A mentality for content strategists

Jennifer Schmich
Nov 20, 2019 · 4 min read
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One of the most important aspects of content strategy and being a content strategist is how you think about being one. Mentalities are cognitive frames for understanding the world, as values and norms that organize reactions and responses — a signature form of consciousness that seeds behavior.

Mentality and knowledge are two realms. You can take classes and complete projects to acquire knowledge: the facts of a domain, skills and experience.

Mentality is a mindset. It will help you succeed in content strategy. The coolest part is that you influence yours into being.

The bounds of content strategy

Being a content strategist means being strategic about all kinds of things beyond the content itself. We have a ton of content work behind the screen that impacts what gets on the screen.

To publish awesome quality, a whole lot has to be going right in your team, processes, tools, data, budget, prioritization and leadership. If you come to strategy from content creation, this may be a change in your to-do list. You’ll need to expand the bounds of what you consider to be your responsibility.

This may feel trepidatious at first because it runs up against what’s outside the span of your control. It’s also where difficulties push a lot of folks to give up. Isn’t this actually the sweet spot for building partnerships?

Strategic partnership

As content creators, we’re practically trained to wait for partners to come request work from us. But why let your ideas sit? There’s no innovation or team growth to be had by hiring smart people and telling them exactly what and how to do everything. “Welcome to the company! Don’t change a thing.”

Speak up and share ideas—especially when they’re not asked for. Invite yourself. Hello, introverts. No one’s worried about a bunch of content people alienating and upsetting teams by expressing their thoughts.

In my view, things like vision, problem-solving abilities and all the documents are of less importance. I don’t encourage my team to be heads down in a screen all the time in troll pose. Stand up and engage in the give and take of partnership on behalf of content.

Content strategists drive change. At the core of our work, we find opportunities and advocate for the investment and effort to capture them. Without strategic partnership, we fall behind and lose ground.

How is this related to a mentality? You have to prime your partnerships by getting in a headspace for it. This can make or break what you accomplish.

Don’t accept everything the way it is

My least favorite explanation: “That’s the way it’s always been done.” Maybe there are times when it’s better to accept a reality. When doing so helps you feel free. This kind of acceptance is about not denying yourself.

At a company, though, things don’t just exist or occur randomly. Inside, things have been built up by a group of people for a particular purpose at a specific time. It was someone’s job. No one ever set out to create a problem.

Whether a solution is still effective or relevant is good to check. What’s new inevitably becomes old. Problems usually grow over time from a solution that succeeded in the past but didn’t adapt with evolving internal requirements and external dynamics. It’s systemic. That’s where your content strategy fits in.

Make room for teams to see things differently

Obviously things that are completely out of your control can’t be changed. Most of us are well aware of these and know when we can afford to take on a struggle.

But what if, by default, you allowed yourself to think that things could be changed? Or you erred on the side of believing you had control? Would you work differently if that were your mentality?

Corporate environments, in particular, make it easy to habituate. I’ve had my moments veering toward the path of least resistance. That’s when I stopped presenting the spicy options or asking for additional resources. When this becomes rote, it can trap you.

As a leader, make space to think otherwise, even when it’s unpopular. The challenge is to manage the framing since better work can easily get dismissed as additional work. Still, there are people who can’t always imagine or entertain alternatives. (Another challenge.)

All I’m saying is don’t stop yourself before you start. Updating your resume would be more satisfying.

Persistence and passion is personal

Once you get your brain there, who knows where you’ll stop. Personally, I like a cause. Big, chunky problems excite me. At the Content Strategy Bootcamp I run, the question always comes up, “How do I (we) keep going in the face of resistance and setbacks?” and for a long time, I didn’t have a ready answer.

It was simmering in the background until I noticed it: almost nothing seems normal or natural to me. That view is informed by my queerness. Over time, I’ve learned to tap into this part of myself to keep questioning and pushing at work.

The gay girl in me is used to living for change, or at least the hope and promise of it. Everyday is a chance to redefine some aspect of life for myself instead of taking what is given or expected. Energy like this inspires. I’m grateful to have experience making things better for everyone.

Each of us has their own way. Finding inspiration for what you do is a treasure. Go get it, and let’s keep pressing.

Parting thoughts: a video on learned helplessness by Derek Muller

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