How to Write a Content Strategy That WorksBy Melissa Lafsky August 11th, 2014
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Everywhere you look, people are talking about content strategy. These two words—both buzzy in their own right—have joined forces to form one juggernaut buzz-phrase that’s sweeping the Internet. But despite all the discussion and hype, we’re still swimming in a bog of ambiguity and confusion over what it means and how to actually write a content strategy.
In the interest of clarifying this phrase once and for all, here’s a comprehensive two-step guide to writing an impactful and effective content strategy:
Step one: Answer these questions:
1. What topics can my company/brand talk about in depth and with authority?
2. How do the above topics translate into things people actually want to read/watch?
3. Once I’ve figured out this overlap, how do I produce content from it, and where should that content go?
Step two: Now that you have comprehensive answers to the above, work downward from there. Define your content buckets first, then your specific content subjects, then your individual pieces—on and on until you’re writing headlines and filling in a large chunk of your editorial calendar for the next six months.
And you’re done! Right?
These steps may seem simple—after all, there are only two of them—but they’re nearly impossible to tackle if you don’t have previous experience building an audience. As a result, there’s a decent chance you’re asking the following questions:
Who can help me with these steps?
You enlist the help of a veteran content strategist. Or simply: a content strategist.
What is a content strategist?
A content strategist is a person (yep, definitely a person—not an algorithm) who has previously made a living launching and growing content properties that a lot of people chose to visit. These properties could include an online magazine, a video network, a viral Tumblr, or a popular industry newsletter. The key is that the content strategist has to know: 1) how to wake up every day and produce content that readers actually want to consume; and 2) how to initially create something from nothing on the Internet, and then grow it.
Where do I find one of these content strategists?
Let’s start with where you won’t find them. They aren’t at PR firms, big digital agencies, or tech companies that produce content-management workflow tools. (Note: There are multiple exceptions to the previous statement. Every rule has exceptions.)
(Editor’s note: Count Contently as an exception—we employ a team of freelance content strategists in the mold that Melissa describes below.)
Veteran content strategists are still a small group, made up predominantly of people who spent years working in editorial positions at digital media brands (or the digital arms of traditional media brands). Most of them were never all that comfortable with the wall that separates the editorial and business sides of a mainstream media organization. Many of them have law or business backgrounds that give them a particular interest in how content can be created to meet business objectives. And all of them have taken an idea that didn’t exist on the web, brought it into being, and nurtured and it into a real live site that attracted a growing number of readers (and maybe even made a profit).
Why aren’t there more content strategists?
One of the reasons there aren’t a ton of experienced content strategists is because there’s no precedent for the profession—there’s no formal pathway to becoming one, or an established training for it. (Note: This is changing—if you’re junior, editorially savvy, and looking to jump in, come work for me and I’ll train you in all things content strategy).
Do I really need one of these people to help me create a good content strategy? Can’t I just read up and then do it myself?
You can do it yourself. You can also remodel your kitchen yourself. Which will take time, energy, and a hefty chunk of money. And then, when the new granite countertops aren’t flush against the backsplash and the Viking appliances don’t fit, you’ll have to bring in a contractor anyway, and she’ll have to backtrack to fix what’s already been done, costing even more time and money.
With content strategy, you’re laying out a marketing roadmap that will consume large amounts of your time, budget, and resources—and pay off manyfold once it gets you to the correct destination. So you may as well hire a veteran strategist sure to get you there—or, at the very least, point you in the right direction.
Melissa Lafsky Wall (@Lafsky) is the founder of Brick Wall Media, which creates customized content strategies and branded content sites for businesses. Her past roles include founding editor of Newsweek’s iPad edition, associate editor at The Huffington Post, editor of The New York Times’ Freakonomics blog, and horror movie columnist for The Awl. She has written for The New York Times, the New York Post, The New York Observer, Gawker, WIRED, and plenty of others.
Image by karinavans