7 behaviours of brilliant content leaders

Are we really falling over from an overload of blog posts, viral videos and social media shares, or is it that we just need to create better content and put it in front of the right people? If you’re panicking about volume, don’t – concentrate on quality. And make sure you’ve got someone in post who’ll guarantee it.

Who doesn’t love content? It’s relatively quick and cheap to create, easy to test and it builds the brand, right?  Sadly, that’s not always the whole story.

The problem with content is not having a strategy behind it. It’s time to stop publishing pointless content with no purpose and stop chasing vanity metrics.

Start taking content seriously and invest time and effort into building a strategy. Make sure you have the right team in place to do it, and if you can’t, hire someone in.

It isn’t about making every single piece of content deliver results – it’s about making sure your content operation as a whole is a business success.

Who should be managing your strategy?

These days more organisations are hiring content strategists – leaders to manage their content. A good content strategist should have a hybrid of skills and experience, maybe combining a background in content, publishing, design, UX, customer service or even project management.

But whatever their background, there are 7 behaviours all the really good ones have in common. They are…

1. Networkers

They have friends in high and low places. First and foremost a content strategist knows where to find the right people with a stake in the content and get them on board from the outset.

Who are content stakeholders?

  • Commissioner/owner – this is often your strategist deciding what you’re going to do and how you’re going to do it
  • Information influencers – these are the product managers or subject specialists
  • Creatives – they need to be onside as they’re producing the content
  • Approvers – who come in at the end (depending on how you manage them) either make it all work or mess it all up!

2. Diplomats

Content strategists don’t ask for everyone’s feedback, they just ask for approval for whatever is relevant from each individual.

They will:

  • limit the timescale for feedback, the number of approvers and ask: ‘do these people really need to approve this?’
  • reduce the types of content approvers might see. Not everyone needs to see everything, so challenge why they feel the need to see it all, is there a trust issue?
  • question the scope of the requested feedback, the feedback itself and even encourage stakeholders to give no feedback at all

In a recent case study from a leading charity we worked with, 80-90% of time spent on revisions was reduced, just by applying these guidelines.

Content strategists make things happen. From project management and resourcing, to knowing how to communicate the successes and getting the right people involved at the right time. They also know how to keep the right people out and that is an invaluable skill.

3. Big picture thinkers

Great content strategists not only see the big picture, but they can sum it up really clearly.

They’ll help you think harder about what your content actually means.  Remember your actual content is very different to your content marketing.  It’s your product pages, forms, email sign up and everything in between. Your content strategy should reflect that.

Questioning why are we doing this, who are we doing it for, what are we trying to achieve and how will we know if it’s worked, are fundamental.

They will develop a simple mission statement that outlines what your content needs to do, involving your content team and agreeing on:

  • Who are your audience, formats, aims and goals
  • How are you going to do it?
  • How are you going to carry that business goal across all the content?

Another key element for a content strategist is to develop a tone of voice, for which there are 3 criteria:

  1. What you choose to say – the messaging/content strategy
  2. How you present those messages – information design
  3. The actual words you use – the language/style

Consider how you carry that through to the final page, is there a written brief? It’s surprising how few people regularly use briefs – less than 10%. Think of the brief as your content passport, nothing can be approved without it and you use it to carry your content from strategy to delivery.

How about a shared editorial calendar? It’s the nuts and bolts of content strategy, where you can share what you plan to do across your channels and when.

It explains why that particular email is going out now, maybe it coincides with the above-the-line campaign or why you should share something on Facebook, is it to support your blog relaunch?  It’s essential to demonstrate how you’re going to carry that business goal through to the content you’re creating.

4. Details driven

Content strategy is not just about the bigger picture. There is an incredible amount of value you can add with just a couple of words.

Small wins such as changing the copy on a button can increase your conversions, sales or sign-ups. It’s incredible how tiny nudges like this can get results.

This is the other end of what a great content strategist can do, understanding the impact on every small piece of content, even just by changing a single word.  And sometimes you have to take risks to achieve these types of results.

5. Creative

Another attribute of a content strategist is to be a great creative, although not in the way you’d necessarily expect. It’s not about making the content pretty – that won’t answer the questions. From a strategist’s point of view, being creative means working with what’s in front of you in an innovative way to reach your goals.

A good creative listens and looks for where opportunities exist – maybe it’s about considering the strategy behind your blog? Don’t forget about trying to improve, often forgotten, vanilla content. Sometimes it’s about being smart, not sexy.

Keeping it simple is sometimes the most creative solution a strategist can bring. Selecting the right format, working within time constraints, budget and resource limitations will help get you a solution within the confines of how you need to work. 

6. Measure everything

Measuring how your content is performing is a complex business. Sometimes it’s about gathering all the data you can and looking at how it’s performed afterwards. Analysing data for a new content project is pretty much impossible, as you don’t yet know how your audience will respond – after all, they don’t yet exist.

You have to start somewhere and the best place to start is by considering what might be the most crucial metrics, relevant to your audience. Set your own benchmarks – what does good look like for you?

It’s also about playing what you can afford. Don’t just stick to the safe options, spend 10% of your time taking risks. The ones you try today may just become your regular content tomorrow.

7. Relentless

That’s what makes a real content strategist.  Everything you publish is a chance to learn something, about you, your audience and what they respond to.  It’s an opportunity to feed that back into what you do next.  And it’s also an opportunity to have a lot of fun while you’re doing it.

Our managing editor, Amy Nicholson, presented the 7 behaviours of brilliant content leaders at #DigitalShift16 – see the slides

7 behaviours of brilliant content leaders from Sticky Content

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