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Context in social media – a big opportunity

September 8, 2011

One of the last bastions of making social media technology work better for people is the understanding of something that is so often overlooked – context.

Google+ was on to something there for a while with their selective sharing concept – you can choose what content you want to share with other people, by dropping them into the relevant ‘circles’. I have circles with work colleagues in it, circles with friends in it, family, people who I talk to about the NBA and other sports, and even a photography circle where I have my favourite photographers and other people who like to share amazing imagery. It makes it easy for me to share specific stuff to people. It’s a great innovation and Facebook as usual were quick to copy and have implemented their own version of selective content sharing.

But hang on a sec, fella. Let’s think this through.

The simple premise of selective content sharing is this:

I, as the producer and sharer of content, decide what it is I think you will want to read about.

I choose how I will send you that content and what mixture of content you will receive, and by ‘following’ me, that is what you receive.

I don’t know about you, but this sounds suspiciously like a hark back to the days of old school advertising and media publishing.

Have a think about your habits when you read a newspaper, magazine or your favourite website again – I’m sure you know this already – you skim headlines and images to determine what YOU want to read, right? And what YOU want to read is determined by who you are, what you like, where you are, what’s happened to you in the last few days, and what affects the world around you.

We call this context. It’s the last bastion of social media technology being able to understand us and distribute content based on the interactions we have with others online.

Yet Facebook, Google+ and Twitter still leave context up to the publisher (ie the  person or company that you are following), and not to the individual user who is seeking to gain specific benefit from the relationship. So when I follow people like Guy Kawasaki to learn from his many amazing professional experiences, but instead receive 16 posts per day about zombies, a cake he made with his kids, meteors, and numerous other things I don’t want to hear about, it leaves the task of finding relevance still up to me – the user. I have to sift through those posts every day to find the one that means something to me. Don’t get me wrong – I like Guy, he’s a top bloke and posts lots of funny and cool stuff. He shouldn’t have to stop that. I recently read his book and loved it. But the 16 posts a day about other personal things he likes isn’t the reason I follow him. It is possibly, however the reason I will stop following him on social media channels- because he is unwittingly causing more noise on my social feed than I really want to hear.

Another example: A client once commented about a former colleague of mine, who was regarded as thought leader online in the social innovation landscape The problem was, all you could ever find on his Twitter feed for a while were numerous Foursquare checkins at airports around the world. The client promptly unfollowed that person as he was only interested in the juicy stuff – you know, the thought leadership!

So what I’m banging on about here is simple – find a way to give the end user the ability to choose what they want to see and hear. Not WHO they want to see and hear.  And it’s not only up to the publisher of the content to decide what gets sent to the end user. Provide the user with the context they need to make their social experience more contextually relevant. The variables of context are time, place, topical relevance and others –context exists at the content level (the what), not at the publisher level (the who).

Anyone that can deliver this – makes a big and very meaningful breakthrough in terms of social technology. I’m waiting folks!

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