Know your audience. It’s old advice, but still as relevant as ever in a marketing world dominated by content. I’d just like to add that it’s also important to let your audience help you create context. You might be the creator, but your content must “feel” like it applies directly to the reader’s life at the time it’s being consumed. That’s context. And your audience – no matter who happens to read, listen to, or watch your content – plays a key role in creating that context.
This is not a revolutionary concept. Every great filmmaker, author, or speaker has to balance their artistic intent with the fact that the audience will ultimately draw its own conclusions from their work. Shakespeare’s been gone for 400 years now, and literary critics are still arguing about his artistic intent. We don’t need to worry about writing Macbeth, but we’d be wise to note that even the most widely read “content” in history still inspires debates among its audience centuries later.
The Power of Conversation in Creating Context
Knowing your audience comes in part from understanding their expectations. Are you trying to educate someone who’s new to the concept you’re discussing? Are you trying to grab their attention with a creative flourish? How about just lifting the audience’s spirits, or giving them a laugh? These are all valid ways to add context, depending on who you wish to reach and how you plan to reach them. You can’t know the state of mind of your whole audience, but you can draw some general conclusions by conversing with them.
You may have noticed that I asked you a few questions in the previous paragraph, and that’s no accident. The way I see it, content should be a conversation, not a classroom lecture. While there are plenty of effective ways to add context, nothing matches the efficiency of a conversation. The connections you make with your audience directly influence the context that they take from your content.
The good news is that it’s easier than ever to start those conversations. Don’t just produce a piece of content and link it out into the wild unannounced. Comment on blog posts you find interesting, and respond to comments on your own content. Be present on social channels, and make sure your audience knows how to reach you if they want to continue the conversation on their favorite channel. If someone poses a question on social that deserves a detailed response, score some extra points by turning your answer into a special blog post.
Emotional Context Matters, Too
This part is a bit more complicated, but no less relevant. The emotional state of your audience plays an important role in how they perceive your content. I’m not talking about the subconscious stuff, just the general feeling. If you’re already happy, it’s easier to laugh at the next joke you hear. If you’re frustrated by a specific challenge, however, you want content that demonstrates an understanding of your challenge, and proposes a solution.
Since you can’t know the mental state of your audience, emotional context often shines through in how you treat a given topic. If you’re answering a question, be thorough and open. If you’re dealing with a serious topic, give it the respect that it deserves. And if you’re planning to have fun… by all means, have some actual fun!
In the end, the content creator has two primary ways to add context. The first is through the content itself, by understanding your audience and presenting subject matter in the appropriate terms. The second is the conversation that happens after your content goes live. Shakespeare didn’t have Twitter, Instagram, Facebook or Snapchat, but we do. Why not make the most of it?