Context in Content

By David Burda  |  June 7, 2016

Context in content image

One of the many challenges that brands often have in producing great content is a failure to appreciate the value of context. Context is what gives content relevancy and credibility. Context demonstrates that a brand knows what’s happening in its own industry, what’s happening in the world today and what’s happening on the brand’s own website.

Context doesn’t have to dominate a piece of content like a boring history lesson. It can be as short as one sentence, one phrase or even one word. It’s a wink or a nod to the audience that signals that the brand is in the know.

But absent that context, the content—and by extension the brand—shows a lack of awareness of audience issues and suggests the brand is out of touch with its industry and even itself.

Keep presentations up-to-date

A few years ago, I was covering a presentation by a well-known hospital executive. At least four times during his talk, he used the phrase “burning platform” to describe the state of affairs in the healthcare industry.

Each time he used the phrase, a photo of a burning oil platform appeared on the big screen next to him. Unfortunately, the Deepwater Horizon oil spill occurred just a few months earlier during which an oil platform burned in the Gulf of Mexico and killed a number of oil rig workers. I know I wasn’t the only person who was distracted by the ill-timed photo, making it hard to follow the presentation.

To me, it showed a lack of awareness if not sensitivity, and I wrote about it, drawing the ire of one of the executive’s public relations staff who screamed at me so much over the phone that I never caught her name before she hung up.

Perhaps her time would have been better spent making sure her company’s presentations were conscious of tragic world events.

Context begins in the home

So where does context come from? The first and most obvious place is from a brand’s own website or content hub. Any new piece of content—whether it’s a blog post, infographic, video or white paper—should be aware of related blog posts, infographics, videos or white papers that came before it.

The legacy related content could be referenced directly in the new content or appear adjacent to the new content in a “related content” or “read more on this subject” section, for example.

This approach shows users that the brand is aware of what it has produced on that topic before and that the new content builds on the previous content, making it worth consuming. This approach helps content creators avoid replicating previous content on the same topic. In journalistic terms, you want to advance the story, not repeat the story.

Why subject matter expertise is required

The second place context comes from is subject matter expertise. It’s an overused term in the content marketing world, but its importance can’t be overstated. Someone at the brand must be responsible for knowing what’s happening in its industry each month, each week, each day, each hour and each minute.

If a brand is going to succeed at content marketing, real-time knowledge of industry events is essential. No different from a news operation. Keeping on top of things is much easier than it ever has been with online newsfeeds, news alerts, email bulletins, daily e-newsletters and more. There really is no reason not to know what’s happening. If a brand lacks the resources to do that, it can always outsource the function to a digital content marketing agency.

Brands can use that real-time information to add meaningful context to content, such as mentioning the latest healthcare infection rates released by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in a blog post on strategies to improve patient safety. Equally important, brands can use that information to avoid embarrassing themselves in a blog post by citing out-of-date or discredited research.

The wrong picture is worth more than a thousand words

The same is true of images. We once saved a client from an embarrassing visual anachronism when we politely pointed out that an urban skyline image that the company wanted to use for an event program showed a sports stadium that no longer existed and other sites that were known crime hotspots. (Tip: If you’re arranging on out-of-town event, always talk to the locals.)

A brand’s content doesn’t have to the mimic or compete with the news and feature content published by the trade titles in its industry nor should it. But being aware of what’s happening will give a brand the opportunity to add a dash of context to its content that makes it timely and genuine versus out-of-date and oblivious. I know who I’d rather buy goods and services from.

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Read next: Content Marketing vs. Advertising: What’s the Difference, Again?

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