Kristina Halvorson is widely recognized as one of the frontrunners in content strategy. As a consultant in content strategy, Halvorson helps companies create a holistic plan for their content across communication channels. What this means is that she helps map out a content strategy to deliver information that a user really wants instead of, for instance, focusing exclusively on pushing the product or service on a user. In 2009, Halvorson founded the first Content Strategy Consortium to kickstart a national conversation about content strategy.
I had the pleasure of sitting down with Halvorson over a phone interview from Chicago after an introduction from Molly Wright Steenson, a content strategy thought leader and professor at The University of Madison.
So, let’s start with the basics. Can you tell me a bit about your work in content strategy?
I’m mostly doing work right now with VP’s focusing on enterprise and organizational content strategy after focusing on writing and conferences for awhile. My early career was in web copywriting. At that time I was feeling frustrated with how companies were approaching the planning and creation of their content. I hired a few people to refine how I was developing copy for companies and found myself a consultant.
What problems did content strategy initially seek to solve, and how has this changed?
Initially content strategists like my colleague Steenson were working with content that had a customer service rubric. Now it’s more about broadening this context for customer-driven content across the organization.
What’s the biggest challenge of content strategy?
A lot of content strategy work right now is about scaling down content because there’s a lot out there in the consumer’s way or it doesn’t address their needs. The twist is that when we work with companies to scale and refine their content, there isn’t a lot of leadership within organizations to guide the creation of a content plan. The consulting that we are doing right now is working in between departments to help create some organizational change — this is where I’m helping drive conversations.
When companies want to draw their content to their bottom line, it loses appeal to the user because it can come across as salesy. My conversations with marketing departments where content is often developed get push-back from tech communication and user experience designers because they feel it’s not just about pushing the sale. But I feel like my own interests and experiences are going to marketing because they are still shaping the content.
Where do you see the evolution of the content strategy agency?
Agencies are scrambling to consult and develop content for user/customer experience design. They are playing catch-up with mobile and balance out other stuff with social and SEO. But content strategy is still foreign to a lot of their clients.
Because of an agency mindset for the last 60 years, clients are concerned about content and not consultative services. And so agencies, in their defense, have to buy the content development process from them to integrate it into the content plan, and this can become a sales pitch. The strategy can get lost in the sales of deliverables.
The agency doesn’t always want to be a producer, they want to be a strategist. But many clients are marketers and numbers are based on activity instead of creating new efficiencies.
The thing about agencies is that they are always looking to use the next thing, and so it’s a matter of do you want to sell a new product or do you want to sell new products and services that are strategy? This in the end will make the company operate better. The strategy is just as important as the content.
Do you see a role for corporate responsibility in any of the major recent developments in content strategy?
With corporate social responsibility comes a different approach to positioning, identifying channels to engage with the user, and creating content — it’s about a different topic that meets the user’s needs in a different way. So that’s great. Corporate responsibility campaigns are kidding themselves though if they aren’t aligning themselves with the brand, values, and company’s bottom line.
Check out more about content strategy in Halvorson’s book, Content Strategy for the Web, one of the leading frameworks for content strategy today, by going here. Feel free to email me at annawattsholcombe(at)gmail.com if you are in the Chicago area and want to chat content strategy.