(Correction: Apologies to the four people who read this post since I posted yesterday--the title was inaccurate. I never meant for the title to be "What Kleptomaniacs Can Teach Us About Content Strategy", but rather, "What PYROmaniacs Can Teach Us..." I was exhausted while eaking out the thoughts in that post and surely meant the reference to be to Pyromania, as I have no idea how Content Strategy relates to Kleptomania. Surely that's another post. Thanks to those of you who read the post and kindly said nothing, thinking I would read this post again in a more rested frame of mind and realize that I was making no sense.)
Despite my many career reinventions, there has been a thematic commonality in all of my jobs: content. Sometimes I create it, sometimes I sell it, always I pitch it. Despite the twists and turns that interactive technology has forged in the media world, content has still come to the forefront as not only a differentiator but a media strategy.
Early in my career I could not have cared less about how to promote good content, or how to disseminate it, or how to do deals that would increase its exposure. I just wanted to create and consume interesting shit. Period. The past 18 years has been an exercise in learning the business around good content; not a wasted effort given the most recent bend in media toward self publishing, or personal empire-building. Content creators who are not good alliance builders or marketers have a tougher time monetizing their passion to create good content. Show me a purist who refuses to learn the trade of promoting her (or someone else's) content, and I'll show you someone with low traffic. The problem for me, personally, has been spending so much time on the empire building side of the equation that content creation eludes me.
I recall a seminal point in my career when I was a content manager and made the choice to cross over to the revenue generation side. It seemed that content creation wasn't such a challenge or talent, but monetizing it was. But, 13 years later, that's simply not the case. Brands need a content strategy to compete, just as content creators such as bloggers need to learn about the business of content.
A number of sources in my online reading today point to what is undeniably a renewed appreciation for content as a business builder, from Altimeter's fascinating study on the rebalancing of brand marketing toward content creation, to questions on Quora about how to become a content manager (hilarious, since bloggers and former book/magazine editors gone online were ghettoized into this bucket before it became cool), to pieces for marketers about how content can bolster their brand identity and hit KPIs.
Of course, given my background in media, I am inclined to say no duh to all of this. Even before I moved to online pastures I worked in print syndication for The New York Times and Time Inc. Custom Publishing where we developed content for brands that wanted to attract or retain customers by providing informational, even inspirational, value. Even then, the value of good content was appreciated.
But that reaction isn't really taking into account how social media has transformed content creation. Back in 1999, I was purely a content creator, not a marketer, and not a community builder. You told me what content you wanted and I created or found it. Now, content creation is so much more than that. It's applying a marketing strategy to content strategy; it's applying a working knowledge of the technology, and the principles of trust across the social graph. The content must be good, but it must also be where the right people are, and offered in a way that will inspire them to share, and will back into business objectives.
Content creation is, in effect, firestarting. And this firestarting is no longer accomplished by lighting a match under an already-established, mainstream publisher. I'm not a true pyro, but I do know it's a sustained effort and begins in the grassroots. Mostly it's knowing everything about your materials, and how small embers can build over time, with the help of other traveling sparks. Sometimes the secret isn't brilliance; it's spotting when something is catching and then knowing which way to blow.