Interview with Content Strategist Anne Haines

By Meghan McGrath

Monday, March 30, 2015

Meet Anne Haines, a content strategist for IU Libraries. In May, she’ll travel to Minneapolis to present at Confab Central, an annual conference for “content strategy enthusiasts.” Her talk will focus on how technology professionals can take advantage of the information-seeking methods and communication strategies used by librarians.

“The title of the talk will be If She Knew What She Wants, like the Bangles song,” said Haines. “Never title a conference talk after an insanely catchy song, because it will be in your head every time you sit down to work on it! It’s about using the librarian-style reference interview as a way of working with clients who may not realize exactly what they want. It’s a communication strategy, a way of joint problem-solving.”

Content strategists can help their clients articulate expectations more clearly, Haines explained, when borrowing from the reference interview method. “You ask open-ended questions,” said Haines. For example, “If someone says they need a book about Africa, you don’t ask, ‘do you need a big book or a little book?’ because that doesn’t give them the option for a medium book. You ask, ‘what kind of question are you trying to answer?’ or ‘what information are you trying to get?’ You’re helping them think through it.” If a client has a particular look or function for the website in mind, the reference interview can help them communicate it to the content strategist.

“Translating” is a large part of what content strategists do, Haines said: “People think ‘content strategy’ means you program, but I don’t actually write content for the site or do the programming. It’s mostly working with, or wrangling, the people who create the content.” In addition to negotiating both the content of websites and the development side, content strategists create editorial calendars, do user testing, work with content management systems, and more. “You make sure no one goes crazy and uses twelve different fonts on a page,” she said. Learning to problem-solve, however, is the most useful skill she recommends.

Haines became involved in content strategy while working on the IU Library’s web team. “I was reading a book called Content Strategy by Kristina Halvorson,” she remembered, “about ten pages in, I had completely changed how I saw my job.” The book gave her new ideas about website management and introduced her to the still-relatively-new field of content strategy. “Doing things strategically, planning for it, creating structures…that made a lot of sense to me, so I just dived into it.” Haines began following content strategists on Twitter, where she learned about Confab Central’s annual conference. This will be her third time at the conference, and second time presenting (last year, Haines gave a lightening talk.)

Confab Central offers great opportunities for students, Haines pointed out. “They’re actively recruiting folks for the Facebook Content Strategy Fellowship. The deadline’s passed this year, but look for it next year! It covers registration, including an all-day workshop before the conference, they pay for your airfare and hotel, they give you a stipend—it’s awesome. They are really trying to recruit students interested in content strategy.”

Students hoping to learn more about this field can check out Haines’s list of recommend resources here, or can read more about Confab Central here. Haines is an active member of Twitter and can be found at @annehaines.