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On Content Strategy and Identity

by Tom Johnson on Jul 1, 2011
categories: technical-writing

Content Strategy and IdentityA couple of months ago, I realized I would be playing a larger role in web publishing at my work, moving more towards a user awareness role. Realizing this direction, and knowing I had some budget, I decided I should attend Confab, the first conference on content strategy. It was sold out, but by a stroke of luck the organizer offered me one of thirteen tickets held in reserve.

I never wrote much about the Confab conference. In part I was too busy with a presentation and workshop I was preparing for the STC Summit, which was the following weekend. But like most conferences, Confab turned out to be interesting and thought-provoking. This conference brought together experts from many disciplines. I even ran into seven colleagues from my own organization who I didn't even know were going to the conference.

Developers, interaction designers, writers, marketers, and project managers were all drawn to this conference because they were faced with content challenges they hadn't encountered before. This conference was the only one that seemed to address the growing issue of content -- the common factor behind everyone's attendance.

Except for a few tech comm notables, there weren't many other tech writers in attendance. With all the cross-sectioning of disciplines, though, at one point I wondered who I was professionally. I was more than a technical writer. I had taken on web and wiki publishing roles at work, and this only aligned more with my blogging/podcasting/wordpress consulting role outside of work. I didn't quite know who I was or where I should be anymore.

Later, as I met many people, I also began to realize that marketers and communications people made up the majority of the attendees (at least of those I met). This made me wonder if content strategy had grown out of marketing and the need to address the scope, need, and importance of web content.

I also began to realize that many of the exchanges on my blog I'd had prior to the conference about what content strategy is and isn't were foolish. From the breadth of the Confab presentations, content strategy encompassed nearly everything related to content. One person defined it as anything you do to give your content an edge. This could be a simple as focusing on story, or defining a particular style and workflow for copy (such as Groupon does), or leveraging metadata and the semantic web, or using strategies for content curation, or infusing web copy with the right tone ("messaging").

After the conference, I wasn't quite sure what to make of it all. But I found that I kept searching Twitter for the hashtag #contentstrategy. The articles and discussions around #contentstrategy seemed to be a relevant hashtag that aligned with my professional responsibilities. Publishing, metrics, styles, curation, workflow, messaging -- all of this becomes relevant when you're creating content on the web. And no previous title, such as writer or web manager or information architect, seems to address all the aspects of content that people who publish on the web must take into account.

The shifting of identities that I felt during the conference was the beginning of a larger tectonic shift as I move closer to #contentstrategy. I recognize that many tech comm professionals implement content strategy within technical communication, and certainly Rahel Bailie has been exceptional at defining this influence and perspective within technical communication. But it seems to me that content strategy for the web is an easier fit for this emerging discipline.

The Confab conference ended registration two months early when they hit their attendance limit. I'm guessing that next year, Confab will be an enormous convention, with so many speakers and attendees that it will take the initial momentum of last year and dwarf it in size.

I do not think I'm the only one checking #contentstrategy on a daily basis. Kristina Halverson, the conference organizer, noted that five years ago, you could search for content strategy and find nothing. Today, many new articles, links, and discussions about #contentstrategy saturate the web. Clearly, as I found, content strategy is a term that many are finding aligns with their identity.


Post update: As soon as I published this, I just saw Waving not drowning: or how I gave in and learned to love the content strategy flood.

About Tom Johnson

Tom Johnson

I'm an API technical writer based in the Seattle area. On this blog, I write about topics related to technical writing and communication — such as software documentation, API documentation, AI, information architecture, content strategy, writing processes, plain language, tech comm careers, and more. Check out my API documentation course if you're looking for more info about documenting APIs. Or see my posts on AI and AI course section for more on the latest in AI and tech comm.

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