Casey, Sarah & Julie: The First Recipients of the Facebook Content Strategy Fellowship. Photo via Casey Capachi
The field of content strategy has been growing continuously for several years now. Many of the newcomers are people who recently discovered that there’s this practice called “content strategy” and they realize that they’ve already been doing this kind of work for a while, they just didn’t know it by that name. Some of the newcomers are people who have been laboring in an adjacent field – editors, marketers, librarians, producers – seeking to deepen their involvement with content by expanding into a new practice.
But what about the freshly-minted digital natives, well-schooled and ready to enter the workforce? Anyone who has tried to hire content strategists or who’s interested in seeing this practice grow has wondered how new fledgling content strategists will be drawn to the field. What are they studying? What are they working on? How will they hear about content strategy? How will we recognize them when we meet them? In short, how will we find them and how will they find us? Last year the content strategy team at Facebook decided to take a more active approach. In February they announced the first Facebook Content Strategy Fellowship, in conjunction with Confab, hosted by Brain Traffic in Minneapolis. The idea was that Facebook would select promising students in a related discipline and give them an all-expenses paid trip to the content strategy conference. They defined “related discipline” pretty loosely, in the hopes of bringing in people who were just discovering content strategy, or perhaps hadn’t even discovered it yet.
Facebook Fellows, First Class
In 2013 the fellowship was awarded to three worthy individuals: Sarah Adler, Casey Capachi, and Julie Patterson. Before the fellowship, only Julie had heard of content strategy. Casey and Sarah had been studying and working in journalism, multimedia, and digital design when they learned of the fellowship, but hadn’t known about CS as a practice. I spoke to all three of them during the conference, and there was a lot that they were excited about. But that was in the midst of all the elegant typography, delicious cakes and open sharing of feelings. I checked in with them recently to see what stuck with them. Here’s what they had to say about the experience, eight months later.
Sarah Adler (@saraheadler)
“Confab came at the perfect time for me. Within the few months after Confab, I graduated from college and started working to expand a food publication I co-founded in undergrad called Spoon University (@spoonuniversity). At Northwestern, we had a staff of 100 students on photography, editorial, marketing and video teams. By the end of 2013, we had over 600 students on staffs on 20 campuses across the country. It was impossible for my partner and I to have as much control over the details as we had had at Northwestern, and we needed a way to articulate and implement a vision in an extraordinarily decentralized content production system.
“The lessons that I learned at Confab about developing a content strategy and articulating that strategy to others ended up being instrumental as Mackenzie [Barth] and I tried to maintain quality content across all of the chapters of our publication. Some of the speakers (especially Tiffani Brown‘s presentation about developing and implementing content strategy at Pinterest) served as the basis for Spoon’s Secret Sauce guide, which is our online orientation program designed to teach student members everything they need to know to start and work at a Spoon University chapter.”
Sarah continues to expand her startup. She estimates they’ll be on 30 campuses by the end of the month.
Julie Patterson (@JulieWithAnE):
“Winning the fellowship and getting to attend Confab was very surreal. Whenever I would tell people about it in the weeks leading up to the conference, I described it as feeling like a ‘tech Cinderella’ – Facebook whisked me from my ordinary life and gave me this incredible opportunity, so I was determined to take advantage of it. Before Confab I was pursuing internship opportunities in user experience design, so the conference was a great opportunity to explore a new side of that dimension that had previously been unknown to me, and to work content strategy into my own understanding of experience design. I wasn’t the only UXer at the conference, but there were many other diverse backgrounds represented, including journalism, higher education, commerce, and of course technology companies and social networks.
“I realized that content strategy meant something slightly different to all of these people, and that’s when I kind of learned to let go of the need for a hard and fast, universal definition of content strategy or UX. It’s about what it means to you, and the community is excellent for sharing best practices, problem-solving, and mentoring. I came away from Confab feeling like I understood more about the content strategy practice, but the most pivotal takeaway for me was learning to accept ambiguity. It doesn’t matter what you call yourself, or how you do what you do. What matters is the end result and how effectively it meets the needs of the agency and its users.”
Since Confab last year, Julie did an internship at Facebook, and is now doing one at Discovery before she joins the Facebook team full time in July.
Casey Capachi (@caseycapachi):
“The Facebook Content Strategy fellowship gave me a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to be introduced to the content strategy community. So much of the work I do now on the web for PostTV (The Washington Post’s video department) falls into the realm of content strategy and I am forever thankful that I had the opportunity to attend Confab Minneapolis.
“I actually had Confab flashbacks when we were in a meeting for the redesign of our Super Bowl ads page, which is a viewer favorite every year and we wanted to update it with new ways for people to rate the commercials. We talked about the landing page design, what language to use and we did it all with developers, designers and editorial folks all in the same room. I’m very proud of the experience we were able to provide viewers when they landed on the interactive – not only could they watch the ads but they could rate them on how funny and memorable they were and give them a thumbs-up or thumbs-down. It was just the kind of collaboration I know Confabbers would have endorsed.” Casey is now a video and web producer at The Washington Post. She reports, shoots and edits video, and leads their social video presence on Instagram, Vine, and YouTube.
Facebook Fellowship, Round 2
Facebook has just announced another round of the fellowship program. The fellowship will again be awarded for Confab Central. The deadline for applying will be March 21, 2014, with fellows announced in early April. More details are available at contentstrategyfellowship.com. And the veterans have some advice to share for anyone who might be interested. Sarah: “To any students considering applying to the fellowship, I’d tell them to go for it. I had no idea how important the fellowship would be for me professionally. I didn’t even know what content strategy was before I applied”. Julie: “My advice for potential applicants – and I can’t stress this enough – is to just APPLY. If you’re on the fence, get off the fence and just do it. It wasn’t until I learned that I was a finalist and was doing research to prepare for my interview that I realized what content strategy was and how perfect it really was for me, as someone interested in design and usability with an affinity for words and an obsession with grammar and syntax. It was a big revelation for me, and one that really changed the course of my professional life.” Casey: “My advice for fellows would be to have fun reading as much about content strategy as possible. The content strategy community is fantastic about sharing their knowledge online whether through their company websites, personal blogs, social media profiles, or SlideShare. I went through the current and past Confab speakers lists to seek out the people and topics I wanted to learn more about to make the most out of the experience. Confab is unlike any other conference you’ve ever attended: Be prepared to be delighted throughout the day whether it’s following the witty banter on the conference hashtag or tasting the incredible food!” Sarah Cancilla, the Facebook content strategist who founded this program, adds, “It’s becoming clear to us that there’s a vast amount of raw content strategy talent among the college population. It’s an honor for us to be able to welcome some of these students into the content strategy community and then follow them as their careers unfold.” So, if you know someone who you think would make a great content strategist (whether they know about it or not!), give them a nudge in the right direction. We’d love to see them in Minneapolis this coming May.