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The “Queen” School of Content Strategy

by Melissa Rach on September 9th, 2010

As a Brain Traffic employee, people often ask me questions like, “How do you learn to be a content strategist?” or “How do I get good at content strategy?” My answer isn’t groundbreaking: You need to be well-educated on content and strategy. Then, you need to practice combining the two.  A lot.

Which leads to the real question:  Where do you get practice doing content strategy if it’s not part of your current job? In my opinion: Everywhere. 

Start seeing content strategy in everyday life
By far, the best way to practice content strategy is to start recognizing when other people are doing it (or obviously not doing it).

Research, such as last weeks’ Ofcom Communication Market report, confirms the obvious: We all knowingly consume a boatload of content. So, you can start there. Next time you open a web site, download an app, or see a billboard—ask yourself questions like: What message are they trying to communicate? How does this piece of content fit into their greater communications plan? How do they hope I’ll react?

But don’t stop with stuff that is explicitly media-related. When you go to the grocery store, start thinking about why they labeled the aisles the way they did or content design behind nutrition labels. Decide whether the admittance form at your doctors’ office makes you feel  welcomed, annoyed, or scared and why.
Draw parallels to Brian May (or your other interests)

Another way to practice is to draw parallels between content strategy and something you already know a lot about. Lots of people draw on their knowledge of related fields like IA or business strategy. But great stuff can come from unexpected places, too.

For example, a few weeks ago, my close friend sent me a link to an NPR interview with Brian May (astrophysicist, university chancellor, author … Queen’s lead guitarist). She sent it because we share a soft spot for Queen and a billion Highlander-related jokes (“There can be only one!”).

I already knew quite a bit about Brian May, but when I listened to the 40-minute long interview, I got a lesson in content strategy (despite the poor interviewer).

Here are some examples:

(click to enlarge)

Once you start, you can’t stop
Once you start seeing content strategy everywhere, thinking strategically about content becomes a habit—and you’re practicing during all of your waking hours (whether you want to or not). With that habit established, it becomes a lot easier to find answers to your own critical content strategy questions.
So, now, if you’ll excuse me, I'm going to go look for some content strategy parallels in May’s Ph.D. thesis: “A Survey of Radial Velocities in the Zodiacal Dust Cloud.” (Or, maybe I’ll just play air guitar on “Stone Cold Crazy” instead.)

“Looking Brian May” image courtesy of  flickr user Icemanfr75 (cc: by-nc-nd)

  • http://www.carlrnelson.com CarlNelson

    I see content strategy (most often fails) in stores when I'm looking for specific items and they are obviously stocked in areas entirely uncorrelated to the tasks that I would associate them with.

    Great article; thanks.

  • http://scattergather.razorfish.com/876/2010/09/20/the-language-of-legos/ The Language of Legos – Scatter/Gather: a Razorfish blog about content strategy, pop culture and human behavior

    [...] a nod to Melissa Rach, who recently encouraged people to practice content strategy by observing it everywhere, I marveled at the things Niemann managed to convey using this elegant and artful approach. [...]

  • Bill Pryor

    I can’t speak for Queen……..Let’s try another genre. I love the thought of finding content strategy everywhere. To stretch your music metaphor a bit further, Jerry Garcia was one of the great content-connectors ever. You have to love the simplicity of this quote: “Our strong suit is what we do……and our audience”. He intuitively understood his audience and effortlessly connected in a deeply emotional way. Only good things happened for the Grateful Dead as a result.

  • http://twitter.com/shaymein Shaymein Ewer

    Good questions on the ‘seeing it in everyday life.’ It’s amazing the things you can pick up on once you actually start paying attention to the details. Good article.

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