If content is King, is context Queen?

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I have heard a number of people repeating the mantra ‘If content is King, context is Queen‘ recently but wanted to ask what does that really mean any more?

On the one hand location provides context, when I think about my online persona:

  • LinkedIn is my business face
  • Facebook and Twitter is more social
  • Friendfeed is more early adopter
  • Delicious is dark journey into my psyche
  • This blog brings it all together under a mask of civility

So when someone like MySpace talks about context, they are most likely thinking about how their site maybe the right location for complementary brands to buy inventory and services to facilitate brand interaction. In this respect context could be said to be Queen, though it follows a mix of old-school marketing segmentation and a more-modern intent-driven focus depends who is in the driving seat.

There is a second type of context which I’ll call neighbourhood context (for the sake of discrimination) which is being eroded. This blog enjoys more readers than it has ever had, and has had more feedback than previously, yet this feedback and debate does not show on its Technorati authority which has dropped, nor from the amount of comments beneath the blog posts.

Instead the comments and responses are appearing on:

  • Twitter as @ replies or retweets
  • Facebook as comments on my newsfeed or as ‘likes’ (the thumbs up rating on Facebook statuses)
  • LinkedIn as comments on my status
  • Plurk responses

This means that lots of one-to-one conversations are happening and even lots of re-broadcasts, but there is a loss of continued discussion as previous comments are not necessarily visible for other commentators to build on like in a threaded forum discussion or below comments on a blog. The power of the conversation is held back and it reminded me of the way discussions that made up much of the life in the old Irish neighbourhood when I grew up disappeared as the community fragmented to better housing.

Thirdly, content itself is fragmenting through micro-formats. The successive iterations of the SHIFT release has chopped each of the content elements into items that can be easily shared. Google now provides addresses in its Maps service as a downloadable hCard. We can consume ‘bitesize’ chunks of media without all the surrounding content which provides context – making messaging from a PR point-of-view challenging.

So as practitioners, what can we do?

I was talking this through with some colleagues whilst I have been out in New York, and for many  clients it is about reaggregating that content as part of a next-generation press room. You can see it on e-Consultancy’s front page with its Twitter feed, though there is a small risk to be run of people saying negative or purile things.

In reality, in order for this approach to be successful, feeds would need to be taken from a much wider set of services than just Twitter and would need to be restructured and updated on a regular basis to take into account consumers evolving online behaviour.

Secondly this won’t necessarily affect the vast majority of your web audience who will look to consume your content wherever, however and whenever they want. Content context has moved from being a given to an active and (social media) educated choice. This is also cross-posted at my work blog.