The Politics of Social Media: Country, Company, and Communication

If any of us still had doubts that our lives and our work are undergoing major changes as social media and other technologies continue to grow, this week’s readings might have really struck us hard. While I’ve participated in many of these technological changes as they’ve happened, I was still in awe when I read Qualman and Spilka’s impressions of what the cumulative impact of these transitions will look like.

Qualman expects a significant shift in how political campaigns are run based on Obama’s 2008 campaign in which he successfully utilized social media for getting his message out and increasing his popularity as well as for fundraising. I think this makes sense in the context of increased social media use for advertising because essentially a presidential candidate is advertising or selling himself/herself.

I do wonder whether there is any difference in the demographics that will be receptive to increased political social media advertising. My impression is that younger people, such as college students, tend to be more liberal while older people tend to be more conservative. Younger people also tend to use social media more actively than older people. Thus, I wonder whether conservative use of social media in campaigning will be as effective as liberal use because of the demographics in question and their media preferences.

Qualman generally paints a very rosy picture of social media and its ability to facilitate communication. It seems that his rule of thumb is that businesses should use negative comments to improve their products and their customer service rather than trying to delete them. I think though, especially as social media enters the political realm, that it is not always possible to take negative comments and turn them into a positive outcome.

Yesterday I was reading a Facebook post from the Obama administration which contained a factual update of the latest news about the government shutdown. An alarming number of people commented with vulgar language toward the President in posts that did not contain suggestions or anything else that could even potentially be productive. More people responded to those people by returning the vulgar language; thus the entire thread turned into something negative rather than something informative and productive. While sometimes the fact that anyone can post anything and have it be seen by many people is a benefit of social media, there are cases like this one where it can also be a negative.

Qualman also talks about the shift of product and service marketing from message and positioning focused to more customer-centric via social media. I’m not sure I agree with him here. For one thing, I think marketing has always been more customer focused than he gives it credit for. I think focus groups and market research, which have been around far longer than any of the technologies in question, are great examples about how marketers have always cared about what products, services, and features are important to their customers. Also, I think a company could have the best customer service in the world, but without a cohesive strategy and message, I don’t think they could possibly have a competitive product.

The Spilka reading offers more interesting food for thought about how our lives and jobs are changing as technology evolves. Spilka introduces the concept of a constant deskilling and reskilling where technical communicators will constantly need to get retrained as their job descriptions change. I think this analysis may be rather extreme. Because we now perform “knowledge work” or “symbolic-analytic work,” we think critically, and we work with concepts and information; I think these skills are easily transferrable to slightly different job functions and will not require us to retrain ourselves entirely.

I agree with Spilka’s point that although technical communicators will still be writers, editors, and product experts, our function will increasingly become adding value to information as our work becomes even more symbolic-analytic. It seems to me that the tone in talking about our functions evolving is negative, but I think it’s a good thing since we have a lot more to offer. In my job I already fill the roles of technical writer, product expert, editor, customer support person and usability consultant, and I think it allows me to grow, both personally and professionally, more than a traditional technical communications job would.

Posted on October 6, 2013, in Social Media, Society and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink. 4 Comments.

  1. Sometimes when I read things from authors, such as Spilka’s “deskilling and reskilling”, they make it sound like these changes happen over night. Yes, all companies and career’s involve some sort of change and therefore require keeping up to date in many different skill areas but that takes place over time. A good company will want to keep their employees skills up to date and offer in house training, seminars, continuing education, encourage professional organization memberships, etc. The danger comes when a company (or field) refuses to acknowledge that change is happening. By the time they realize it, they are so far behind the eight ball that it will take too long to catch up to be competitive.

  2. evelynmartens13

    I think you’re probably the model of the symbolic-analytic worker that we keep reading about -“technical writer, product expert, editor, customer support person and usability consultant”! You’re already doing so many more things than the “solitary writer laboring over a keyboard” image would suggest.

    I’d be interested to hear how much of your work in these roles requires that you work as part of a team — a lot, I would guess. Seems like that’s one concept that I keep reading about in all of my classes, the importance of working collaboratively. How much of your time would you guess you spend in meetings (in person or virtual)? And how much of your time would you estimate you spend thinking creatively and collaboratively with others? I’d be interested in learning more about that role/aspect.

    • Hi Evelyn,

      You’re right- I do spend a significant chunk of my time working collaboratively. I attend a weekly hour long meeting with everyone in my software organization (about 15 people) where almost everyone but me is a developer or a project manager for one or more of our applications. These meetings are really valuable for me because they allow me to put on the user advocate hat while an application is still in development and influence the way features and functionality are implemented. This is great because it makes the documentation writing and customer support parts of my job much easier.

      Also, while I am working on writing documentation, I often come across things in our applications that I don’t think make sense from a user perspective. I use this as an opportunity to communicate with the developers and UI team about what’s confusing and try to get it resolved. This is another instance in which I have to work collaboratively.

      As this is really my first job in the field, I don’t know how typical or atypical my experience is. What’s yours like?

  3. I think you bring up a very good point, we should not fear the evolution of our field. We are trained to handle information, which does make us very versatile. We don’t have the kind of job that could be replaced by a computer, because so much of our job is based on an understanding of our audience. Even if we are not filling the role of a technical writer, we still have a versatile skill set that can be leveraged in many ways.
    I recognize that my job may change in the future, but I also recognize that there should always be some role that I can fill. At the company I work for, we joke about job security because things in the organization are always changing. We update and maintain the documentation for the internal processes of the company, and we will never run out of work. The insurance industry is in a consistent state of change, and we do our best to keep that documentation up to date with the current process. The business may not always acknowledge our value, but they would have a much more difficult time doing their job without us.

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