I am a Content Strategist. Or so my new job title says. Through some series of bewildering events, I’ve managed to conglomerate all of the things I care most about into something I get paid to do. For the past year, I’ve been allowed to weasel my way into my university’s website redesign and CMS transition while I was supposed to be working on social media. I was encouraged, even! Yet, if you would have talked to me just a few days ago, I might have told you that I’m a complete fraud.
I mean, sure, I care an awful lot about strategy. I care an awful lot about a lot of things, actually. But that doesn’t make someone a content strategist, nor does reading every book or article within reach that contains the words “content” and “strategy” in the title.
Real content strategists help communicators connect in meaningful ways with their audiences—across multiple platforms and through various channels. They make sure that information, or content, is accessible to people where and when it’s needed. Technology affords communicators new opportunity and, yes, responsibility for reaching and connecting with other people. Content strategists help us do that. They help the rest of us see what’s possible when we use the tools in the right way.
And me? I work for the University of Michigan-Flint. In the heart of a city known for its struggles, I am so proud of what my university has meant to the people who live there. I’m proud of the work of our students and faculty. I take very seriously my role in serving potential and current students, doing what I can to facilitate a conversation. “This is what UM-Flint is about. This is what’s possible for you. This is the great work we’re doing. This is why Flint, Michigan is a place to be proud of.” The conversation takes place across many channels, and depends on strategic use of digital resources like the university website and social networks. It includes printed materials like brochures and postcards. Every point of contact is part of an ongoing conversation. I care an awful lot about that conversation.
I do care so very much about the people I want to reach, the stories I want to tell, and the calling I feel to do it all the right way. I decided many months ago that I want to be a content strategist when I grow up.
So I’ve been learning everything I can and applying it to my work. I may have a lot to learn when it comes to content strategy, but I can project-manage like nobody’s business. I can ask alllll the questions. In fact, these are “skills” (consider those air-quotes) that I’ve had since long before I’d first heard of content strategy. Even if I’m not a real content strategist, I can do my best to apply and share the principles of the field.
And then Confab Higher Ed.
I can’t recall a time in my professional life when I’ve so craved validation for my work, or a time when I’ve received more validation from people I respect. Confab Higher Ed was a perfect storm of inspiration, guidance, reinforcement, and—yes!—validation. In her opening keynote, Kristina Halvorson said two things that changed my entire view of my work. First, she said that the role of the content strategist is to negotiate and facilitate conversation with “all the people.” I do that! More than anything, I do that.
Then, the big one: “You’re not doing it wrong.”
You guys, I wanted to cry. Or laugh. Or emote in some way that expressed my relief and joy all at once. And then? Every single speaker I heard from afterward throughout the conference explained that they had come into content strategy much the way I have. Each of them had such a familiar story, with a similar set of goals and responsibilities. These people, these Content Strategists, do what I do! They have more experience and are so much more knowledgeable, but at the core… we are all working toward the same thing. Because we care. We all care.
Tomorrow I’ll go back to work. I’ll do much of what I’ve always done. I’ll check in with the web team and review our task lists. I’ll help train content contributors to use the campus’s new content management system. I’ll talk to departments about their stories, and how to tell them. I’ll do my best to make our social networks valuable to our community. I’ll do all of these things, but I’ll do them with a newfound confidence.
For the first time, I feel worthy of the title “content strategist.” I feel like I belong to a community of really smart people who are working to make the web, and the conversation, be what it should be. I have so much to learn, but an incredible community to learn from.