OIAM: Tell me about your background and how you got started in content strategy.
SMC: My background is basically a patchwork of communications jobs, ranging from PR to marketing to film and video production, as well as some freelance project management and editing. About five years ago, I joined the office of the President at Dartmouth [College] as a writer and communications specialist. In that role, I had to be a master of voice–I was constantly writing as someone else–and I ended up training about 60 people across campus to write in the president’s preferred style. So much of our focus was on interpersonal communication on a micro level, and I became very interested in how we could better communicate with our audiences on a broader scale and online. The last project I completed for the President’s Office was a site celebrating 40 years of coeducation, which featured profiles of Dartmouth community members who had made an impact on the campus during that time. When Web Services wanted to add a content strategist to their team, they felt that my communications experience, my deep knowledge of Dartmouth and my enthusiasm for finding better ways to communicate made me a good fit. I’ve been in the role for just over a year now.
OIAM: What is a major challenge you just experienced with content and what solutions did you use to solve it?
SMC: We’re in the midst of a major migration of our 200+ sites to a new design and new CMS (Drupal). We’re nearly finished migrating the academic departments, and we’ve started to work on centers, which are much more complicated beasts. The first center site, in particular, is complex in that it is made up of a number of smaller institutes and groups, each with a very different focus, that fall under a global umbrella. We needed to devise an information architecture for the site that would be clear and easy to navigate for the very diverse audiences. It had to allow the diverse subgroups to share information when necessary to avoid content duplication while letting each stake their own claim in the online space. We ended up creating a top-level navigation focusing on subgroup-spanning tasks (such as curriculum, funding and opportunities for involvement), and we are building the site so that every page is taggable. We are using tags to dynamically create microsites for each of the five subgroups. For example, details on a global health fellowship for students will appear not only under “Funding Opportunities” in the main site architecture but also on the global health microsite. This allows us to meet the users where they are without duplicating content. It’s one of many small ways in which we are exploring sharing structured content. We have big plans for a broader shared content repository that would span sites and counteract some of the siloing that is so common in higher ed. For now, we’re in the brainstorming stage of that project while we continue to build sites for stage one of the migration process.
OIAM: What, in your opinion, is the biggest challenge for content professionals currently in the marketplace?
SMC: I think the biggest challenge is getting people who are not content professionals to see the value in investing in content. Creating and maintaining excellent content requires time and expertise, and with increasingly limited resources, people want to cut corners. I think the solution is to arm yourself with data, using analytics and user testing to show how much more effective well-crafted content can be. The other thing that we are doing is to provide additional training to our site editors. We have nearly 500 site editors making updates to our sites, and most don’t consider themselves to be content professionals. If we can get most of those site editors to learn even two or three tricks to improve their content, we’re raising the base level of what we expect from our content. That frees me up, as the sole content strategist for over 200 sites, to focus on higher-level improvements.
OIAM: What do you think the next “big” thing in content will be?
SMC: I think streamlined content is key. People are consuming and sharing content in ever-smaller bites. We’re absolutely flooded with media and our attention spans are shorter than ever. As we move forward, being able to make an impact with the absolute minimum of content is essential, and this is where visual literacy is so important, too. Content professionals need to be fluent in visual expression as well as mastering verbal economy.
OIAM: Anything else you’d like to add?
SMC: My title is web content strategist, and I work for Dartmouth’s Web Services department. You can find me on Twitter at @choiceofpies.
Are you a content strategist in need of a confession? Let us know in the comments below, and don’t be surprised if we reach out to you.