No, I’m not a Web Editor

Rachel Lovinger   July 12, 2010

Web Editors & Content Strategists driving towards same destination on different roads. (image via geoftheref)

The Breakdown: Is ‘content strategist’ really just a new name for ‘web editor’? This tired question needs to be put to rest.

While it’s exciting to see interest in content strategy grow by leaps and bounds, the rapid addition of new people taking part in the conversation means that many well-hashed out questions are getting asked again. And again. And again. Sometimes we Content Strategists smile and answer patiently, but sometimes the gloves have to come off.

The one that never ceases to make me shudder is “Isn’t this just a new name for ‘web editor’?” This is kind of like asking “What’s the difference between a car maker and a race car driver?” The car maker has to understand mechanics, physics, and aerodynamics in order to design a vehicle for speed and efficiency. The driver puts the car on the track and makes it perform. They each have their own set of skills, knowledge, focus, goals, and problems to solve, even though they both play with the same machines.

It’s not an exact analogy. A content strategist may perform some tasks normally completed by a web editor, or, conversely, some CS work may fall in the web editor’s lap in absence of having someone officially in a CS role. This is natural because both roles are heavily invested in the creation of content, and in web development many people find themselves wearing multiple hats.

But Content Strategy is, at its core, a discipline that sits at the intersection of Editorial, Business, UX, Design, and Technology.  There tends to be a lot of emphasis on the editorial segment because – believe it or not – content has long been a neglected aspect of web design. But the real goal of the content strategist is not just to write good content. It’s to make sure that the content:

  • Is aligned with the brand and business objectives
  • Meets the user’s information and experience needs
  • Supports designs that in turn present the content in optimal ways
  • Can be implemented and managed using technology that enables a sustainable workflow

Do web editors generally do stakeholder interviews & user testing? Annotate wireframes with content specifications? Create content models, DCTs and workflows? Design metadata schemas and build taxonomies? Probably not, because they’re busy planning, assigning, researching, creating, editing and/or producing the actual content of the site.

Now, if anyone else challenges you on this point, just direct them to this post.

What Makes A Content Strategist?

Rachel Lovinger   May 29, 2009
superhero-ingredientsElasticity, immortality, telepathy… good ingredients for a CS superhero. (image via CFAGELNYC)

I have this friend who’s been looking for a Content Strategist for a web design project. He’s having trouble finding someone who has all the skills and experience that he wants them to have. This is bound to happen, because the field is new enough that there’s no standard set of skills and experience for people who practice content strategy. Plus, he was looking for some pretty specialized extras.

My advice to him was to look for someone with the core skills, and then prepare them to acquire the rest on the job. I’m pretty confident that a person with the following five qualities could pick up any content strategy task you might need them to do:

  • A passion for content – the written word, of course, but this should also include a love of photos, art, music, film and/or video. Your ideal person will be well versed in many modes of expression.
  • Editorial capabilities - this doesn’t mean that the person has to have held a position as an editor, but they need to be able to distinguish between meaningful content and deadweight, and they need to be able to cut, tweak, and trim to emphasize the former.
  • Familiarity and comfort with the principles of content management and databases – experience with a specific CMS is less critical than understanding the general concepts and processes.
  • Understanding of logic - critical analysis, pattern recognition, and creation of rules are all very important to content strategy work, which has to take into account both big picture vision and fine details.
  • Communication skills - which includes not only the ability to clearly express ideas, but also active listening, interpreting, translating ideas, and otherwise facilitating communication between others.

Other skills, talents, education, and experience— such as IA, library science, coding, writing, data modeling, design, content production, DAM, SEO, accessibility, etc.—are great additional tools, and may be needed to accomplish specific goals on specific projects. But any creative Content Strategist with the skills I described above should be able to pair with a subject matter expert and come up with a solution to any content need you might have.

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What is this site, exactly?

Scatter/Gather is a blog about the intersection of content strategy, pop culture and human behavior. Contributors are all practicing Content Strategists at the offices of Razorfish, an international digital design agency.


This blog reflects the views of the individual contributors and not necessarily the views of Razorfish.

What is content strategy?

Oooh, the elevator pitch. Here we go: There is content on the web. You love it. Or you do not love it. Either way, it is out there, and it is growing. Content strategy encompasses the discovery, ideation, implementation and maintenance of all types of digital content—links, tags, metadata, video, whatever. Ultimately, we work closely with information architects and creative types to craft delicious, usable web experiences for our clients.

Why "scatter/gather"?

It’s an iterative data clustering operation that’s designed to enable rich browsing capabilities. “Data clustering” seems rather awesome and relevant to our quest, plus we thought the phrase just sounded really cool.

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