Content strategy is not just one thing

This essay originally appeared in Issue 025 of my UX Writing Events newsletter.

You may have read that Facebook’s content strategy team is now their content design team. In the relatively small world of UX content people like you and me, it’s generated a lot of discussion. I’ve been bothered by how narrow and 1-dimensional the conversation has been. Let’s expand…

Firstly, I like to remind folks that content strategy is not just one thing. We spend too much time arguing about job titles and not enough time articulating roles. Design jobs and design roles are different things.

It’s not content strategy VERSUS content design … it’s content strategy AND content design … and UX writing … and IA … and so on.

The isness of our content business

So what is content strategy, then? As I shared at Confab 2016, There are three facets to the “isness” of content strategy that exist whether you have a content strategy department or not:

  • Content strategy is a discipline: Content strategy is a term of art for a professional community … if you publish a content strategy book or organize a content strategy meetup, folks can glean a general sense of what that means
  • Content strategy is a plan: Content strategy is a thing that your organization and/or websites and publishing channels have … it’s the set of decisions and principles that guide your approach to content 
  • Content strateg(ist) is a role: A content strategist is a person who helps facilitate the creation and implementation of your content strategy (the plan)

Where things get messy is when we take these fundamental facets of content strategy and try to shove them into an org chart. Just because you have a content strategist doesn’t mean you have to have a content strategy department. Just because someone creates a content strategy does not mean their job title has to be content strategist. That’s needlessly reductive.

These further optional facets may or may not exist depending on your organization:

  • Content strategy as a job: People have “content strategist” on their business card, and dedicate the bulk of their daily work to content strategy concerns. This is optional!
  • Content strategy as a department: You have enough content strategists (job title) that someone becomes a lead, manager, or even director of content strategy. This is optional!
  • Content strategy as an internal community of practice: People who care about content strategy inside an organization come together and talk about it (and maybe even establish some light organizational content strategy like governance best practices or voice and tone guidelines). This is optional (and a great idea)!

Content strategy matters

I’m of the opinion that content strategy is an important enough role that a company the size of Facebook should have a few dozen of them as titled positions. I also see how that having hundreds of job-titled Content Strategists doesn’t make much sense if they aren’t “doing” content strategy, which is to say, creating and managing the plan for how content works at the organization. Content strategy is not, and never has been, merely writing, not even when the writing process is really complex and involves user-centered design methodologies.

You can probably see now that it’s overly simplistic to argue whether the Facebook decision is “good” or “bad”, just as it’s overly simplistic to ask whether it’s “better” to make someone’s job title content strategist or content designer. It’s not about good or bad, better or worse. It’s about what’s right and sensible and helps people get the work done. There’s no universal answers to be found there.

My thoughts on this whole thing could each be their own essay, but I’ll try to summarize:

1) Content strategy and content design are not the same thing.

Any design project of sufficient size will require someone at some point to occupy both of those roles (and they could be the same person!).

2) Content strategy job titles are not one-size-fits-all

Your company can have content strategists, content designers, UX writers, information architects, content managers, and more. Trying to apply a one-size-fits-all job title to anyone that does any kind of content work at all is unnecessary and unhelpful.

People who write interface copy (often called UX writers) and people who borrow user-centered design methodologies to plan and craft larger content experiences (often called content designers) rely on the work of people who design the organization’s overall approach to planning, creating, and managing content (often called content strategists). 

3) Every publisher has a content strategy, intentional or or not

Your sites and apps and channels have a content strategy whether you intentionally craft it or not, so you’d better have someone whose job involves paying attention to it.

Okay, that’s enough of a rant for now. I mean look, if we’re going to have an industry-wide conversation about content strategy because of Facebook, can we maybe make it one about how hundreds of our content strategy peers are helping undermine the very fabric of society?

Photo by JOSHUA COLEMAN on Unsplash
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