Context is King?


Clear communication is obviously mission critical for broadcast style notifications. To communicate clearly, don’t forget that readers need some context for your messages.

I see a lot of campus notifications as part of my daily work, telling subscribers about weather events, facilities closings, campus emergencies, and similar notifications. Most go out in a “multi-modal” notification – via text, voice, email, RSS (e.g., to update the campus website), Common Alerting Protocol (CAP), social networks and more.

Customers sometimes overlook some simple factors that establish a context in which a message is received. For example, a busy 20 year-old college student might easily send and receive over 100 SMS text messages a day – from friends, family, and social networks. Consider two very short messages:

  1. Book buyback begins at 9am in the student center.
  2. UAlert: Book buyback begins at 9am in the student center.

A message prefix tagline can make even a very simple text message much clearer to the recipient. One look at the second message completely contextualizes its content for the user. For messages with more important or urgent content, this effect can be magnified even further. Here’s another example:

  1. Classes cancelled due to inclement weather.
  2. UAlert: All HelpU classes cancelled Tues, Jan 14, due to expected blizzard conditions.

In the first message, the author has assumed just a bit too much. What if the recipient attends two schools or has a child in a secondary system that also sends weather notifications? Messages will come from different shortcodes, but each device may emphasize or deemphasize the identifying information it displays about the sender. Again, a text tagline (Rave customers know they can automate this) and a slight amount of additional detail provide a much richer and more informative message.

Email messages give you more room to explain and provide relevant detail, but I still see email notifications that on occasion do not take the time to explain the basics with strong and clear communications, the who-what-where-when-and-how of a particular message, explained in a way that is fully contextualized for the average recipient sorting through a large inbox.

The good news is that even a small addition of contextual clues can make a helpful message even clearer to its recipient, and using more contextual language does not cost you anything more than some time to create stronger message templates that communicate more clearly. Take some time to think about each message, and how the words in each message present a meaningful context for the reader, and use your notification tool’s templating to make it easy to send these clearer messages.

You may also find that tailoring each message for its specific delivery mode strengthens your meaning. If you have an RSS message that updates your website, that message may look need to be quite different from the message that displays on your Visix digital signage. Think about each message and its ultimate destination, and adapt your templates to provide an optimized, contextualized message for each delivery target.

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