Creating Social Media Context

In our previous post, Creating Social Media Content, we talked about creating social media content. But content can be useless without context. This post explores creating social media context.

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Social Media Context

In that big list of C words we gave in the post How Will You Speak on Social Media? you may have noticed that context wasn’t exactly way up there in the standings. It’s puzzling how many social media list-makers leave out context. We think it’s very important, perhaps even paramount, and certainly one of the things that makes social networking a unique medium.

In fact, in contrast to the old saw that content is king, we think context is actually king, or at least a duke.

Context is when you check out user reviews before buying something. Context is when you Google a current event and pass up CNN or the New York Times to get a blogger’s perspective. And context is something you can’t reliably count on getting from traditional media, hooked as it is on the 24-hour news cycle and reality shows.

So what is context? Context is when you surround and connect the unfamiliar with familiar touch points, thus enabling the user to better understand. It’s providing a frame of reference, like the frame of a picture that adds to the enjoyment and understanding of the painting. It’s the difference between seeing Jeff Smith’s LinkedIn professional headline and seeing in his profile that he went to the same high school you went to and graduated when you did — chances are he’s your old buddy!

More and more applications are adding social media context to their bag of tricks. For example, if you have a Gmail account, you can get a free Firefox or Chrome plug-in from Rapportive[1] that will show you the social media activity of the people you correspond with. Here’s an example of what viewing an email in Gmail with the Rapportive plug-in providing social media context.

Gmail with Rapportive

The sidebar material in includes information from Mike’s LinkedIn account as well as links to his tweets, Facebook, LinkedIn and Flickr accounts. To check up on what he’s doing, we just need to click on one of the links.

Large online software vendors such as are rapidly adding this type of context to their applications.

But context is definitely not only about apps. The human element online provides context for your community. LinkedIn provides a good example. Which of these connection offers would you be more likely to accept: one that uses the default “I’d like to add you to my LinkedIn network” or one that says, “I ran into a friend of yours recently and he said we both share an interest in racquetball. I see you also used to work at XYZ Corp. I’d like to connect and talk about old times at XYZ”?

The choice is pretty simple, isn’t it?

Context is becoming so important on the Web that many thinkers are claiming sites will deemphasize Search Engine Optimization (SEO — a way to get your site highly placed on Google) and pay more at­tention to Social Graph Optimization (SGO — optimizing the people and their content that will refer traffic to your site).

According to Ryan Spoon[2] of Polaris Venture Partners, “The consensus was that context drives rele­vancy… and thus virality… and thus efficacy.” To decode this, Spoon is saying that giving context for a referral to a Website is more relevant to the user, and thus makes the user more likely to tell his or her friends, thus improving the ability of people to find your site.

Content that is more relevant (more contextual) is more likely to be forwarded on, tweeted about, and otherwise more likely to go viral (passed from person to person just like a cold).

So when you are dialoging with your community, be sure you understand their context and provide your content based on what they want.

Here are some tips to improve the context of your content:

Type of Context



Help Filter, aggregate, interpret, help your audience understand All social media, Blogs, Website, Twitter, YouTube
Simplify Your messages — don’t overwhelm Email, Blogs, LinkedIn Groups
Narrow Your focus — but focus on behavior, not demographics Appropriate messaging depending on site
Create Targeted services — social media helps you identify niches Audience research on all social media
Communicate Frequently in short bursts — the average YouTube video is 2.7 minutes; average blog post under 500 words Everywhere — Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, Website, Blogs, email

Creating Social Media Context is the 55th in a series of excerpts from our book, Be a Person: the Social Operating Manual for Enterprises (itself part of a series for different audiences). We’re just past page 180. At this rate it’ll be a long time before we get through all 430 pages, but luckily, if you’re impatient, the book is available in paper form at and you can save $5 using Coupon Code 62YTRFCV

See the previous posts What is Social Media?, Social Sites Defined, Why Social Media? How is Social Media Relevant to Business? First Steps Toward a Social Media Strategy, and Decide What Your Business Will Do About Social Computing, pt. 1

Next up: Creating Social Media Connection

[1] Rapportive social plug-in:

[2] Ryan Spoon is a principal at Polaris Venture Partners:

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