain Traffic. :)

  • wendybryant

    Thanks Kristina for posting–I agree with you. Content is where we at and where we're going. I'm challenged with getting the C-level team to buy in to this and to truly understand that by providing content a company is positioning itself as a thought leader and engaging with their community.

  • http://www.pencil.org/ Sara Clough

    I read Solis' recent piece and cheered then. And I am cheering again in response to this post. I love it. It's accurate. And it's empowering for those of us in the field. Of course, implementation is always more difficult, but I'll remember your post when I'm trying to stay the course. Thank you.

  • Nancy Speroni

    Kristina – Tangential Success Story: Publication timing for your book was perfect for me. Professionally, I was working on a web content strategy project for a large Connecticut Hospital. Personally, I was also moving to another state. I successfully used content strategy principles for BOTH web project and my entire moving process. After all, what do we call all the stuff in our homes? CONTENT. Not only did content strategy principles help with how to pack – the real delight was in the unpacking. I actually could find anything and everything I needed in the order I needed it. WOW! Content Strategy rocks!

  • http://www.travelblather.com/ Jeremy Head

    Really perceptive post. And that mashable link is dead good too. Thanks. Very thought provoking.

  • http://twitter.com/KatFrench Kat French

    It's sad that you have to write this, but I understand completely why you do. Frankly, content strategy isn't sexy (“ooh! social media! mobile!”). It's the workhorse that undergirds the success of the sexy.

    And also, it's a true specialty (social media is most definitely NOT)–and right now, everyone I know is being forced into generalist territory because the economic crunch is making everyone have to do five separate jobs.

  • http://www.facebook.com/dhustle Damien D Hustle Bryant

    yes for sure content strategy as in community development ,monetization and syndication of content ..

  • johnstonayala

    Hi Kristina,

    Thank you. I will definitely keep you posted. Have a great weekend!

    Johnston

    On Thu, 25 Feb 2010 22:00:55 -0000, “Disqus”

  • kevincesarz

    I think you nailed it with shiny objects (web designs) and free objects (social media). Tough love is pitching a content strategy to a client intensely focused on ROI. I am part of the hunt for the shiny object that is content strategy.

  • http://www.blogmuseupicassobcn.org/en Conxa Rodà

    I’m so happy you wrote this, Kristina, and for all this live discussion going on. I was beginning to feel lonely on my content strategy defence alignment!

    I was recently astonished the first time I came across a statement diminishing content value in favour of marketing, communication and participatory ways! I thought, oh, not again! As if communication could happen without a content about what to communicate. As if you could consistently engage your audience without a good content strategy.

    It’s quite funny (disappointing?) that we have once more to stress the importance of good content upon to build all the rest, be it virtual or onsite! It was at the end of the 90s that we were advocating for that…

    Anyway, it’s sweet to share this understanding with so many
    Best regards
    Conxa
    @innova2

  • http://braintraffic.com Kristina Halvorson

    I *dream* of that day! :)

  • http://braintraffic.com Kristina Halvorson

    I definitely think the biggest challenge will be getting businesses to realize they need to dedicate resources for content over the long term, and not just project by project.

    Agencies are also going to have to finally understand that content isn't just copywriting if they're going to remain integral to their clients' marketing and PR efforts. Content strategy is actually more consultative than it is design or build; that's a big mindshift when it comes to content!

  • http://braintraffic.com Kristina Halvorson

    Oh, that's a blog post in and of itself!

    Content strategy demands that you stop considering content as a product you can create, launch, and forget about. Content isn't something you can just “go get.” It forces us to consider content a business asset, not a commodity. It also means changing who/what typically drives the bus on our web projects: today, it's UX and/or design. At Brain Traffic, it's the content!

    (I wrote “interactive content strategist” on my business card in the mid 2000s and upped my rates by 50%… and no one blinked.)

  • http://braintraffic.com Kristina Halvorson

    I sometimes feel like Joe and I need to do some kind of roadshow. We're like the content Sonny & Cher. I'm not sure who's who, though. :)

  • http://braintraffic.com Kristina Halvorson

    Maybe we should just call content strategy “social media 2.0.”

  • http://braintraffic.com Kristina Halvorson

    Really, you're in a good place to begin considering content strategy, because social media can be much more effective (and sustainable) if you start there! I'd encourage you to check out my book for a solid overview of what content strategy is, why it matters, and how you can begin to introduce it into your project processes.

  • http://braintraffic.com Kristina Halvorson

    Terrific! Now I'm *your* fangirl.

  • http://braintraffic.com Kristina Halvorson

    Yep: that's the next step in the evolution of the practice… getting some numbers around the value of content so the c-suite will start paying attention!

  • http://braintraffic.com Kristina Halvorson

    I'm going to print this comment and frame it and put it on my desk! :)

  • http://www.twitter.com/mbloomstein mbloomstein

    Sing it, sister!

    I love that the quote from Brian Solis and your point about enterprise content strategy get at the core of how we–and our clients–must do business. Without a mission, a purpose, a goal, there's no hope for good content, because what would it attempt to communicate anyhow? We avoid windbag people, but such windbag sites still litter the web. Thankfully, the “natural selection” of capitalism kills off windbag companies, but when the economy is riding high, they can still flourish.

    In contrast, organizations that embrace enterprise content strategy and rally their output around communication goals will face a big growth opportunity. Within those organizations, people who wield the content strategy mindset have the challenge (and responsibility) of really digging into those communication goals. “Actually, yes, it IS my problem,” is an empowering retort.

  • Arturius

    What an excited presentation! You mean present to the reader or viewer what the reader or viewer wants to read or view? And do it wisely? Well, there's a radical thought! The Next Big Thing for sure.

  • Neil Srinivasan

    As a consumer, I don't want the publishing apparatus between the information I have access to and the sources of that information. I believe that attempts to insert an editorial process in social media will be rejected by everyday folks who will see it for what it is – an attempt to control what is currently an omni-directional media channel, valued for it's openness.

  • hegu

    Hej. I couldn't agree more. Great post. I have a situation right now with my current employee (i am freelancing at the moment) who cannot understand that its just not enough to have a web site and than you can relax and magic will happen. I try to explain the big picture and in meetings they are all up for it. But the next day its just like they forget all what wee talked about.

  • mdmtk

    Kristina, I recently left daily journalism (newspapers & web sites) after 19 years to enter a master's program in information science. I wasn't aware of Content Strategy as a discipline, but coming up to speed rapidly with your site and some others, I'm very encouraged to see this … it feels like in a good way, what's old is new again. The ability to create good, worthwhile content in a methodical way HAS to be part of strategy for any media-laden site, whether it's PR or Instructional or news or whatever. I've got 2 years to work this into my program before graduation, and am glad to have discovered it so early into things. Best regards to you and your readers. Mark Thompson-Kolar, Univ. of Michigan SI 2011

  • http://www.SZCCommunications.com/ Sarah Z. Cordell

    I think as more brands get involved in social media, they're going to come to the realization that content strategy is a must, not an extra. You simply can't create relevant, actionable content without clearly defined goals to tie it to. And hoping to achieve your goals without recognizing the role content — and the strategy behind it — plays is like sailing for the end of the world. You'll find an end, all right, but it won't be the one you were looking for!

  • briananderson

    Content strategy has always been important and I think I was aware of this before most people, at least where I live (in Toronto). It's taken a long time for people to understand that what goes up on their company's website represents both their company and their branding. If it isn't organized, if there isn't a plan in evidence then there will be a disconnect. Primarily, the problem is that websites are still seen as merely the re-posting of brochures and perpetuation of the passive print psychology (“don't worry, they'll find it”) instead of an active, “this is just what our prospects and customers want to know” approach of a content strategy.

  • adaniello

    Just saw your great post on Alltop, so I am a little late to the conversation. Enjoyed your insights. I added your link to an article I just posted today.

    Businesses are feeling overwhelmed as it is and many feel like they would be adding hours of work building content and without hard core metrics to show the boss. But, many do not realize the major shift that has happened, maybe because they have been heads down trying to make ends meet. Business communication is changing, not just marketing communication. This requires change in how content is created, packaged, and delivered.

    It could be another one of those… feel the pain now, or feel it later. And… reap the benefits now, or later.

    Without strategy, you could still be throwing content into the wind.

  • http://www.bestcarpetpadding.com/ Carpet Padding

    I agree with you.

  • tamsinbishton

    Hi Kristina – I keep bringing people back to this post over and over again. It's a brilliant summary of everything a content professional knows and holds dear. One thing though – where did you get your numbers from? I am quoting them left right and centre to clients etc and it suddenly dawned on my that if someone asks I won't know the answer. When I search on “content strategy” on Google I get:

    Results 1 – 10 of about 51,500,000 for content strategy.

    How did you get historical data for this?

    Thanks!

  • Terry

    What a great point about content strategy! Not only do we need to look at the cost to produce and maintain documentation/content, but we also need to look at the cost for each time we have to filter through clutter to get to a nugget of information. I guess in the physical realm this would be inventory management.

    Some organizations have begun their content strategy by repurposing their content and breaking it up into modules. Modules are like object code and can be rearranged to fit the audience and intent of the documentation. It still requires a good copy editor and technical editor to review the reconstructed document, but it speeds time for delivery and reduces cost.

  • Ahava

    So true. I almost wish it was called Digital Communications Strategy, or organizational communications strategy or some other term that really encompassed the totality of how far this thing can go in pushing organizations to rethink how they create and deliver all kinds of content.

  • http://blog.junta42.com Joe Pulizzi

    Can I be Cher?

  • Anonymous

    Great post, like the numbers!

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_PXZ3BP5UI47HIBG4V3CO4IQOPU Jencie Fajardo

     As much as I am aware of; Strategic social media is a prepared method for interesting potential clients that is aligned to business objectives and valued clients demands.

  • Evinlee77

    Thank your mind.

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