Beware: Freelance Writers Are NOT Content Strategists

Lately, I’ve stumbled across several freelance writers trying to recast themselves as content strategists.

To me the trend is disturbing and shows a lack of understanding of what a content strategist is and does.

Some writers may have been unduly influenced by several content marketing gurus, one of which suggested in 2009 that journalists should consider taking on that title. Only the advice was premature, and shows a lack of understanding of the job title.stopsign1

Additionally many from the traditional publishing world are co-opting the content strategist title, using it to mean they know how to creating engaging content that many people like to share on social media. But sharing doesn’t equate to sales.

The Content Marketing Institute issued an apology recently for its previous inability to distinguish content marketing and content strategy, and is making a large effort to educate marketers and others about content strategy and strategists and how it is different but related to content marketing.

Here’s the problem: Writers are trying to show that they offer more than just a commodity service, and are trying to show ways they can add value.

Here’s what one veteran writer advocating that writers should call themselves strategists said,

“If writers are:

  • Planning blog post topics
  • Setting the blog schedule
  • Designing the social media campaign to socialize posts
  • Writing blog posts
  • Utilizing SEO Keywords
  • Finding photos

Then you’re basically running every aspect of the blog for the client (so) that tag is appropriate.”

Editorial Strategist or Blog Content Manager More Appropriate 

These writers don’t understand that Content Marketing is not just using your blog to bring traffic in. They are operating as Blog Content Managers, not content strategists.

Maybe they should call themselves Editorial Strategists.

Creating content and directing content strategy are two related but very different disciplines, with “strategist” encompassing knowledge of measurement, nurturing, lead generation, marketing automation and data analytics in addition to content creation and content marketing.

Content Strategy: Mapping Prospects to Content, Measuring Success

Content Strategists create the strategy and plan on how to convert an audience into customers using many forms of content. They do not simply measure their success based upon traffic to their blog posts or social media accounts, which is what many writers are offering.

Real content strategists, working with the marketing team, create buyer personas through interviews with actual company customers. They don’t just ask company executives who the company’s target audience is.

The content strategist then creates buyer personas, which can encompass many different points of view and decision-making power. The Content Strategist also creates a plan on how to reach these different prospects based upon where they might be in the buying process, a process she’s hammered out and confirmed with the sales team.

Based upon information she’s gleaned from sales and customers, she then creates content for the different personas and different buying stages, using different avenues of content distribution. She understands where her prospects look for content and knows what kind of content they are looking for.

She has also learned how many pieces of content they need to consume before a prospect becomes a sales qualified lead, and she knows how to analyze data from a marketing automation system if the company she’s working for uses one.

The Content Strategist also knows that the process is fluid and dynamic, and understands that content and buyer personas may change and thus her strategy and execution must be flexible and able to change as the market does.

As you can see, this content strategist does a lot more than just manage a blog and social media distribution of the blog posts.

How do you know whether your writer is also a content strategist? Ask him what his process is for developing buyer personas, and how he measures success of his content. If he spouts social media shares as his only metric, then you know he isn’t a content strategist.

I’ll concede that some writers may have developed marketing chops and have the experience to call themselves content strategists. But I’m sure that only fits less than 1 percent of all freelance writers.

Have you run into writers assuming the content strategist title? Did they have any more experience than simply running a blog? How did you verify their claims?