What I wish I knew about content strategy on day 1

Andrina Fawcett
Apr 23, 2018 · 3 min read

Be prepared to wear a ton of different hats

The number one thing you should know on day 1 of your content strategy journey: you’re going to be asked to do new things a lot.

Content models? Sure. Information architecture? Alright. Voice and tone guides? Yup. Change management? You’ve got it.

Take a deep breath.

It takes a lot to get through the first few years, so here are a few things I wish I had known on day 1.

Your most valuable asset is a high tolerance for ambiguity

Things are going to get messy. Sometimes you won’t know how to approach the work that you do when you get started. Guess what? That’s normal.

Dive in deep. Mine for problems. Document risk and talk about it a lot, especially if it’s messy. Don’t hide: always give stakeholders the chance to weigh-in and help decide the direction. It can be really scary, but challenge yourself to face the messiest parts of every project and truly work though how to fix them. I promise the end product will always be better for it.

Be brave. You’ve got this.

Make peace with the content audit

Content audits (like migration) are a sneaky piece of digital projects that always seem to go unmentioned when big projects are in the dream phase, but you need to know where an organization is to see where they need to to go.

The good news is this doesn’t need to be entirely up to you.

When I first saw an audit spreadsheet _I _was_terrified. This level of detail can be a daunting experience, especially if you’re a team of one. There are tools that can be a big help during this process like FLOCK or CAT. If you have champions or you’re an in-house content strategist, consider running a workshop on how to audit, set up an audit template, and divvy up the work.

If you have the time and budget, teach your team or clients what it looks like to run a content audit because they will probably need to do it again in the future.

Empower your clients, find your champions

Bring empathy. Organizations are bigger and more complex than they look on the surface, and messy content problems can be a point of shame for a business.

Find the people who are trying to make a difference, and work with them to make change. Find out who the challengers are, and if they are going to derail the project then engage directly with their fears. Understand that content strategy and user experience often deeply impacts the way people do their work, and that your work may undo or drastically change the way they do their job. You are not here to alienate— you are here to help. Take the time to understand why they do what they do, before you tell them how this should be changed or improved.

Your beautiful content ecosystem means nothing without the support and understanding from the people who will maintain it.

You’re going to spend a lot of time defining the damn thing

On the surface content strategy can seem intangible. There’s an uncomfortable squirm that comes with the word “strategy” because it sounds like a clandestine activity reserved for super smart and inaccessible people.

But that’s not it at all — it’s just about having a plan.

You’re going to spend a lot of time defining and defending what you do. Probably one of the most unfortunate things about content work is how often it puts you in a defensive position. Approach these situations with patience, listen before you speak, and settle in to explaining what you do. Everyone with questions is a content champion who doesn’t know it yet — and you get to share this awesome practice with them.

Good luck. I believe in you!

Andrina Fawcett

Written by

Content nerd. User experience advocate. Yes, this dress does have owls on it.