The content strategist is tasked with crafting an organizational image, maintaining consistency in communication across the many and varied channels available to the modern marketing team. Put far more simply, a content strategist is a professional storyteller. This field is an excellent opportunity for strategic thinkers with a knack for communication to truly thrive.
The 21st century organization accesses an incredible range of content, mostly due to the significant expansion of touchpoints between companies and their customers. The modern marketer must juggle daily social media posts, vast email lists, video tutorials and testimonials, online customer reviews, website user experiences, and the list goes on and on!
It is precisely this complexity and vast communicative opportunity that gives way to the important position of content strategist. A content strategist tames these complexities by generating a core strategic vision, managing functional teams of creative copywriters, artists, web designers, and videographers towards shared objectives in branding and customer communication.
Are you the type of person who can translate strategic vision into a series of creative assets? Can you manage creative teams? Do you have a good eye for aesthetic consistency? If so, then content strategy may be a good career objective to pursue.
A Career in Content Strategy
Investing in content strategy means developing the core competencies and skills necessary to do the job well. Here are three key categories of skill any good content strategist should have in their toolbelt:
- Master of all things marketing: First and foremost, a content strategist must understand marketing from the executive (i.e. organizational) level. All marketing communication should go through the content strategist for consistency in style, tone, branding, and audience alignment. This means that content marketers must be able to accurately assess the many and varied forms of marketing communications.
- Sufficiently tech-savvy: While the content strategist may not need to master front-end development or database management, they will be expected to manage teams including technical specialist. That means understanding key principles in order to capitalize on the capabilities (or avoid asking the impossible) of their teammates.
- Elite editing abilities: Last but certainly not least, the content strategist is expected to polish each potential piece of communication to perfection. What this means is being able to quickly and efficiently read and revise all outgoing communication in order to ensure alignment with the strategic vision set down by the executive team. While everyone can be a critic, very few people are able to lift the script towards key strategic objectives.
Whether you check all of these boxes or none of them, there are plenty of educational programs customized specifically for incubating this all-important content expertise.
Content Strategist Courses and Certifications
As content strategy is a fairly new field, many current professionals hold degrees in marketing, advertising, writing, or communications. Each of these options will be incorporating content strategy thinking within their broader curriculum, and are reasonably good traditional options for the university-minded.
For those looking for something a little less formal, either to save time or guard their wallets, the evolving realm of online education and certification offers opportunities for the self-motivated to succeed in this field. Without being too exhaustive, here are some well-known and affordable content star to kickstart the learning process:
- EdX Content Marketing Coursework
- Coursera’s The Strategy of Content Marketing (via the University of California)
- Udemy’s Content Marketing Masterclass
- Certificate in Storytelling & Content Strategy from the University of Washington
- Graduate Certificate in Content Strategy from Northwestern
As you sail the sea of online education options, keep in mind a few key points. First, it’s typically better to pursue a program that provides a reputable certificate to prove program completion to prospective employers. This could mean pursuing a university sponsored program for professionals, or using one of the many well-known massive online open courses (MOOCs) like edX.
More important even than certification is self-motivation. Pursuing an online option means finding that ever-evasive self discipline required to put in the work. After all, you’ll only get back the energy you provide to the process. Speaking of the return on investment…
Content Strategist Career Outlook
Making a career change means considering the job opportunities and prospective salary. Content strategists will typically find a spot within multidisciplinary teams, where technical skills of web development intersect with creative asset generation of artists, writers, animators, and videographers. A content strategist is positioned well to either contribute tactics and strategy as a functional specialist, or even manage the entire team by integrating the organizational vision.
Here are a few job titles a content strategist’s skills may be fit for, with a brief overview of responsibilities and remuneration:
- Content Strategist: In this role, a content expert should expect to mediate between technical limitations of the developers, functional expertise of writers and artists, and executive expectations of organizational vision. A content strategist can expect a median salary of about $63k/year, though highly effective content strategists often make up to $100k/year.
- Content Manager: As the job title suggests, a content manager focuses more on the actual creative assets than the overall organizational strategy or vision. This is a great entry point for more technical or functional folks, who have yet to really develop an executive-level strategic mind. Salaries for this role tend to hover around $60k/year.
- Creative Director: As a content strategist proves their capacity to both manage and envision an organization’s image, brand, and communication strategy, broader creative leadership is a good next step. Content strategists must think like an executive in order to succeed, taking the entirety of an organization’s image and creative style on their shoulders. Creative directors take this a step further, interfacing with the executive team to produce these strategic objectives. Creative directors can expect a median salary of $90k/year.
- Lead Editor: Sometimes, content strategists end up in leadership roles within one of the technical fields contributing to the content strategy. Lead editors at an organization have a similar set of responsibilities, where all written communication (and often the visuals accompanying them) will pass by their desk for approval. This role is great for the professional writer who augments their skill set with content strategy knowledge. These professionals can expect an average salary of $78k/year.
Content strategists are quite versatile professionals, typically mixing and matching some combination of functional, technical, and strategic ability. An aspiring content strategist should consider the many pathways towards their goal, and can start by integrating creative and communicative leadership within their functional role (be it front-end development, database management, copywriting, or visual design).
Let’s say you’ve procured your certifications, applied for new jobs, and have now finally landed that awesome content strategy gig. What can you expect to be doing from day-to-day? What priorities should be set up from the start?
The Contents of Content Strategy
Simply put, the content strategist will be ascertaining and applying an organization’s image and vision into a pipeline of creative content and communication. The question here is ‘why’. Why does the organization exist? Why does it do what it does? This means interviewing executives, interfacing with customers/clients, and crafting a set of rules and objectives for the content strategy.
With that higher level thinking completed, the content expert will now begin translating these abstract strategic objectives into tangible communication tactics. This means assessing the ‘how’. How does the organization interface with stakeholders, customers, and clients? This is going to be the bread and butter of a content strategist’s responsibilities, and will typically include managing social media campaigns, analyzing engagement metrics, producing and utilizing creative assets (videos, images, webpages), and finding meaningful strategic partnerships.
The final piece of the puzzle is the ‘what’. What types of assets are being used? What are the technical limitations of these assets? Content strategists will create technical guides and style guides to govern the work of functional and technical experts. If an artist creates a beautiful bit of imagery for the website, but the front-end developer needs it in a different size, the content strategist has failed to bridge a communication gap. There are countless touchpoints like this example that the content strategist should set up a standarding operating procedure for.
The content strategist will be successful once they have effectively grasped the big picture messaging (the why), the digital platforms with which this messaging is dispersed (the how), and the technical and stylistic norms of the assets used (the what). Once this structure is up and running, the content strategist will act as a filter for all content going out of the organization. The changes to the job at this point will coincide with broader technological changes to how content is dispersed in the real world.
The Future of Content?
The future of a content strategist is intimately tied up with the future of content itself. In the 90s and early 2000s, content made a technological leap into the internet age. This evolution had enormous impacts on how content is culturally transmitted, and how communication itself is commonly done (both personal and organizational).
The future of content strategy is therefore wrapped up in the question of how we will communicate in both the near and distant future. How will a content strategist engage with virtual realities? What impact will the internet-of-things (IoT) have on how customers engage with organizations? What types of assets will be created and distributed in 2030? 2040? The successful content strategist will keep pace with these evolutions in communication, maintaining coherent and consistent narratives and organizational stories.