Context in Content Strategy: Situational-Behavioral Context is the final part of a series of posts discussing the need to account for context in the practice of content strategy. Did you miss the first four?


Though ambient factors sometimes fall into the information we gather and analyze when preparing for Personal-Behavioral Context, they call for some special attention when planning content.

Why do they call for this specialized treatment? One need not look too far past the photo above for the answer. Laptop user? Sitting up. iPad user? Leaning back.

A user’s posture matters to us, partly, in that it provides insight into her cognitive capacity for learning, appetite for content and preferences on the way the information is presented and designed. And while we have no way of always knowing exactly what posture a user may or may not be in, we can start to make some assumptions on how to present information based on the user interface options available on the device of her choosing.

For example, the leaned back user might have a higher threshold and appetite for elegant information design with a mix of media. That means the content should play nicely with the pinches, pulls and taps that come with a tablet device. Conversely, someone sitting up at a desktop PC or laptop might find relative linking and taxonomic structures to be more valuable because they’re alert, upright and (possibly) research oriented. I’d argue that we can even make the assertion that the user’s personal context and cognitive capacity would be different if the MacBook user were on a PC (but that’s a whole other post and gets super granular). Mobile users are an entirely different breed. They’re leaned forward.

Now, all this concern with lean forward, lean back and upright does not necessarily mean content strategists have to become Jane Goodall and study users the way she studies the Chimpanzees of Gombe. We’d never get a site live if we attempted to be that deep or narrowcasted. Still, posture and the way we learn differently on the various devices that access the web do call for our attention and thought … because the same content won’t be interpreted or learned in the same way across different devices. Our context changes because the things we use and our own physical actions change with each new gizmo.

If we’re calling for different content, it requires a different template or stylesheet for display and it’s entirely possible thanks to ever evolving code. This type of design (Responsive Web Design) is currently an area of great interest and a lot of debate, so it’s worth looking into if you’re not familiar with it. I won’t dig into all of the different ways content should or can be presented by different devices here. Special Note: Responsive Web Design can also be a way to attempt to force context of a site that was initially meant for viewing on a specific resolution. Without doing the additional work of having a content strategy, specific to the channel it’s attempting to fit, it’ll be pretty much useless. My only wish is that you start to pay closer attention to different devices when you’re creating your content strategies.

That said, device type is just one of the many ambient factors a content strategist can focus on.

Defining “Ambient”

“Ambient” by definition, is an adjective meaning:
1. of the surrounding area or environment or surrounding on all sides.
2. completely surrounding; encompassing: the ambient air.

The traditional definition starts to scratch the itch, but for content strategy purposes, we’ll refer to “ambient data” as being any factor of a user’s surrounding environment, which could influence their understanding of our content. Some of the other factors are included in the absolutely non-comprehensive things below:

• Time
• Connection type
• Geo-Location
• Browser
• Access Device (desktop, laptop, mobile, tablet, etc.)
• Weather Conditions
• Language Settings

Publishers have already started to play with elements of time. In November of 2009 Esquire published an augmented reality issue. One of their regular features, Funny Joke Told By A Beautiful Woman, featured three different jokes all told by Gillian Jacobs. One was in the physical print edition while the second and third were accessed through the augmented reality application. The third joke could only be accessed after midnight (when it became a ‘dirty’ joke told by a beautiful woman). You can learn more about it here.

It’s a bit of a novelty in this application, but is definitely something to think about if you’re selling a product or providing a service that might be require different content depending on the time of access. Similarly, weather could be a key factor that influences the way you present content. Imagine a nursery’s content shifting with the seasons or growing periods or reconfiguring to snow removal services during the winter months. Special mobile templates could allow for access to what’s most important to their customers based on events like … snowpocalypse.

Because ambient factors are a small piece of the bigger contextual puzzle, I won’t write dive any deeper into all of the factors. Sometimes none of the factors will fit for a content strategy project, while others may call for several. Point being, starting to think about ambient factors will only become more important as demands for more content come rolling in.

As the wranglers of content and the advocates for its brilliance, content strategists are responsible for understanding which ambient factors make the most sense for their projects. Not every client will be able to fund or be ready to cope with accounting for all of these factors when all they thought they needed was a site redesign. Start by offering a client small bites. Hold their hands while they take baby steps. Dip one toe in the water at a time and prove it through analytics and engagement.

Closing Argument For Context

Since this is the last post in this series, I wanted to take a moment to review context. Though all of the charts, big words and seemingly endless calls for you to research your user to no end seem somewhat taxing, they’re incredibly important. Above all, content strategy is about making content better. Better content achieves business goals, user goals and has substance above everything else. Context is what gives you that substance. It’s not a silver bullet, but it is the secret sauce that makes content engaging (or influential) enough to make your users give a damn.

Thanks for hanging in there with me through these long posts and for the notes, comments and tweets that have kept me going and helped me to breathe some much needed life and energy back into this dormant Web presence. For the first time in a long time, I’m really enjoying writing again and all of you have a lot to do with that. Cheers, and thanks for reading the series.

Photo by Alui0000 and used under Creative Commons License.