Opening keynote by Sean Tubridy

Content strategy is a relatively new name for an old line of work. But in the era of “the internet has changed everything,” a content strategist is someone tasked with making sense of the wealth of content floating about in the ether.

At Confab, the first content strategy conference, held recently in Minneapolis, content strategists from around the world gathered for a group hug and to make sense of this new field. Some gleanings:

Kristina Halvorson by Sean Tubridy

Content strategy is brand new

Well, yes and no. Content strategy isn’t new. It used to be called “communications.” But communications were much simpler before the age of the internet, before the idea that brands are publishers, and before the widely accepted notion that “everything is content.”

With every company producing thousands of pages of web material in addition to more traditional print, audio and video content, and with different agencies responsible for different media, the brand message doesn’t always get out in a consistent way. So a company needs a strategy for getting that information out coherently. Hence content strategy.

Content strategists are a tribe looking for validation right now. The industry and the terms it uses are so new that the service itself still needs to be sold to a marketplace looking at efficiencies and cost cutting.

Much like custom publishers, who still need to educate potential clients about the need to move marketing dollars from traditional advertising to custom media, content strategists must prove their worth.

Valeria Maltoni of Conversation Agent addressed this in a talk entitled “Content is a Business Asset,” where she made the case for content as a way of reducing overall costs and adding to the bottom line.

In her keynote, the energetic Kristina Halvorson, one of the true thought leaders in the content universe (and an organizer of Confab), acknowledged that content strategy is still a nascent field but said the world can’t run without strategists.

Her speech was a call to arms of sorts, a rallying cry for a tribe of web and tech specialists that didn’t know they were part of a tribe at all. If anyone is going to be Mama Bear for content strategists everywhere, it is Kristina Halvorson. Her opening speech defined the issues, electrified the crowd and provided a road map to the future.

Steve Rosenbaum by Sean Tubridy

Content strategy is a human thing

The web can be almost ruthless in its efficiency. But it is also too vast, too chaotic to be helpful to anyone without smart strategy and… curation.

Filmmaker-turned-“video curator” Steve Rosenbaum of Magnify.net (and the author of Curation Nation) made the case that in a noisy world, consumers embrace clarity. And that clarity cannot be produced by algorithms, but by people making choices.

It’s an almost quaint notion but also profoundly smart. It also kind of sounds like what a print editor has always done. But what do I know? I started as a print editor.

Everyone loves Eric Schmidt’s quote

Which quote? This one:

“Between the birth of the world and 2003, there were five exabytes of information created. We [now] create five exabytes every two days. See why it’s so painful to operate in information markets?”

If there’s one thing a new industry like content strategy is missing it’s proof. Schmidt’s quote is kind of a cheat sheet for the “Why content strategy?” question. You get asked that and you simply break out the quote. And then you can unleash an avalanche of buzzwords. Like curation.

Confab attendees by Sean Tubridy

OK, the internet really did change everything

It’s true, even if I bemoaned this “revelation” at times during the conference.

Before the web, we had gravity. Communications, including media, functioned in a flat world where there was an up and a down and a sideways but where gravity was always present. Communications were linear. Terrestrial. Feedback was a telephone call or a letter to the editor.

The web, on the other hand, is aquatic. Gravity still exists but it’s not as powerful a force. And now messaging works in every direction.

Author Ardath Albee calls this “Content Marketing in 3D” but you really get the scope of it when you hear Christine Perfetti of Perfetti Media say that 800,000 (!) pages of the Microsoft website have never been accessed by a human, or that Groupon now employs more than 400 writers to produce their content or that Disney Parks and Resorts websites have generated over $1 billion in revenues.

Because the web is aquatic, and bound by a different kind of physics (or at least economics), it has an odd sense of gravity that makes it feel as limitless as space. And someone needs to help us make sense of it.

Content strategy cakes (!) by Sean Tubridy

The irony of the silos

There was a lot of talk of silos at the conference. Anyone who has worked in any kind of media for a client knows what a silo is, and content strategists face silos like everyone else.

But here’s the irony. By being a web-centred industry (and I don’t think anyone will deny that the word “content,” at least at Confab, has been entirely appropriated by the web community), content strategy risks putting itself into a silo.

Consumer content doesn’t start and end on the web. The word “magazine” was heard once or twice, the first time by newyorker.com’s Blake Eskin (who bravely admitted to creating his first PowerPoint presentation ever) and then again by Junta42’s Joe Pulizzi at the conference wrap-up.

When content strategists start talking multichannel and multiplatform they will realize the fullness of content strategy and be able to move both land and sea. That is, the entire world.