Content strategy: Strategy vs. tactics

Note: My article was originally published on the University of Washington’s Flip the Media blog on 7/12/2012.

Content strategy experts Val Swisher, Scott Abel,  and and Kristina Halvorson  recently hosted a webinar about success factors in content strategy projects. It centered on an important theme: objectives vs. tactics. We’re often focused on the latter which can be to the detriment of customer needs and business goals. Here are four themes from the presentation that will help you set the right priorities in your next content project:

1) Avoid the buckshot approach

Most of us center our workday around tasks. In communications, this usually means producing information. Blog posts. Web pages. Status reports. Videos. Diagrams. Presentations. We define our accomplishments around the quantity and perhaps the performance of these items, and call this content strategy. But this isn’t strategy – its tactics. “A bunch of things all in a row is taking a buckshot approach if it isnt tied to business objectives,” says Kristina Halvorson.

What are the business objectives of your daily communications tasks?

2) Content strategists aren’t content developers

Many organizations confuse the roles of content strategist and content developer. Kristina Halvorson describes content strategists as people who “oversee the success of content initiatives.” This involves creating a roadmap of content initiatives (tasks and deliverables) that clearly serve business objectives, and ensuring the success of those initiatives via the use of success measures like analytics and scorecards. This is a management role, and differs fundamentally from writing page copy and shooting video.

3) People are the problem

Scott Abel observed that “people introduce the biggest challenges to success in content strategy projects.” Specifically, the traditional design of organizations, particularly at the enterprise level, create silos that prevent effective collaboration.

Many organizations define success as the completion of tasks over team-wide coordination toward strategic objectives. Employees are typically rewarded for accomplishing more, as individuals, compared to their peers, leading to a task focused approach. Content strategists are people who are “good at facilitating conversations between PMs and business owners to create a shared understanding.”

How often are you rewarded at work for creating a shared understanding, even in service of a business objective?

4) You can start now

Content strategy often starts with an audit or other large-scale assessment effort. This up-front investment can prevent content strategy from happening at all, because “organizations can’t stop moving forward, and there are already many initiatives underway. Halvorson advises that you don’t need to stop the tide and inventory thousands of pages to map content to business objectives: you can start with the next project you have. Define business objectives for your content efforts (what do users really need?), and begin applying them now.


If content strategy as a concept doesn’t yet exist in your organization, you may be the right person to get things started. If you’re new to the concept, here are a few recommended resources:

The Complete Beginner’s Guide to Content Strategy

The Discipline of Content Strategy

Brain Traffic Blog

Seattle Content Strategy Meetup

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