Content Strategy: More that a Bunch of Tactics

Kristina Halvorson

I know this will likely come as a shock to many of you, but I have a Twitter alert set up for “content strategy.” 

It’s really extraordinary how the tweets about content strategy have EXPLODED over the past few months. A year ago, maybe I’d see one or two a day. Now, hourly, it’s mentioned dozens of times.

The thing that fascinates me is that it’s being used in about a hundred different contexts to mean a hundred different things.

Now, I don’t really care that people are using the term inconsistently. I’m not altogether invested in figuring out The One and Only Definition. What bugs me is that we seem to be missing the point altogether.

Content strategy isn’t just what content you publish. It isn’t deciding to publish more content than before. It’s not where you distribute it. It’s not a blog, and it’s not Twitter. And it definitely isn’t all about getting SEO results.

Content strategy is a plan to get you from where you are now with your current content (assets, operations, distribution, maintenance, and so on), to where you want to be. But for some reason, we want to skip that part and rush ahead to the execution piece. Which is why we tend to mix up content strategy … with tactics.

Is it a blog?

Early in the week, Valeria Maltoni (ConversationAgent.com) wrote a terrific post called How to Develop a Content Strategy Process. I really admire the hell out of Valeria and was thrilled to see her tackle this topic. However, a few paragraphs into the post, I realized that she was specifically talking about how to plan for blog content.

If you’re a small business or an independent consultant, your blog may very well be 99 percent of your content. In this case, Valeria’s post is on the money. But for a mid-sized or large organization, if social media content is conceived and created in a silo (or silos) apart from the organization’s other content channels, it opens the door for inconsistent messaging, irrelevant content for current target audiences, and so on. So it’s important to understand that a blog, like all social media, is (among other things) a channel through which to distribute branded content.

[Note: Just discovered that Valeria has changed the title of the post to “How to Develop a Content Strategy Process (for your blog)”.]

Is it where you get content?

Yesterday, Barry Judge (@bestbuycmo) had this to say:

“Interesting content strategy thought. Newspaper is best of, Internet is more of, mobile is instant.”

What he’s talking about, here, is a little bit of a mishmash. The newspaper supposedly curates the “best of” content (editorial curation). The Internet gives us “more of” content (volume). Mobile gives us instant “access to” content (distribution channel).

These are all components of content strategy, but none of them really is, per se, a content strategy.

Is it whether you pay for content?

Then we have the big brouhaha over The New York Times paid content model that was announced last week. In follow-up discussions, lots of bloggers referred to it as their paid “content strategy.” Is it? Or is it just a new business model?

(Note that The New York Times press release did not refer to the plans as a “content strategy.”)

Or is it… something else?

A few other mentions of content strategy, all of which are totally different from one another:

  • “…Apple tablet content strategy”
  • “The Dawn of Content [Marketing?] Strategy”
  • “SEO content strategy
”
  • ‍“Building a Tweet Content Strategy” (this one made me cry a little) 

Okay. What the hell is it?

The most important thing to understand is this: Content strategy isn’t a bunch of tactics. It’s a plan.

It’s a well-founded plan, fueled by your business objectives and user goals. An achievable plan, created with your current business reality, content assets, and limited resources in mind. A future plan, for what’s going to happen to your content once you send it off into the world. And, most importantly, a profitable plan, where your measures of success ultimately have impact on your organization’s bottom line.

So, folks, let’s try not to gloss over this process as the industry’s latest “shiny new object.” Instead, let’s talk about content strategy as a way of doing business, a way of looking at our content not as a commodity but as a valuable business asset, worthy of our strategic consideration.