What Makes A Content Strategist?

Elasticity, immortality, telepathy… good ingredients for a CS superhero. (image viaCFAGELNYC)

I have this friend who’s been looking for a Content Strategist for a web design project. He’s having trouble finding someone who has all the skills and experience that he wants them to have. This is bound to happen, because the field is new enough that there’s no standard set of skills and experience for people who practice content strategy. Plus, he was looking for some pretty specialized extras.

My advice to him was to look for someone with the core skills, and then prepare them to acquire the rest on the job. I’m pretty confident that a person with the following five qualities could pick up any content strategy task you might need them to do:

  • A passion for content — the written word, of course, but this should also include a love of photos, art, music, film and/or video. Your ideal person will be well versed in many modes of expression.
  • Editorial capabilities — this doesn’t mean that the person has to have held a position as an editor, but they need to be able to distinguish between meaningful content and deadweight, and they need to be able to cut, tweak, and trim to emphasize the former.
  • Familiarity and comfort with the principles of content management and databases — experience with a specific CMS is less critical than understanding the general concepts and processes.
  • Understanding of logic — critical analysis, pattern recognition, and creation of rules are all very important to content strategy work, which has to take into account both big picture vision and fine details.
  • Communication skills — which includes not only the ability to clearly express ideas, but also active listening, interpreting, translating ideas, and otherwise facilitating communication between others.

Other skills, talents, education, and experience — such as IA, library science, coding, writing, data modeling, design, content production, DAM, SEO, accessibility, etc. — are great additional tools, and may be needed to accomplish specific goals on specific projects. But any creative Content Strategist with the skills I described above should be able to pair with a subject matter expert and come up with a solution to any content need you might have.


Originally published at Scatter/Gather: a Razorfish blog about content strategy, pop culture, and human behavior on May 29, 2009, and then imported via web.archive.org.