My path to content strategy
How the zigs and zags were just my way of moving in the right direction
I’ve never been a planner. My least favorite job interview question is, “Where do you want to be in 5 years?” Because if I’m totally honest, I want to be sunbathing with my wife in the backyard of a house in Maui, drinking homemade Mai Tais and watching our kids frolic against the backdrop of a palm tree-lined seascape. Clichéd, yes, but once you try one of my Mai Tais, you’ll understand.
That’s not usually what the interviewer is getting at.
Even if I focus on a realistic career aspiration, I root around and mostly find that I’m not sure. I want to be working someplace I like, doing something interesting, feeling like I’m making an impact, having fun and able to balance work with the other important things in my life (family, music, Mai Tais, etc.) Other than that…
This might explain the zigs and zags in my career path. I started out as a newspaper reporter. Since then, I’ve been an editor, customer service representative, business skills trainer, community manager, product marketer and producer, among other unofficial job roles.
My first experience as a content strategist was at an agency doing social media marketing, then at Google working on user interface and help content. It wasn’t until I was in that job a while that I really knew what content strategy meant. Now at Facebook, I have an even clearer picture, albeit one that keeps evolving.
A content strategist working on building products should be a good writer, sure. But there’s much more. A content strategist needs to (among other things):
- Ask a lot of questions to really understand the business problem they’re helping solve.
- Apply information architecture to make sense of large bodies of content and complex products.
- Have empathy for the people who will be on the receiving end of any experience they help design.
- Apply design thinking to develop solutions that may not be strictly related to content, in service of helping people achieve a goal.
I didn’t go to school to learn to be a content strategist, but I picked up all of these skills along the way.
I learned how to ask the right questions when I was a reporter. Being a community manager helped me see things from the perspective of someone using one of my company’s products. As a product marketer, I learned how to tell a story that moves people toward taking action.
Over time, I put these and other skills together in a way that is both personally satisfying and (hopefully!) useful to my employer and the people who use our products.
The the zigs and zags haven’t been distractions or missteps. They’re how I built the ability and expertise to move on to the next thing. I finally feel like that thing is the thing I should absolutely be doing right now—something I don’t think I would have ever planned to do.
As I said, my understanding and experience with content strategy continues to become clearer and more evolved. So I’m going to continue digging in, learning new skills and keeping an open mind about where my career will go. As long as I can still enjoy a Mai Tai in the sun every now and then.