There’s an increasingly loud debate happening around content strategy. Many people, including people I very much admire, are seriously frustrated that much of the current conversation focuses strictly on Web content.
Their position is that content strategy—in order to actually have any positive, long-term effect on an organization—must consider multiple types of content across multichannel platforms, and that the Web is only a part of that ecosystem. Some context:
- "Please, please, please could we stop talking about content strategy as though it applies to just the Web professional."
- "The Web is simply one output in a multi-channel publishing environment."
- "The [Wikipedia definition of content strategy] is too myopic for the new content-driven paradigm."
- "You think you know what content strategy is? Ha!"
Now, of course content doesn’t begin and end on a website. If an organization only pays attention to the problem of content at the Web project level, they’re failing to deal with their actual “content ecosystem.” Social media. Marketing. Technology. Internal communications. Technical communications. Media. Do you know a company where these roles are even remotely aligned on how to create, deliver, and govern their organization’s content? Because I sure don’t.
So. If I believe all this, then why did I write a book that has helped make “content strategy” synonymous with “Web content”?
The answer is pretty simple: Because it was a good place to start.
CONVERSATION OPENER VS. CONVERSATION KILLER
Every time people ask me what I do, this is how I respond: “You know how, on your company’s website, most of the information is hard to find, or inconsistent, or totally irrelevant, or just really bad?”
And, every single time, they say, “Oh, yes, it is. It’s so embarrassing. I’m so frustrated that no one is fixing it.”
Then I tell them that’s what I do: I help fix bad content. And they say, “Oh, wow, I wish my boss would call you. You must be REALLY BUSY.”
Now, imagine if I responded like this: “You know how, in your company, the content lifecycle is totally undefined and ignored, and content is constantly getting produced in silos, and no one is fully accountable for all the messy stuff that goes along with it, and the problem is just getting worse because no one gets that content requires strategic consideration and dedicated resources?”
This person would likely fake an incoming call so they can run far, far away from me.
This is pretty much the reaction our clients and colleagues have been having for years. The latter explanation, while possibly more accurate about the scope of content strategy, freaks people out. It turns content into a hot potato. It's not working.
CONTENT + STRATEGY + WEB = LIGHT BULB
My publisher initially wanted me to call my book The Content Strategy Handbook. But I didn’t think that was a good idea, as I didn’t know the first thing about how to architect an all-things-considered content strategy. What I knew was how to create a strategic plan for creating, delivering, and governing content for websites. So that’s why I called it Content Strategy for the Web: to cover my ass.
Well, that’s part of the reason. I also knew that pointing to Web content as a big problem was something people would relate to, if not at first then fairly quickly.
Just like the way I describe my work, the phrase "content strategy for the Web” allowed me to introduce the practice as a solution to an immediate and unrelenting pain point so many of us share. I could explain content strategy’s basic principles using constraints (website vs. company-wide content lifecycle) that make it seem achievable.
I also knew from experience that focusing first on Web content strategy often ends up being a very sensible, non-scary starting point for the much larger discussion that inevitably arises: “This isn’t just about our website. This is about the way content moves throughout our organization and the way we manage our content assets.”
THIS IS WHERE I REVEAL MY GRAND MASTER PLAN
Here's the deal. I never had any illusions about writing The End-all-be-all Content Strategy Bible. I’m not the person to do that. What I had was an very big desire to get the conversation rolling. In order to do that, I had to convince my reader of a few very basic points:
- Content isn’t copywriting.
- Content is very, very complicated.
- Content requires strategic consideration.
- Content requires care and feeding.
- Content is a critical business asset.
Nowhere are these truths more evident than on a website.
So. That’s why I wrote about Web content. And that’s why I’ll keep writing and talking about Web content.
As for the argument that content strategy can’t be discussed as something that’s “just for the Web,” I firmly disagree. Content strategy can be practiced as a Web-focused discipline, and with terrific results. In fact, I’ve built an entire business around it.
And, yes! We’re REALLY BUSY.