Bringing Content Strategy from the Office to the Classroom

Kelly Lux

#ContentStratClass is in session.

Every day, we fill the roles of both teacher and student. We are frequently Googling for articles, reading books, querying peers, and sometimes attending conferences to learn how to tackle various content challenges. At the same time, we are often consulting, training, and educating colleagues and stakeholders alike about content strategy best practices and how to best meet institutional communication goals.

Some of us take the teaching role a step further by serving as adjunct instructors at our own or another institution. One subject that is gaining prominence in course catalogs across higher education is content strategy, presenting the opportunity for some higher ed web content professionals to ply their craft both as practitioner and teacher.

One such person is Kelly Lux, director of social media at the Syracuse University School of Information Studies (known as the iSchool). She and adjunct instructor Jenn Pedde are co-leading a new online course this fall entitled “Online Content Strategy and Application,” or #ContentStratClass, which explores content creation and management. Learning outcomes include understanding SEO, analyzing metrics to gauge content success, and making content recommendations based on a content audit.

The Teacher is In

I talked to Lux about her exploration of content strategy as both a practitioner and an instructor, and how she arrived at that point.

What is your career path that led you to your current role at the iSchool?

I’ve had a long career doing various things, but the last 10 years have really changed my trajectory. I quit my job as an Executive Assistant at Anheuser-Busch back in 2003 to pursue my master’s degree in education, with the intention of becoming an elementary school teacher.

After getting my degree and realizing the dream didn’t match the reality, I had to reimagine my future. I knew I wanted to work with students so I applied to Syracuse University and eventually landed in a position helping students connect with alumni for professional networking. This is where my interests started meshing and it became clear that I really enjoyed connecting people.

Fast forward to 2008 when I discovered LinkedIn and I realized that my job could have a much bigger impact due to the connections I could make on the internet. I took a course in social media at the iSchool and made it known to the professor that I was interested in pursing social media as a profession. In 2010 I was hired to be the first community manager for Syracuse University. I also started Community Manager chat that year with Jen Pedde, and we’ve been doing that chat weekly since then.

When I was finally ready to tackle teaching at the university level, I again reached out to Jenn to co-teach a new course on social media and community management. We taught that class for three semesters and then had a discussion on how our interests were flowing towards content strategy. The favorite part of my job here at the iSchool is running our blog, Information Space, and I’ve learned a ton through the process of growing it from zero to 1,000,000+ page views in 2013. So now we’re co-teaching Content Strategy and Application, and I’m also helping the iSchool design their first-ever content strategy. And that brings us to today.

How did #ContentStratClass come to be?

As I mentioned, Content Strategy has been an interest of mine for a while. After attending Confab Higher Ed last year, my mind was made up that this was an important concept and skill for future job seekers in the digital world, and Jenn and I had some more discussion on what a content class would look like. We both devoured all the books we could get our hands on about content strategy and started following the big names in the field. We submitted a proposal to the iSchool and we’re currently teaching our first semester of the class.

You’re co-teaching the course with an adjunct faculty member who is also a digital content professional. How do your experiences complement one another?

Jenn is a real pro, and has a great deal of experience in community management, blogging, social media and has worked in a well-funded startup as well as some larger companies. She also has teaching experience from her time in Korea as an ESL teacher. Jenn and I work very well together and have enjoyed a successful partnership for the past four-plus years. My work in higher ed, government and manufacturing complement her experience in other areas of industry, and we share many of the same passions for digital content.

How did you go about developing the syllabus? How did your professional experience influence that process?

Since Jenn and I had already developed one syllabus, the second one was a bit easier. However, it’s always a challenge to decide what to focus on, since there are only 13 weeks in a semester.

We both agree that providing students with real-world experience and situations is one of the most important opportunities we can offer them. That’s where our professional experience comes in—we’re both practitioners of the trade; we’re not researchers. We both learned by doing, and we believe that students should have that same opportunity in the confines of a well-structured educational experience.

It was also a no-brainer for us to teach online. Jenn is in New York and I’m in Syracuse. We both basically ‘live’ on the internet and have access and knowledge of all the latest tools and resources. We wanted to share that experience with our students as well.

As director of social media for the Syracuse iSchool, many of the things you teach must be issues you deal with on a regular basis at work. How often does your syllabus hit a little too close to home, so to speak?

Probably every week! I always find myself talking about situations here because that’s what I know best. Again, those personal, professional, real-world experiences become part and parcel of what students learn and take away from our class.

How has teaching this class influenced the way you do your job?

When you teach a class on content strategy, you can’t help but look at every piece of content you come across with a critical eye. I’ve become more intentional in thinking about user experience with the content I create, and looking for ways to make the content I publish and maintain both more accessible and useful to users. Since I’ve been part of our Digital Presence Committee, I’ve helped craft our core strategy, workflows and brand guidelines. I’m trying to focus my energies on Content Strategy, and be a resource wherever I can.

Where are the students coming from? Is the subject matter new to them? Have they explored aspects of it in previous courses or jobs?

We have students who are majors in information management, communications, and library and information science. Each of these areas sees different benefits to taking a class in content strategy. A couple of the students are either bloggers for me or work on a social media team here at the university. A couple have had internships at social agencies in New York. Our class gets into the nitty gritty aspects of content strategy, and students are learning how all the pieces fit together.

Why is it important for future information professionals to learn about content strategy?

Whether you’re a web designer or information architect, user experience designer or content strategist, content strategy is an important piece of your job. Even if you’re just sending emails to your co-workers or clients, content strategy has something to teach you. In my view, everyone should be literate in how information on the web is changing the way we view the world, and be able to look at that information with a critical eye.

Does teaching students influence how you communicate to them via social media?

I tend to have one voice on social media; by that I mean that I’m just being myself no matter who I’m talking to. At the same time, I’m more aware than ever of the power of words online. I try to use my powers for good. :)

What’s the most important thing you’ve learned by teaching this class? And what’s the most important lesson you hope your students take away by the end of the semester?

My biggest lesson is how much I still have to learn in terms of content strategy. You can’t just read a few books and think you’re an expert; it’s something you have to immerse yourself in, practice, and practice some more. I hope that I can guide my students through the beginning stages of this journey, and instill in them a passion for all things content, just like I have.

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About Georgy Cohen

Georgy Cohen is associate creative director, content strategy, at OHO Interactive in Cambridge, Mass.. Prior to OHO, she worked with a range of higher ed institutions, including stints at Tufts University and Suffolk University and as an independent consultant, on content strategy and digital communication initiatives. Keep going »

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