Social Media and Simplicity, Part 6: Context
Muhammad Saleem is a social media consultant and a top-ranked community member on multiple social news sites.
This post is part 6 of 10 in our groundbreaking series on how freelancers can use social media and the principles of simplicity to build their business.
Day 6 – The Sixth Law of Simplicity: Context
What lies in the periphery of simplicity is definitely not peripheral.
Here’s something you don’t hear very often: context is King. Let’s look at an example from The Tipping Point, an increasingly important book by one of my favorite authors, Malcolm Gladwell. In the book, Gladwell presents the following situation:
Imagine there is a deck of cards which has letters written on one side and numbers on the other. In addition, there is a rule that any card which has a vowel on it, must have an even number on the other side. Knowing these circumstances, if you are shown four cards on the table, labeled A, D, 3, 6, how many, and which cards do you have to flip before you know for a fact that indeed, the rule mentioned previously holds true.
Now consider the same question, but this time in a more contextualized form. Imagine that there are four people in a bar. One of them is drinking juice, one of them is drinking a beer, one of them is underage (a teenager), and one of them is over 25. Knowing that no one under 21 can consume alcoholic beverages, how many and which of the four people do you have to ID before you know that no illegal drinking is taking place (i.e. the no drinking under 21 law is being upheld)?
I haven’t given the answer to either question on purpose. Feel free to post your thoughts in the comments.
While both questions are theoretically identical, more people tend to get the second one right more often than the first. The only difference is that the second question puts the situation in a context and makes it about people rather than numbers and we, as human beings, are more capable of answering questions about each other than we are of answering questions about larger, more abstract matters. Here, context is King.
Provide A Context For Your Services
It’s more true of the internet than anything else: a substantial number of people tend to forget that they are participating in a competitive marketplace and that there are other people that are or want to provide similar services and take market share away from you. For example, there are at least a half-dozen excellent sites out there that specifically target the same audience as this site. These sites follow largely the same formula and are writing about and preaching the same things. In spite of the fair amount of overlap, when I was first looking for a freelance resource, I ended up choosing Freelance Switch for the simple reason that the site help me establish my perspective and put everything else in context.
Unlike other sites, Freelance Switch is just as much about the journey as it is about the destination (once you get there). A first time visitor is never lost because she has the “Explore Freelance Switch” guide to help her get started as a freelancer and eventually take control of and optimize her day-to-day dealings as full-time, veteran freelancer. Of course this is not to understate the importance of cornerstone content such as the 101 essential freelancing resources and the monster list of freelancing job sites.
This is not a plug for Freelance Switch, but a great example of how you can use context to set yourself apart. If I am a first time visitor to your site (or the landing page for whatever services you are offering), will I be completely lost or will you guide me through everything I need to know to appreciate all the work you are doing? If you are “the best” at what you do or a leading voice in your niche, am I going to have to take your word for it or are you going to tell me why? Put yourself in context and help people appreciate you and your work for all its worth.
By putting your work in context, you will make not only your life simpler, but also your potential clients’. The more you can simplify beforehand, the less confusion and questions will arise in the future, and the quicker you can start getting the job done.
Three-Step Formula for Building Context
In my field, I have to deal with an almost overbearing amount of mediocre content. In quite a few cases, the content has a lot of potential, but because the content is created without a context, with no particular audience in mind, and is promoted to all possible audiences, the content loses most of its value.
1. Start with the familiar. When possible, assume the most basic knowledge from your audience, and where possible, link to elaborations of the concepts/topics that you are discussing. Always start with the familiar so you don’t risk losing their interest/attention.
2. Introduce the unfamiliar. Once you’ve gotten your reader to click-through to the article and have established a relationship with the reader through familiarity, you can begin to introduce the unfamiliar.
3. Connect the two. The familiar is great for drawing an audience into the unfamiliar, but unless you can tie the two together, you risk leaving your audience utterly confused. The unfamiliar is important because that is the educational aspect of why people come to you and the familiar is important because it allows people to digest information in a context rather than in the abstract.
Demand A Context From Services You Use
Based on the previously discussed rules, you should by now have a fairly good idea of what tools you should be using. While each of these tools (social bookmarking, networking, etc) ultimately help you accomplish your goals of increasing brand awareness, increasing engagement, making money, etc., it is important to understand that each of these services do so in their own unique way and must be used accordingly.
For example, Facebook and MySpace are both social networking sites. But examined in context, they have entirely different demographics. Which site you choose to use depends entirely on what kind of demographic you want to reach out and connect with. Ultimately, it’s not important to narrow your choices down to one, what is important is to narrow your choices down to the ones that are fundamentally useful to you. In fact, if you have the context right, you might even want to use both of them, and leverage different aspects of each.
Just as your readers expect context from you, you should demand context from the tools/services that you use. Remember, everything looks simpler, easier, and better in context.
For simplifying the rest of your life, check out John Maeda’s Blog.