Do You Need a Chief Content Officer?

It's time to start thinking about it.
Principal, The Dilenschneider Group
November 11, 2013

Fifteen years ago, the job title "chief content officer" didn’t even exist.

Today, there are thousands of chief content officers, chief content strategists, and vice presidents of content out there. Don’t believe me? Do a search for those job titles on LinkedIn. There's even CCO, the chief content officer magazine.

What is behind this phenomenon?

The simplest answer is that content marketing works. Today, many businesses are creating a wide variety of content aimed at the interests and needs of their target audiences. Whether it's a blog, whitepapers, infographics, or videos, this content is designed to demonstrate a company's expertise, answer specific questions or provide information that is of specific interest to their customers and potential customers.

When done well, content marketing creates greater customer loyalty, attracts new customers, and can do wonders for a company’s bottom line.

If you choose to go down this path with your company, you're going to need to find someone responsible for establishing your content strategy, creating your content, disseminating your content, and monitoring and analyzing the effectiveness of your content-marketing efforts.

Your content marketing head will need to wear many hats and bring to the table a rare combination of business acumen and editorial judgment. To help you create your job description for your chief content officer (CCO), I have put together the essential skill sets you should be looking for:

Editorial vision. First and foremost, your CCO is your editor-in-chief/managing editor. He or she should know your audience inside and out: What interests them, the form of content they like to digest, and the ways in which they digest content. Your CCO will set your editorial calendar, establish the voice of your brand and make sure he or she has the resources to create quality content on a regular and ongoing basis.

Excellent writing/communications skills. As the content lead for your small business, your CCO will invariably be either the voice of the company or the person who shapes that voice. There is no bigger turn-off than poorly written, boring, unimaginative blogs, articles, Web copy, and social media posts.

Your CCO’s resume should have extensive experience in writing (such as previous careers in journalism or public relations) and it is icing on the cake if he or she has experience in speech writing and script writing (i.e. for video).

Advanced social-media skills. This goes well beyond just having hundreds of friends on Facebook or thousands of followers on Twitter. Most high school students have that.

Your CCO must possess a deep understanding of how potential customers interact with brands on social media. When people feel like they’re being sold to on social media, they aren’t just turned off, they’re ticked off. Your content chief needs to not only understand this, but how to use social media in a way that informs and entertains your brand’s target audiences. Ultimately, content is all about driving sales and your CCO has to understand how various social media channels can help you accomplish this.

When interviewing your CCO candidates, take a long, hard look at their social-media footprint and see what they've actually accomplished for their clients

Strong analytics skills. Since the whole point of content marketing is to drive business, you need someone on board who not only understands how to track content-related activity, but how to use metrics to hone and refine content marketing campaigns.

Look for someone who has experience working with the best tracking tools and methodologies and who can intelligently tell you what types of metrics and analytics will be most important for your business.

Strong public-relations skills. On top of driving business in a direct way, content marketing can be an effective tool in driving media coverage for your company.

Once you have created content that demonstrates your thought leadership, your expertise, or the unique value proposition you provide, that content can be used as a hook for garnering attention from traditional and digital media.

Your CCO should be experienced in media outreach and understand how social media plays an enormous role in modern public relations.

Check to see what, if any, PR skills your CCO candidate has. Make sure the candidate has a history of successfully landing placements in media outlets and influential blogs.

Clear understanding of Web- and digital-design principles. While your CCO probably won’t be a Web designer, he or she should have a solid grounding in user experience and user interface best practices. The best content in the world, delivered in a haphazard or unappealing way, can almost guarantee the content won’t be read or viewed. This is especially true today when more and more people are ingesting content on smaller devices like tablets and smartphones.

Search engine optimization skills. The SEO world has changed forever. SEO based on cramming keywords awkwardly into content no longer passes muster with Google and other search engines.

Today, thanks to Google’s Panda, Penguin, and Hummingbird updates, and the increased sophistication of other search engines like Bing, quality content has far greater value in determining search results. While your CCO still has to understand the basics of meta descriptions, headlines, and subheads, the real key to SEO is producing the kind of quality content search engines now reward.

An engaging personality. While this may sound a bit funny, your CCO will have an important role in your company and will be someone you interact with on almost a daily basis.

Because of their communications skills, CCOs are often called upon to act as company spokespeople, speakers and panelists and often represent the company at networking events.

When looking for a company ambassador and evangelist, you want someone with great confidence, people skills, and presentation skills.

A leader and team builder. If your CCO does his or her job right, your business will grow and your content-marketing team will expand. You want a CCO with the ability to mentor, train, and build a great team. Look for someone who has done this before and done it with great success.

If it sounds like this person would be awfully hard to find, you're right. The fact is, you are not going to find someone will all of these skills and experiences. But if your CCO isn't a born storyteller, then that person is going to fail.

You can always bring in outside people to help with things like design, public relations and SEO, but your CCO must know how to create and disseminate the kinds of stories that will help drive business.

Here's to great storytelling—including your own success story!

Jon Gelberg is the chief content strategist at Ceros where he is involved in all aspects of communications and public relations. Gelberg has written extensively on issues relating to content marketing and public relations. His articles have appeared on Inc.com, Time.com, and in other digital and traditional media outlets.

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