A case study of context in content

You may be familiar with the ‘Content is King’ catch-phrase, we’ve certainly heard it a lot in relation to intranets in the past few years. More recently I have noticed ‘Context is King’ cropping up, and today I pondered the relevance of this fad label. I was reading an intranet article on Ragan.com this afternoon. A simple list article highlighting some of the contentious features on intranets. The kinds of features that are arguable in terms of value but often end up on intranets. What struck me about the article was not so much the content, but the comments. They were very critical of the article, which isn’t a problem in itself.

Compliments and criticism both have a place in comments, but it had a nasty vibe to it. In general they did not discuss merit but were just dismissive of the content. This caused me to give it a re-read. The article seemed tongue-in-cheek to me, as it had done on the first read. What I did notice was that it was a re-post of an article from Intranetizen, which I had in-fact read before. I immediately noticed two-things about the Intranetizen version: the title was different and the comments had a completely different tone and quality. They were still critical in some cases, but much more constructive. So my curiosity increased. How is it that the same article posted on different sites could elicit such different responses? There are a number of small differences between the two that seem to have caused this vastly different response in commentary.

Element Original Post Re-post
Website Intranetizen Ragan.com
Managed by Small group of intranet practitioners Large business communications company
Location UK USA
Scope Intranets Communicatons
Title 14 signs you’ve lost the intranet plot 14 features you should never post on your intranet
Feature image Image of crying baby Text “Coming soon never”
Content As the author intended Subtle changes to copy such as new sub-heading

The differences are clear. Some are more subtle than others. I think a combination of these differences has affected the context enough that it caused the Ragan.com post to be more negitavely received. My key thoughts are as follows:

  • The audience is influenced by the scope of each website, and who it is managed by. Intranetizen is intranets focussed and driven by a small group of dedicated intranet practitioners and most likely that is also the readership. Ragan.com is a large company who manage numerous communciations content websites and would probably attract more corporate and general communications readers.
  • The content was altered. The title, feature image and small changes to the content changed the tone. Intranetizen used a crying baby and the term ‘lost the intranet plot’ which sets the scene for a less serious peice of content. Ragan.com use the words ‘you should never post’, which is a directive that has finality to it, coupled with the “Coming soon never” image that compounds that message.

Two subtly different audiences took different perspectives which was in turn influenced by changes to the copy which turned the original post from a humorous take on some of the more cringe-worthy intranet features, to a condemnation of feature choices which are in some cases justified. The context set the tone, and heavily influenced the way people responded to the content. I think this is a valuable case study in the importance of not just establishing context, but ensuring that  the content is appropriate any given broader context. It would be an interesting test to see if the response would change if Ragan.com re-posted the article exaclty as it was originally. An interesting aside, the negativity in the Ragan.com re-post didn’t seem to influence their desire to repurpose the content. They originally re-posted in May 2014 and it received plenty of negatively critical commentary. Despite this they published it again this month and it attracted the same sort of comments. Thanks to Intranetizen for pointing out this fact in our twitter conversation about the articles. Here are all three versions of the post for you to peruse and judge for yourself:

Now over to you. The comments box is enabled below. Please share your thoughts on the articles, the comments and my thoughts on the importance of context.

4 Responses

  1. I read the same post and felt something was wrong. Then I checked on the Intranetizen blog and realized that the original post was from 2012. I also dissagreed on several of the points and wanted to comment. I generally agree with Jonathan but not in this post. I don’t know if it is the fact that the article is three years old. I also did not like the sarcasm as other commented on.

Share your thoughts