From conversations with our peers and an occasional scan of the job boards, we observe that more universities are beginning to hire content strategists. This is great news! It means that administrators and senior leaders are recognizing the value of their web content and the work required to manage it well—and hiring accordingly.
But what should go into that job description? What are the key responsibilities and tasks we need to address?
Obviously, any job description will be tailored to the needs of the team where the opening resides. But as higher ed carves a niche for a content strategist, it is helpful to know how other institutions are thinking about it.
To better understand how higher ed institutions are planning for content strategy and filling this role, we looked at the job descriptions they’re posting and asked three questions:
- What are the priorities for this role?
- What special or noteworthy skills should this individual possess?
- What’s missing?
1. Content Measurement
Measurement, measurement, measurement. It seems that higher ed has heard the gospel, or at least realized that pushing out content without knowing the consequences is neither strategic nor sustainable. The ability to not just pull reports from Google Analytics but to use metrics to inform more effective communications and site experience is a top need throughout these job postings. And of course, web analytics are among the most helpful pieces of information when making the case for content strategy at your institution. Perhaps the work of one staffer will yield future hires.
2. Content Management
Content management system wrangling is also a top priority, with some descriptions noting which systems are used in house and others just citing a general experience requirement. In some cases, migrations are in the works. But overall, the need is not just for someone who knows how to use a CMS, but someone who can shape institutional use of the CMS, apply content modeling and other tactics to ensure the CMS is effective, and support users campus-wide.
3. Relationship Building
Nearly all of the descriptions evaluated included some degree of emphasis on relationship building, which is great to see. One noted the need to work with a “diverse population,” another citing “negotiation” as a desired skill, while another went so far as to express the need to work with people “who have little or no knowledge about content for the web or web content strategies.” Both of these are good signals to prospective applicants as to the challenges that content strategists often face in higher ed.
Relatedly, training is also in the higher ed content strategist’s mandate, which is great. So much of the work to be done involves educating contributors, collaborators, and stakeholders alike, and it’s heartening to see that need for education as a top consideration across the board.
1. HTML5/CSS3 and Responsive Web Design
The ability to poke around in front-end code is still important, as some of the descriptions sought HTML5/CSS3 knowledge. However, more noteworthy were the couple of job postings that looked for experience with responsive web design. Responsive web design requires a content strategy to effectively prioritize and focus content. With more and more universities going responsive everyday, it makes sense that this is desired experience for the higher ed content strategist.
2. Information Architecture
It was interesting to see the emphasis on information architecture. Anecdotally speaking, I haven’t come across many folks in higher ed whose role is exclusively information architecture, so it makes sense to see this fall to the content strategist—better than it falling solely to someone in IT, or a developer who isn’t informed about communications needs. As George Washington University’s Lisa Maria Martin recently blogged, the lines between UX, content strategy, IA and the like are becoming increasingly blurred—and that’s okay.
3. Search Engine Optimization (SEO)
SEO skills also emerged as a strong consideration, which admittedly surprised me. I tend to think of SEO considerations as being baked into web writing and publishing best practices, rather than called out as its own discipline, but nearly all of the descriptions reviewed indicated a need for SEO expertise,.
4. Additional Content Specialties
Some other miscellaneous and noteworthy skills peppered throughout these descriptions: audience research, behavioral targeting, taxonomy, metadata, and content modeling. Achieving a deep understanding of our audiences and organizing and structuring content to ensure maximum effectiveness are critical, and some real nitty-gritty work is required to help those efforts succeed. A few hiring managers have definitely done their homework.
1. News and PR Content
There is one ubiquitous content type not explicitly mentioned in any of the descriptions evaluated: news and PR content. As I’ve discussed in the past, it is critical that news content benefit as much from content strategy as any other type of web content—perhaps the higher ed newsroom remains the next great frontier for higher ed content strategy.
2. Multimedia Content
Also, multimedia content (photo and video, specifically) was not mentioned in most of the descriptions reviewed. These media are not solely artistic enterprises, and they should be managed strategically to make the most of their value.
3. Community Management
Similarly, it would have been great to see more details on how the content strategist role influences social media efforts. A couple descriptions referenced “editorial management, editorial workflow, and production oversight” and “develop[ing] meaningful and measurable goals between web content and social media channels,” but a more explicit tie between content strategy and community management would be welcome.
4. Editorial Style
Surprisingly, only a couple of descriptions noted the need of the content strategist role to manage web style guidelines. Perhaps this is because institutional style guides are perceived to be “done”? To the contrary, a style guide should be a living thing, and the need to educate content contributors about style, voice, and tone is ongoing.
Here is a selection of past higher ed content strategist job descriptions. We collect them under fair use as reference for individuals seeking to hire similar roles or assessing their own job description. Please note that these postings do not constitute an active job board.
- Ball State University – Content Strategist [PDF]
- College of New Rochelle – Web Writer and Content Strategist [PDF]
- Cornell University – Web Content Strategist [PDF]
- DePaul University – Associate Director Web Content Strategy [PDF]
- Harvard University – Digital Content Strategist [PDF]
- Savannah College of Art and Design – Content Strategist [PDF]
- Simmons College – Content Manager and Strategist [PDF]
- University of Buffalo – Information Architect/Content Strategist [PDF]
- University of Michigan – Web Content Strategist [PDF]
What stands out to you in these job postings? If you’re a hiring manager, have you hired for a content strategist role, and if so, what were you looking for? If you’ve been hired as a higher ed content strategist or are looking for such a role, what are you looking for in these job postings?
If you’ve got any relevant job postings to share for reference, feel free to add them to the comments and we’ll add them to this archive.