Bits & Pieces?
From my very first days on LiveJournal, Hi5 and MySpace, I’ve always used social networks to stay connected to the people and issue I care about. Of course, some of the platforms I use have changed and some of the people/issues I care about have somewhat changed, but the reason why I, just like everyone else, used and will keep on using these networks is to maintain relationships. Every piece of content members of my personal networks share is a small piece of their stories: from major milestones such as being accepted to the London School of Economics, getting engaged or moving to a foreign country, to more minor things such as discovering a new favorite restaurant or a new band. Social networks have always been about the multi-dimensional stories that we are allowed to experience even from thousands of kilometers away, made even easier with Facebook’s timeline.
And then brands joined all these networks and somehow every bilboard idea that didn’t get executed ended up in our news feeds: “Our new shoe collection is here.” “Check out our new shoe collection.” “Here’s our new shoe collection.” “Have you seen our new shoe collection?” with a link to the same landing page and with the same few pictures/videos used with every post for six months until the next shoe collection is released. And then it starts all over again. Of course, the most common response to this activity is unliking/unfollowing the page/account for two reasons.
- No one likes repetitive content. With the exception of films and books deemed masterpieces, very few of us will go to a website or buy a newspaper that has exactly the same content every day, so why bring repetitive content to Facebook, Twitter and the other social networks?
- Our friends have set the bar high. We expect multi-dimensional stories told in unique voices with unique content every day and repetitive content doesn’t contribute to an interesting and multi-dimensional story. You make shoes and you sell them. That’s not a very appealing story that keeps us glued to our small screens waiting for the next few lines of the script.
I am well aware that brands are much less interesting than people. I am well aware that content development isn’t easy or cheap. I am well aware that to be able to tell a multi-dimensional story, a brand has to stand for something other than just making money. The reality is that most people who don’t work in this industry don’t care about any of these reasons. If a brand wants a spot in my news feed then it should stop with the billboard messaging approach to social media and start creating and curating content that is as interesting and relevant to me as the content shared by my friends.
I’ve written about the importance of content on our blog and even provided tips on creating content strategy, because, well, you know, content is king. However, there is one important factor I missed in the previous blog post: context.
Context doesn’t merely refer to location. It’s a relationship, system if you will, between people, places and objects. Such relationships affect not just how we engage with our environment at a specific moment, but also how and why we engage with content, especially with online content.
Different relationships between people, objects and places lead us to search for different content. Context affects how long we engage with the content we find relevant. Think about cell phones. We treat them as computers, and they often are as powerful as computers, but we use them in multiple contexts that are very different from the few contexts in which we use desktop computers and even laptops: during meetings, in the elevator to avoid awkward conversations, during dinner, while watching a movie, while reading a book, at a dance club, in the middle of an argument, while driving, etc. We are usually in the middle of something and just need to make a quick reference or multitask. Since we have less time to engage with the content, the content must meet our high expectations of relevancy and accuracy in the quickest possible way.
Context also affects the format of the content. Think about Internet-enabled TVs. We might be surfing the web, a typical computer activity, but we expect a TV experience, not a computer experience. Again, we treat TVs as computers, but since we use them in a different context, we expect content in a different format. We expect a much richer and visually engaging experience because no one will read five paragraphs of copy from 10 feet distance.
The original content strategy phases and questions are still crucial, but we need to understand the multiple contexts in which our clients’ content is accessed. We need to deliver content appropriate for each context because great content is sympathetic to context. As Matt Bean, brand editor of Men’s Health Magazine, says “not all content is created equal.”
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