Monthly Archives: September 2015

Communicators unite! The parallel struggles of two professions.

A little while ago I made a pact with myself to quit the “graphic designers are misunderstood” rants in order to provide less angsty and more constructive content to this blog. Though my point of discussion today comes uncomfortably close to breaking that agreement, I think that the likeness between the history and struggles of technical communicators and graphic designers is fascinating. The profession of technical communication is at least parallel in some aspects and identical in others with that of a graphic designer.

My professors and more experienced colleagues have told me stories of how they adjusted professionally as PCs gained dominance in the workplace. From using rub-off lettering to meticulously laying down thin black lines in order to make a document “camera ready” for the printer, being a designer meant having amazingly adept hand skills and other areas of expertise which are different from what is needed to hold the same title today. When Macs with graphical user interfaces came along, my colleagues were immediately on board, many of them being the first in their company to have desktop publishing capabilities. As technology rapidly changed and improved, designers had to continuously learn new hardware and software. Often it was the same software to the same purposes as the technical communicators described in the first chapter of Rachel Spilka’s book (Spilka, 2010).

The Apple Macintosh, 1984

The Apple Macintosh, 1984
(Source: http://www.prepressure.com/prepress/history)

Yes, the basic concepts of design still hold true through changing technologies, just like the discipline of technical communication has always required the professional to use “words and images (whether stationary or moving) to inform, instruct, or persuade an audience (Scriver, 1997).” Still, the advance of new technologies have reshaped the day-to-day workflows of technical communicators and graphic designers. Learning new technology became a sink or swim situation. In the Communications Design BFA program at Syracuse University, our professors purposefully never taught us how to use the design programs we needed to become professionals, leaving us to figure it out on our own. They said that the technology will change in a few years anyways (and it did). What we needed more than to be taught the software was to learn how to be self-taught.

Returning to Scriver’s definition of the core skills needed for technical communicators, I would argue that the exact wording could be also used for graphic designers. Also identical between the two professions is the need to move beyond doing commodity work (which is easily outsourced or downsized) and instead shift towards symbolic-analytic work. Both professions must learn to, “analyze, synthesize, combine, rearrange, develop, design, and deliver information to specific audiences for specific purposes.” (Spilka, 2010, p. 54) Spilka even used the phrase “pretty it up” when describing the perceived commodity work that is asked of technical communicators by clueless colleagues. A customer recently sent me an email with a subject line reading “Make it spiffy?” Though creating aesthetically “spiffy” documents is within my job responsibilities and skill set, I would rather be thought of as an expert in crafting effective communications. (Now I’m getting dangerously close to my previous rant.)

I appreciated Spilka’s edict, that it is our individual responsibilities to make the true value of our work visible to the higher-ups. We must align ourselves with the management strategies of our institutions and fully embrace the changing technologies and philosophies as they emerge. We must find ways to advocate for ourselves and let the true symbolic-analytic qualities of our work become apparent to all. Spilka goes on to recommend strategies for the technical communicator to do just this by showing how their work contributes to cost reduction, cost avoidance, revenue enhancement and intangible contributions (Spilka, 2010, p. 61). Though some of these tips can only be applied to technical communicators when taken at face value (such as “One method [of cost reduction] is to consolidate development of documentation, online help, and training to minimize the duplication of efforts in doing research, planning and designing communication.”)

My goal is to be unemployed

I work for a company that provides outsourced employees for a variety of industries.  I report to one company, but I represent another.  I am comfortable with this.  My loyalty can be bought for the price of my paycheck.  I can assume the culture, goals and procedures of the company that I represent, although ultimately I am not their “employee.”

My long-term goal in becoming a technical communicator is to be an outsourced employee, but without a larger “umbrella” company sending me my W-2’s each year.  I want to dictate the companies I work for and have some control over the projects I accept.  I am comfortable putting on that “company’s uniform” for a temporary time and then moving on.

I felt such joy when I read R. Stanley Dicks discuss the prediction that “many more technical communicators will be officially unemployed but constantly working.  They will be following the consulting/temp agency model that already characterizes the work of many communicators (Digital Literacy for Technical Communication, p. 59)”.  I am hoping to open a fortune cookie with just that prediction for my future:  “You will soon find yourself unemployed, but always working.”

The expansion of telecommuting opportunities is, in part, one of the catalysts that finally pushed me back into school.  I currently follow several job sites that focus on home-based and freelance work. Flexjobs.com and ratracerebellion.com consistently have an extensive list of job opportunities for telecommuters in all aspects of the technical writing field, primarily ones with technological competencies.

In 2001, I was on the verge of enrolling in a “technical writing” program, when a job offer–in an unrelated field–removed me from that path.  I went to work for a company I loved and put that plan on the “back burner.”

While I am disappointed that I allowed so much time to lapse before entering a graduate program, I am grateful for that derailment.  The technical writing program I was set to enter was very solid and respected.  But in 2001, it wasn’t very focused on digital media.  Within a few short years, their “technical writing” program became their “Technical Communications” program. It was completely revamped several times over the next few years, as they slowly began to focus the program more on the emerging use of technology.

Had I enrolled back in 2001, I would have been “getting to the party a little too early.”  Now, I don’t know that a 14 year lapse between degrees was quite necessary but…. At any rate, I cringe to think of how many competencies I would have been scrambling to learn within a year or two (maybe less) of earning that degree.

As I do work-from-home and spend a lot of time following web sites and blogs devoted to such work, I have come across many people who are constantly working as technical communicators, but as independent contractors.  I see a flood of freelance job openings in the field.  I have yet to find one person that lacks or job that doesn’t require technical skill.

I feel certain that the degree I was going to begin in 2001, is not the same degree that I will be getting now.  This is what gave me the final push to go back.  As I researched schools this time around, it was interesting to see how every strong program focused on digital media.

As R. Stanley Dicks pointed out in Digital Literacy for Technical Communication (p.52):  “It is important to remember, when discussing current and coming trends in the discipline, that they largely have to do with the tools and technologies associated with the discipline, and not the core competency skills that the discipline continues to require; that is using words and images to inform, instruct, or persuade an audience Schriver’s (1997).”  That program I was set to start 14 years ago would have given me “core competency skills,” but not what I needed to achieve my current goals.  Of course, I realize with the constantly evolving landscape of technology, there will always be new things that I need to learn to “stay on top” of the field.  I am reassured, though, that the evolution in technical communication as a whole, and the changes that have occurred in academia as a result, will enable me to start with the foundation I need.

Become a Technical Communicator 2.0

Change Same Buttons Showing Changing Or Improvement

I remember an intense discussion a few years ago at the local chapter of the Society for Technical Communication where members were debating the efficacy of the titles “technical writer” and “technical communicator”. Were they the same? Were they different? If they were different, in what ways? Did it matter what we thought if employers couldn’t get it? How did employers view persons who worked in technical communication?

It was interesting to me to observe how members, based on their experience in the practice, answered these questions. For the most part, those with say 15 or more years of experience clearly remembered being technical writers per se. They also recognized they were much more than that today—at least most were. The less experienced folks in the discussion mostly sat wide-eyed (not because they were impressed, but because I think they were trying to stay awake). For the most part, they saw themselves as technical communicators, but without a full understanding of that term. But, I recognize the more senior folks, including me, didn’t fully understand either.

What everyone these days seems to recognize is that technical communicators cannot just be technical writers. As Rachel Spilka puts it in the foreword to Digital Literacy for Technical Communication, which she edited: It’s not about survival, it’s about evolution. And, I believe she’s right.

Five Steps to You 2.0

Below are five steps we can take to evolve from technical writers or even technical communicators to technical communicators 2.0. A what? R. Stanley Dicks in chapter 2 of Digital Literacy (p. 77) notes that not only has the technology technical communicators use become more complex, so has the their core job of developing text and graphics. So, technical communicators 2.0 are themselves subject matter experts or must become so. Here’s how:

  • Keep up on changes in the field. This seems like a no-brainer, but we’re just as busy as CEOs (although our golden parachutes are more like cocktail umbrellas). It’s critical to make time in our schedules to examine what is going on in our field: attend a conference, hop on a webinar, or, uh, get a graduate degree.
  • Integrate with other teams. The idea of integrating has a sense of equality about it. I think that is often missed by technical communication professionals. We’re not below the development team or just a cost center as far as the sales team is concerned. Well, let me say it this way, we need to promote ourselves within our organizations as specialists within a practice that requires a high degree of skill and knowledge—not because we want to be but because we are.
  • Learn new technologies strategically. Saul Carliner in chapter 1 of Digital Literacy (p. 45) groups technical communication technologies into three categories: authoring, publishing, and management. This is brilliant. While I’ve tried to stay up with technology throughout my career, I think I’ll now look at doing so across these categories. The key will be doing so strategically meaning I can’t keep up with all technology, but following some in each category is 2.0 thinking.
  • Develop a subject matter expertise. About eight years ago I moved from high tech to science and engineering. It required me to gain an understanding of science and engineering concepts. In any given week I deal with, from a content perspective, anything from soil mechanics to geochemistry to frozen dams. Now, I’m not a subject matter expert in any of these things, but I am a subject matter expert in communicating about them, i.e., within science and engineering—and my career has never been better.
  • Lead. To me, this means technical communicators have to manage not only the conceptualization, production, and distribution of communication, but also relations with departments concerned with management, product development, marketing, costs, revenue, and so forth. We’re not just writers we’re managers—or should be. Think, speak, and act like and executive and you should find yourself invited to the big table.

What else are you doing to become a technical communicator 2.0 in our rapidly changing field?

How Personal Experiences Can Drive Teamwork Foundation

Growing up I was accustomed to a quiet world.  Being the youngest of four children, I often think my parents sheltered my existence to some extent based on the potentially not-so-great decisions of my older siblings.  Nonetheless, my stature growing up provided me the opportunity to fall in love with books.  There was nothing I loved (and still love) to do more than a read a good book.  I’d stay up until the wee hours of the morning immersing myself into another world of fiction.  And then I grew up.  Technology was an ever-growing force in my own generation.  The need and want of that technology was overbearing and overwhelming at times, but I also had my books.

It wasn’t until I was an adult and my now ex-husband asked me if I would rather have a grill or a Nook for a Christmas.  Well I chose the grill.  I could not understand why someone would want a Nook.  You lose out on the feel of the book as you clutch it through some of the most climatic points of a story.  And the smell of pages from old library books that were well beyond used, and in many cases offering so many readers a chance at a break from reality.  So again, why would someone want to miss out on the experience by succumbing to a piece of technology?  What if something spilled on it or it died right in the middle of a good part in the story?  A Nook just sounded silly.  Years later, I finally succeeded to allowing someone to present me with a Nook.  Now, I will say from the perspective of travel it has lightened my load significantly.  Travelling with books, no doubt can be a true nuisance.

So why do I share in this personal story?  In reading through Digital Literacy for Technical Communication, I kept memorizing back to this moment in my life.  In what seemed to be such a pivotal switch.  What was it that finally prompted me to move towards something I thought I would forever loathe?  Was it pressure? Was it an internal switch that told me I want something new and shiny?  Was it just my time?  While a large portion might have leaned towards a convenience factor, I think it was this very experience that really aligned with what Rachel Spilka, author of Digital Literacy, was driving that we [as technical communicators] begin thinking more critical about.

I’m sure many, if not all of you have heard of the following quote:

gandhi - change

http://www.peaceproject.com

This quote in correlation with my personal experience was what was driving through my mind as I read the beginnings of Digital Literacy.  There were two questions that Spilka called out that really got me to think about my role as a technical communicator:

  1. How can we make a difference, not by isolating ourselves or distinguishing ourselves from others, but rather through collaborative efforts?
  2. How can we contribute to the social good with our unique perspectives, knowledge, and strategies?

As technical communicators we do bring unique perspectives and experiences to our own work and it is through those experiences that I believe we have the opportunity to use that to make a difference.  Just like advocating for “being the change we want to see in the world”, sharing our experiences / knowledge can advocate for this in our world of technical communication.

What I do somewhat disagree with in regards to the first question I called out from Spilka’s book, is that there are times and opportunities that we can take to build differences in order to show them through a more collaborative effort.

Two men in a canoe rowing against each other.

Two men in a canoe rowing against each other.

I am a “sole technical writer” of sorts in my organization right now (at least in my own department).  Through the course of my work, I have developed policies, procedures, guidelines, and am in the process of implementing an internal blog for our department.  Through this work (that I have done alone), I am able to showcase to others in the organization how we can be successful with communication by showing and referencing this work that I would not have others have had if I tried to complete it “collaboratively”.  Let’s face it – in many organizations we often struggle with “who owns that particular [thing]”.  By always working collaboratively, I think we often run the risk of over words-smithing or over-critiquing something.  I also think that in some ways, it is not bad to distinguish yourself from others – especially if you can elicit good technical communication in order to help others become better at it themselves.  Overall, I do believe that there does have to be some middle ground, however, it is at that point where we can actually begin contributing to that overall social goodness.

What are your thoughts around these two particular questions and how did you ultimately interpret them?  Have you ever had experiences where it was beneficial isolate yourself versus working through it collaboratively (or vice versa)?

I do not always play well with others, but I will evolve.

While Spilka and her contributors for Digital Literary for Technical Communication drove me crazy by repetition large chucks of text ( see pages 11, 13, 16 regarding who the target audience for her book is) and having a chapter summarizing all the other chapters, there are a couple of things that I learned, besides understanding that if I have to read any more of this book, I will either need a couple of aspirins or a bottle of vodka. These two things that I found most important were evolving and that technical writers must play well with others.

 

            Evolve.

 

Yes, everyone should already know that technology is constantly evolving, and so its delivery methods and how technical communicators craft their messages need to evolve too. Without evolving, technical writers will fail to gain all the skills necessary for the latest publishing tools, such as FrameMaker and RoboHelp, to help their users and to continue building a positive reputation for whatever company is providing the products and resources. An example of this need for evolving ones skills is in the chapter titled, “The Effects of Digital Literacy on the Nature of Technical Communication Work,” Dicks writes,

 

                        The nature of work for many technical communicators is changing so

                        rapidly that many now perform an entire task set that they did not even

                        know about five years ago (p. 51).

 

But evolving to keep up with the changing technology should be common sense, and Saul Carliner provides a chapter on history (just to show how fast technology has changed when companies, seeking higher profits use user input to create the desires of the customer – custom corporate software, better online help, easier desktop publishing, etc. By evolving, companies and people have saved money and time, which is usually one of the main goals of nearly everyone. And as for me, my goals are to learn FrameMaker, RoboHelp, and Illustrator, because I missed out on getting my resume read by hiring managers in the technical communications field because I did not have experience in those tools. I, too, must evolve.

 

            Must play well with others.

 

Life would be great if everyone played nice and worked well together, and working well with others is an important soft skill that many people lack, especially for those technical communicators who have been working alone for so long. But in today’s technical communicators’ work places, it is necessary to work with others to gather information and for review. As Spilka states,

 

                        [W]hat seems most critical and meaningful is how we can contribute to

                        social, team, or collaborative efforts toward the greater good of large

                        scale projects…Our work is also more like than before to be

                        international scope (p. 5).

 

Thus, to be a desirable technical communicator, one of the main skills is knowing how to work in a team. By helping co-workers in a timely manner, work can be fun, enjoyable, and a success. As a valued part of the team, the technical writer may learn additional skills and be wanted for further projects, which new skills may be needed, so it would be a great opportunity to evolve again. That is why I would suggest to anyone in this field to always take a chance to learn something new. Take on a more challenging project to increase your knowledge and skills.

 

All in all, so far, I learned from this book that one must not be afraid of the latest technologies, and they should evolve by trying to learn how the latest technologies can benefit themselves and their work places. Besides learning the forever-changing technology tools, methods, theories, and etc., it is also important to know how to work with others, as most projects will involve many people who will be working on the same project, and the technical communicator will need to gather information, and give and receive feedback on the project, so that the project is a success. And if the project turns out not to be successful, have a drink, think about what could have been done to have made it successful, and then try it again next time. With that, you are evolving. Start your evolution now.

 

 

Resources:

Dicks, R. (2010). The Effects of Digital Literacy on the Nature of Technical Communication Work In R. Spilka (Ed.), Digital Literacy For Technical Communication (p. 51). New York, NY: Routledge.

Carliner, S. (2010). Computers and Technical Communication (Ed.), Digital Literacy For Technical Communication (p. 5). New York, NY: Routledge.

Spilka, R. (2010). Introduction In R. Spilka (Ed.), Digital Literacy For Technical Communication (p. 5). New York, NY: Routledge.

 

Where we are, and where we’re going

Businessman and business sketch

Technology, the world and its people are constantly changing and advancing. Technical Communication is no different. As we transitioned from the industrial age into the information age, so will the standards of technology and technical communication.

I feel as though technology, Technical Communication and education are intertwined. As technology became more widely used, distributed, more affordable, as well as more complex, so did the job of Technical Communicators. In the past, technical communication was limited based on the technology at the time, but with the evolution of personal computers, better software programs and eventually the Internet, technical communication had to evolve as well. Those who could not make this transition from commodity work to symbolic-analytical work were unable to remain in this field of work. Education would become a determining factor on whether someone could remain a Technical Communicator for a company. Companies valued professionals who could do work that could not be easily outsourced to other countries, that did not need to be micro managed or have heavy supervision, who could work in groups, who understood current technology and most importantly, could adequately explain this information to costumers without difficulty.

Costumers became an important part in how information was being distributed. In the past technical communication was distributed in its printed form with limited ways to be customized but as technology evolved, it became more flexible and easily individualized. Costumers no longer even needed to look at an owner’s manual for certain products or call a hotline. All they needed to do was go online, find a message board and look for the answer to their questions. This made life for the costumer easier and more convenient, however it does have the negative effect of dehumanizing the costumer service and costumer relationship.

Globalization was another reason for this shift in technical communication. As our world became more connected, companies did not need to only rely on in house professionals, they began to seek independent contractors to do jobs on specific projects and even outsource those jobs to other countries. I see the pros and cons of doing this. The pros would be that with the decrease of Technical Communicator employees there would be less, layoffs or retraining of newly hired employees. There would also be less benefits or pension plans companies had to give out to long-term employees. This would be beneficially for the company but potentially bad for potential employees. The con would be that with the loss of management positions, Technical Communicators have more responsibility and have less room for error. This could be detrimental for company who hired a Technical Communicator whose performance is subpar.

As the world continues forward so will technology. Each year companies like Microsoft, Apple, Sony, Nintendo and Samsung, produced more advanced and unique items for public consumption. A Technical Communicator’s skill and education will have to continue to advance and improve to keep up with demand for these products. They have become more flexible, creative, versatile and educated. A Technical Communicator has evolved and will continue to do so for the foreseeable future.

Digital literacy: The ability to use technology for communications and beyond

Digital literacy, as defined by Spilka, does mean something different today than when I started working 25 years ago. At that time, digital literacy meant that you could use a dot-matrix printer and type on a typewriter, correcting errors as you went with Whiteout or one of those white correcting strips.

Today, in my job, digital literacy means being able to use a PC, software, high-speed printer and digital camcorder and being able to use the content management systems for my company’s Internet and intranet. I’m expected to understand Internet and intranet design, including user experience testing and implementation of those findings. I have to be able to read and analyze the analytics on both the Internet and intranet. And I need to have at least an elementary background in social media–and I’m pretty sure more will be expected of me in this area.

It can be difficult to keep up in the latest and greatest innovations and gadgets and in what is new and cool in Web design. Is it OK to make Web site users click more than once or twice to get to the page they’re looking for? Is it better to employ an endlessly scrolling design or one in which everything sits “above the fold”? What about those sites that have an austere minimalist design with maybe just a few words and you have to click on it to get to any sort of “real” information: are they suitable for our company?

Yes, there has been a “seismic shift” in technical communications. The shift from “blue collar work” to knowledge work means that it is a rare person who is still “just” an editor or writer. It is far more likely that we are editors, writers, Web designers and “new media” experts. Rarely am I now referred to as a “grammar” expert. Not that that role is any less important; in fact, it’s more crucial than ever. But my job goes far beyond knowing when to say “compared with” rather than “compared to” and when to use “which” versus “that.” That knowledge is part of the continuum of my job, which on any given day, could mean communicating with staff, senior leaders, media relations or the board of directors.

Teamwork has always been important, but never more so than today. No one works in isolation completing the same tasks over and over again. Every staff member is part of at least several different teams with different accountabilities. I work with technical staff, other communications professionals, leadership and administrative staff on different projects, because we’re all expected to go beyond the narrow tactical tasks of our resumes to work on strategic directions for projects, teams and beyond.

At the same time, if need be, I can do the work of several people to produce something like a brochure, user manual or e-newsletter. Today’s software packages and easy-to-use programs such as Microsoft Publisher allow me to do the work of a graphic designer, desktop publisher and printer.

Dicks says that the roles of grammar police and wordsmiths are not over for technical communicators but are diminishing in importance. I would argue that these roles are still extremely important–today more than ever. If social media are eroding young people’s use of grammar, spelling and architecture, we need to be there to make sure our writing and communications are of the highest quality. This, of course, goes beyond just grammar and wordsmithing to things like targeting the correct audience, keeping each piece of writing concise and precise, and avoiding “corporate speak” and jargon.

I, for one, welcome any new technology that is going to make my work easier and faster while still preserving high quality. Doing anything else is risking become an impediment or barrier to the work of an organization–or worse, irrelevant. Technology is going to keep evolving, and as communicators, we need to keep evolving right along with it.

Globalization Gone Wild: The Other Side of Outsourcing

sweatshop, IT

“Today, outsourcing is not just a trend; it is an integral part of how smart companies do business”, “…a company concentrates on its core business and relies on outsourcing partnerships to get the rest done”
~ Harvard Business Review

In the past 30 years, the rapid pace at which technology is evolving has drastically shifted the modern business climate and the world of technical communications. As a result of these emerging technologies, both the tools we use and the scope of our work as technical communicators has changed. Thus, the digital revolution has resulted in a “blurring of boundaries in our field and our work” due to major changes in economics, management and methodologies. To keep up with these significant advancements, many companies have been forced to shift their product base and find ways to restructure themselves.

Through re-engineering and an adoption of radical new changes many companies have found ways to cut costs. Major layoffs have occurred as a single person now can execute jobs that once took seven people to complete. Moreover, globalization has played an undeniable role in this change.

That is to say, globalization and “improved methods of communication make it economically possible and desirable to work with people from all over the world…”. Consequently, it is becoming increasingly common for companies to send their work to countries such as India, China, Korea, or Brazil. Asa result, outsourcing, is an important factor for companies to keep their competitive edge. According to 2011 outsourcing report“Over 94% of the Fortune 500 companies outsource at-least one of their major business functions”.  With that in mind, it should be no surprise that both the company I work for, as well our clients outsource jobs.

For instance, Wunderman, has offices around the world and takes advantage of its bandwidth by outsourcing jobs. Specifically, the Minneapolis branch utilizes its Buenos Aires office for much of its production work. While 6000 miles physically separate us, we communicate with each other through weekly conference calls, Skype and software called Brandshare to keep tabs on the project. However, there is a difference between the tasks that are delegated to Buenos Aires and the work that stay in house. The projects we send to our off shore resource is oftentimes grunt work and involves little creativity. In contrast, the higher-level work generally stays in house where we can have more control over the project. Overall, despite the language barriers that sometimes occur our Buenos Aires team has proven to be a valuable resource in saving Wunderman both time and money.

Likewise, on the client side, Best Buy outsources a sizable amount of its work as well. While I know outsourcing occurs in the majority of it’s departments, I am only familiar with what goes on in the marketing sector. The bulk of Best Buy’s creative work is outsourced not only to Wunderman, but also to several other creative agencies across the country. This allows them to distribute their workload evenly and hone in on each agency’s specialty. Other aspects related to the production of marketing materials such as coding, subject line testing, and analytical reports are outsourced as well. If that wasn’t enough, Best Buy also utilizes creative resources in India for some projects. Because of the time zone difference, this allows them to work around the clock and have the finished product on their desk the next morning.

While outsourcing certainly has its benefits such as producing jobs and reducing costs, there also are several downsides. It should be no surprise that when work is outsourced at an international level there are oftentimes disparities. While many companies play by the rules, others take advantage of these workers and skirt environmental and labor laws in the process. For instance, these individuals work hard, if not harder than their US counterparts for significantly less pay. According to the US Bureau of Labor and Statistics, the average hourly wage for Chinese manufacturing workers is less than a tenth that of their average U.S. counterparts. Additionally, Factory workers in China are more than three times more likely to get killed at work. With these grim statistics in mind, it is clear these workers will do anything for a job.

One of my coworkers used to work for a different Fortune 500 company that would send her to India for weeks at a time. While this third party business in India was an important asset to company, the picture she painted of her time there was bleak. Each week, the company would bus in workers from neighboring cities up to three hours away to its headquarters in New Delhi. There, the workers typically would work 10-14 hour days without complaining. At the end of the day, instead of returning home, many would sleep at the company campus’s small apartment complex- only to repeat it all the next day. Consequently, families would only see each other on the weekends because it was easier and cheaper to do so. Unfortunately, this practice is common and is a reality that all too many are unaware of.

In sum, it is clear that technology is a driving force of the economy around the world. Our demands for newer, better, faster technology and ways of communicating clearly fuel this practice. As a result, we are reliant upon both these technologies and the foreign workers who produce these products to do our jobs. So, while outsourcing certainly has its benefits, perhaps there is more to consider than the business aspect of it. Maybe, we ought to consider the humanizing side as well.

Digital Literacy

Fluidity, evolution of technology, and the technical communicator role is a focus of the first two chapters of Rachel Spilka’s Digital Literacy For Technical Communication (2010). In it she defines digital literacy as “theory and practice that focus in use of digital technology, including the ability to read, write, and communicate using digital technology, the ability to think critically about digital technology, and consideration of social, cultural, political, and educational values associated with those activities” (p. 8). Saul Carliner on the historical perspective notes “In a few instances, people were hired with formal training in technical writing, but during the 1970’s, this employer typically emphasized technical knowledge over writing skill” (as cited in Spilka, 2010, p. 23). Makes sense since technical communication was originally associated with scholarly and scientific writing.

 

Stanley Dicks states the technical communicator’s work has shifted from primarily writing and editing to a “complex, symbolic-analytic work involving not just developing information but also managing, re-configuring, disseminating and customizing it for a diversity of audiences and in a diversity of media” (as cited in Spilka, 2010, p. 75). Yet, he says don’t assume all workers will be doing those tasks. Can small businesses afford to staff such a specialized position? The Small Business Association (SBA) reports that 99.7 percent of businesses are small, with the remaining .30 classified as large – those with 500 or more workers. In reality, many technical communicators won’t see a drastic change in duties because many businesses can’t keep up with the rapidity with which technology changes. Who can invest in business-wide computer and software refreshes only to have it be “old” in two years? Other businesses may have other departments absorb the duties. At my school, it’s done by Marketing.

 

Due to technology and digital tool use, redefining the technical communication field is inevitable – we already recognize authoring, publishing, and management as main roles, and jobs descriptions run the gamut. Will redefining the “who” be far behind? As Andrew Keen noted in his “Reply All” debate, “authors- formerly-known-as-the-audience” have invaded the Internet (2007, WSJ). Who’s to say they aren’t the next generation of technical communicators?  Coincidentally, distance learning/ instructional technology mirrors the technical communicator “seismic shift” of more women than men (Hayhoe as cited in Spilka, 2010, p. 51). At my school, only two of nine instructional technologists and designers are men – are women more adaptable to the technological changes? Should we revisit Mary Lay’s “Feminist Theory and the Redefinition of Technical Communication” (1991, Journal of Business and Technical Communication, 5.4, 348 – 70, October 1991)?

 

Today’s employers expect more than a subject matter and writing expert. It may be a challenge for some technical communicators, but it can’t be a surprise. Digital literacy has, as Spilka notes, “transformed just about every work environment and the way that most of us do our work…and almost every aspect of our work has changed” (p. 2). In my field, I’ve seen technology both impact the role of higher education distance learning. Most Florida colleges had student support distance learning departments. Technology allowed us to build a sense of community between the school and online students, a key measure for high retention. But the more technology we embraced the more we let the student go. We disbanded a department and decided distance learning was simply a delivery method. Five years later and students still resist– they want dedicated staff to assist them. At my school, that’s just me. I predict a backlash and full circle; it can’t happen soon enough. Meanwhile, I adapt, acquire skills, take on more responsibility, and redefine my worth in order to stay relevant in a field that also continuously evolves. Technical communicators must do the same.

 
(Looking for ways to improve my blogging I came across this SlideShare by Marcia Riefer Johnson, author of Word Up & You Can Say That Again. It’s her presentation for selling yourself, company etc. through clear writing. It’s a 316 (???) yep, count 316-slide presentation.)

Who Is Your Source?

Web 2.0 encompasses all of our social media connections: blogging, YouTube, Facebook, Wikepedia….  In the Keen Vs.  Weinberger argument (http://online.wsj.com/news/articles/SB118460229729267677), we see two very different versions of what the prevalence of social media communication and internet access to information means.

Mr. Weinberger argues that while much of the information and opinions we see on the internet are not churned through some sort of “truth wringer,” we do have the power to determine if a specific source is reliable.  “Where” we go on the internet and “whose” opinion we are reading, is a filter of sorts.

This new media can be viewed contextually and is every bit as reliable as traditional media, when we apply a clear filter.   As readers,  we are capable of applying that filter on our own.

Mr. Keen’s response makes me feel like I am a child and he is a parent chastising me.  He confuses the amount of communication that goes on via the internet, as equating with it being “garbage.”  The abundance, according to Mr. Keen, renders is a virtual wasteland.  He leaves me feeling that I am too stupid to edit through internet information.  He doesn’t trust my own sensibilities in seeking (and judging) the information I come across.

Personally, I love books and magazines.  My house is overflowing with “traditional media.”  I have never been able to make that transition to paperless reading.  I don’t want to see books vanish forever.  I get the value and merit of traditionally published medias.  I know that the information has been filtered through an editor and the facts reviewed.  I agree that I am less likely to run across inaccurate information when I pick up something published through a traditional source.  However, I agree with Mr. Weinberger’s comment that I can easily access an encyclopedia if I need to be assured of “facts.”

The internet allows us to be as “intellectually diverse,” to borrow a phrase from Mr. Keene, as we choose to be.  Mr. Keene’s summary of the internet and our ability to assimilate knowledge from it, seems to completely absolve the reader from having any intelligence in the matter.  My “take away” from his response?  We are all too dumb to navigate the internet on our own, and assess the value of what we are reading.

I regularly scan Facebook to see what is going on for the people in my “Friends” list.  At no time, do I assume any of them to be experts though.  What my mother writes about politics is different from what I read in a New York Times post.  Goodness, what my mom posts is very different than what my super smart and educated older brother posts!  I understand who the writer is and I value their credibility in light of that.  Having access to so many opinions and people’s take on life, is part of the value that the internet and our communication through it holds.  The internet is an intrinsic part of our world and I believe most of us, growing up with the internet, have developed a filter, with which we take in the information.  It is an organic part of growing up in an age that is technologically centered!

Clearly, I lean towards Mr. Weinberger’s views on this subject.  As a reader, I can discern what is of value and what is accurate.  As Mr. Weinberger points out, the amateur’s voice still has value and can provide worthwhile content.  Further, I like that there are so many voices at my disposal.  If I am not educated by someone’s writing, then I am entertained or at least encouraged to consider the topic more deeply.  If none of these occur, then I simply discard what I read as irrelevant. I appreciate getting information from varied sources, even if they are subjective or lack scholarly editing.  My intellect  is an adequate editor!

To Blog or Not To Blog

Blogging concept

Sometime in the late 80s, I was watching one of those daytime talk shows. I don’t remember the hosts or much about the guests. But, I do remember an exchange between two of the guests that bothered me then and still does. The exchange wouldn’t happen today, but I do think it message is relevant to blogging: No matter who you are, if you can blog, you can be heard.

“But, who are you?”

At some point during the talk show, the first guest, an everyday person, sat beside a second guest who had achieved a certain level of celebrity. The host commented about a book being promoted on the show to which the first guest commented “I would like to write a book someday.”

The second guest was perturbed and retorted “But, who are you? And, why would anyone want to read what you have to say.” The first guest was visibly hurt.

As I said, the exchange wouldn’t happen today—it couldn’t. The Internet has made it possible for virtually anyone to build an audience.

Audience Pull vs. Audience Push

What the second guest couldn’t fathom is that an everyday person could possibly draw an audience, let alone have something important to say.

Blogging has enabled us mere mortals to pull an audience, unlike traditional media channels that require pushing content (like books) out to audiences.

David Weinberger in his exchange with Andrew Keen on Web 2.0 (http://www.wsj.com/news/articles/SB118460229729267677) put it this way:

“So, traditional distribution makes it look like talent is a you-got-it-or-you-don’t proposition—you’re an artist or you’re a monkey. …With the Web, we can still listen to the world’s greatest, but we can find others who touch us even though their technique isn’t perfect.”

In other words, traditional media channels push content out to the market for a known, established audience. Blogging lets you pull audience in by providing content the audience is interested in.

Three Types of Content

In my estimation, audiences are interested three types of content (from bloggers):

  • Content that says something. You have an opinion and you want to express it. Blogging can help you do that.
  • Content that shares something. A colleague asked me recently to help him plan a keynote address. He showed me some significant research he had done on his topic. At one moment while we were pouring over the data and he was becoming quite excited about its implications to his field, I blurted out “Yes, but none of this means anything until you communicate it.” We both sat stunned by what I had just said. We literally didn’t move or say anything for a few moments; we were both thinking it through. Blogging is a great place to share your ideas.
  • Content that explores something. Not unlike this post, you have a topic that you want to explore. Blogging can provide a way for you explore such a topic. Through commenting, you readers can help you explore too.

What’s in a Name?

Okay, okay, that’s one too many Shakespearian references. Contrary to the talk show guest who criticized the other guest for wanting to write book, you don’t need a name (celebrity) to say, share, or explore something.

Blogs give you the opportunity to pull an audience and readers seem to care little who you are—at first. If you do happen to build a name for yourself, then readers seem to care very much: http://www.therichest.com/rich-list/world/worlds-10-top-earning-bloggers/. Until then, keep in mind these words from David Weinberger:

“With the Web, we can still listen to the world’s greatest, but we can find other who touch us even though their technique isn’t perfect.”f

Bonus Content: Two Alternatives to Blogging

Maybe you have something to say, share, or explore, but it’s limited—you have no interest in committing to your own blog. Here are two alternatives to consider:

  • Comment on blogs of interest. As you read posts of interest, take time to comment. Well-crafted comments can generate as much interest as the original post.
  • Post on an existing blog as a guest. If you build rapport with a bloggers (say, by thoughtfully commenting on their blogs), consider asking if you can write a guest post. Pitch something that fits in with their editorial needs.

Emerging Thoughts Around Social Media – What to Expect with the Unexpected…

As I read through an article called Social Network Sites:  Definition, History, and Scholarship, by Danah M. Boyd and Nicole B. Ellison, I was mentally stalled as I thought about what a social network was and what the purpose was.  The question that immediately came to my mind was, what is a social network site?

Boyd and Ellison defined social network as a web-based service that would allow someone to:

  • Create a type of profile in a given system
  • Create / invite other users with shared commonalities / connections
  • View other profiles within the same system

Boyd and Ellison also eluded to a timeline of major social network sites and with the number of sites available, it only seemed to provoke more thoughts around social media.

SNS Timeline

But what was interesting for me was thinking about what a social network site means to an end user.  Is a social network site Facebook?  Is a social network site a place where I can post pictures of my children and share with my friends?  Is a social network site a place where I can promote my business?   Well yes – it is essentially all of those things any more.  As a consumer of social media, I am at times dumbfounded by the amount of social media sites that are available.  More so, it often turns into “another thing I have to check” or a lost username and password to something I don’t actually ever use.

I am also at times overwhelmed with the growing amount of questions and concerns that come via social media channels.  Is it safe?  Are the sites (even though a log in and password are required), secure from outside predators.  Are there personal (sexual) predators lurking in that background?  The use of social media itself has essentially been put onto the people to learn about, however, many important messages are getting missed because the founders of these social media sites are concerned about the marketing – not the education.  I can almost see a time where the use of social media channels (good and bad) will be an educational class in high schools.

It was these growing social media thoughts, that as a consumer, intrigued me about the path of where social networking sites have been and where they are going.

Growing Social Media Thoughts

Many social networking sites that have been created for a specific purpose either expand beyond their intended creation (as with the development and growth of Facebook) or fail because they did not end up meeting any specific need.  As a consumer of these types of information systems, it is important to have a grounded understanding of my goals with social media in order to prepare for the onslaught of social media sites that are coming out in the coming years.

As I looked over the timeline, many of the networking sites listed were so short lived, I didn’t even know about them (even if they might still be going).  This is definitely one phenomenon of social media that we need to be cautious and aware of especially as we work towards reusing this type of system for other purposes.  Is it worth it?  Or will it essentially go out of style?

Ultimately the key might lay with the shared commonalities approach.  If a site moves away from the intended purpose does it get lost and ultimately become ineffective?  If Facebook were to have stayed more “exclusive to colleges only”, would that have been more lucrative?

Shared your thoughts and comments on what you think social media is and what we can expect to see from it.

How Inconsiderate!

snapchat-ghost

After reading “Social Network Sites: Definition, History and Scholarship” by Danah M. Boyd and Nicole B. Ellison, I couldn’t believe their definition of what a “social network site” actually was. I am taking into consideration this article is a seven year old opinion, (which is a bit fascinating because seven years isn’t incredibly long) and the concept of “social network/networking sites” is constantly evolving.

According to the article:

We define social network sites as web-based services that allow individuals to (1) construct a public or semi-public profile within a bounded system, (2) articulate a list of other users with whom they share a connection, and (3) view and traverse their list of connections and those made by others within the system.

The authors also were sure to distinguish social “network” from social “networking” sites by pin-pointing, “Networking emphasizes relationship initiation, often between strangers”. Although social “network” sites allow users to meet strangers, the majority of users use “network” sites to maintain previously established relationships.

I personally understand, and agree with this distinction.

The article went on to elaborate that the “backbone” of SNSs are visible profiles that display a list of friends who are also registered users. Also, that after joining a SNSs, users are required to fill out personal information fields (age, sex location), and are encouraged to upload a profile photo. The authors emphasized that the public display of friends is a “crucial component” of SNSs, as well as public and private messaging.

However, aside from Instagram, Snapchat is my second most beloved social network site. For backup, Wikipedia also agrees that Snapchat is a social network/networking site (Not that it holds any credibility according to Andrew Keen, or perhaps the “credibility” is opportune in this situation). We can use our discretion and apply it to the “network” category in relation to this article, as Snapchat is DEFINITELY not a service designed to connect strangers.

For those who are unfamiliar, Snapchat is a self-destructive social media application that allows users to post time sensitive text and images. Users don’t have visible profiles, about me sections, or profile images. Snapchat does not publicly allow users to view each others “friends” or followers, allows no public comments among followers, features no profile images/avatars, and lists no personal information about users.

The concept behind Snapchat’s design was to create a more private photo/information sharing environment, and to relieve the pressures of capturing the perfect Kodak moment for static online images and videos. The fact that images will be deleted allows users to be less self conscious and more human, and this is honestly what draws me to the app.

There are many similar SNSs to Snapchat like Wickr, Clipchat, and Slingshot. The Self-destructive photo-sharing app is a movement, and will definitely evolve in the near future. For the record, Snapchat is incredibly successful and in May of last year users were sending 700 million photos and videos every day, and Snapchat stories were being viewed 500 million times per day. Snapchat is apparently worth between $10 to $20 billion dollars and is gaining new members every day.

This major player in SNSs does not apply to Boyd and Ellison’s article, and I’m expecting to see many other sites follow in their footsteps. The traditional Facebook, and semi-traditional Instagram have very significant purposes in user’s lives, but privacy is an issue as well as the pressure to be perfect. Snapchat eliminates both of those pressures, while delivering an even more intimate SNS experience.

Boyd, D., & Ellison, N. (2008). Social Network Sites: Definition, History, and Scholarship. Journal of Computer-Mediated Communication, 13, 210-230.

Balancing truth and a positive image online

What is our responsibility to the truth when we post online? When representing a business/institution online and on social media, must we always represent it with 100 percent accuracy? What is the truth anyways?

At first glance this question seems pretty straightforward. Always tell the truth. Anything other than the truth is misleading and therefore wrong. How could it be otherwise?

The same straightforwardness seems apparent in Jonathan Zittrain’s talk when considering the ethics of interfering with Facebook or google’s algorithms. He uses as an example the potential power that Facebook would have to sway an election by just leaving a reminder to vote off of a person’s newsfeed who shows a preference that is unfavorable to the powers-that-be at Facebook. It would be unfair for these online giants to use their influence to sway something that is as fair and unbiased as a math-based algorithm to anyone’s benefit.

Screen shot of Facebook's reminder to vote.

Screen shot of Facebook’s reminder to vote. Source: TechPresident, Facebook’s Voting Reminder Message Isn’t Working, 2012

But his next example makes the issue a little murkier by explaining how google has removed from its top search results a company that blackmails people by ensuring that their mugshot photos would be prominent when their name was searched unless they paid a steep fee. This seems like justice, even though Google is stepping in to use its power against the cosmic fairness of a mathematically-powered search algorithm.

So when we create a presence for a public institution online – possibly a social network site where we create a public profile, make connections in the community, and gain access to their connections (D. Boyd, Social Network Sites: Definition, History, and Scholarship, p. 211) – what is our responsibility to the public to represent the institution truthfully?

I’ll use photography as an example that I come up against as a graphic designer in the marketing department of a technical college. Let’s say that we’re posting a picture to facebook of our college’s president smiling next to a student at a college event.

  • The lighting is too bad to post this picture without adjusting it in Photoshop. Do I correct it? Yes.
  • While I’m here, in this portrait the president clearly has lipstick on her front teeth. Would I remove it? Absolutely.
  • How about a couple zits on the student’s face? I would remove most of them or at least lighten them.
  • What if the student has a permanent wart or a birthmark? Those stay. That’s part of what the student looks like, and it would be crossing a line to remove that.

But isn’t the student’s zits also part of what he/she looks like on this particular day? Isn’t it the truth that on this day the President attended the event with lipstick on her teeth? Isn’t it also the truth that the lighting in the room was horrible?

In a conversation about Web 2.0 between Andrew Keen and David Weinberger, Keen likens the story of the Internet to Kafka’s Metamorphosis, where the Internet is the mirror that reveals ourselves to be cockroaches. He compares the multitude of contributors of online content to mindless monkeys. This strikes me as counterintuitive when most of us spend our efforts consciously making ourselves look as good or better than we are in real life.

In our office, amongst the graphic designers, the social media administrator, the copywriter and anyone who is creating content to represent the College, our mantra is to represent our community (students, staff, instructors, even the campus) in a way would be recognized by them as having a “good day.” We choose our content and edits with empathy and compassion. We don’t strive to mislead, and we always maintain what participants would recognize as the reality of the moment. The camera is often cruel, picking up details that we would overlook in person. The candy wrapper on the sidewalk in a picture of the facade of the school does not represent how we see the building. It just happens to be there when the information is flattened into a photograph. No one noticed the white specks all over the shoulders of your shirt, but that dandruff sure does shine in the lighting of the photo. To remove these details doesn’t change the reality experienced by the individual in the moment, it just shows it off at its best.

Would you rather that I not clean up your shirt? Lighten the blemish? Subtract the trash? Am I being kind, or deceitful? Is my responsibility to tell the truth of how you experienced the moment, or the truth of the photograph?

“Making it small”: Creating a valuable space on the Web

In the full text of the debate on Web 2.0 between Andrew Keen and David Weinberger, the two argue whether Web 2.0 is more like Disney or Kafka. While I agree that the Web is a chaotic place full of garbage, I find there is value to it for those who can distinguish between the valuable and insightful from the inane and redundant. The Web can be a giant time-suck if don’t know where to go and have created no “walls” to keep out the distractions and the chorus of competing voices. But I think most, if not all, users are able to do so by creating communities.

I think of it this way: when I left the small town of my youth for a large urban university, many people said, unhelpfully, “don’t get lost in the crowd!” But many people said something else: “You will make the university small for yourself.” This last comment was the more prescient. I moved into a dorm (one community), found a job (another community), joined the campus newspaper staff (another community) and had friends in other communities, and so on. I never found it unmanageable; in fact, I “made it small” by joining the groups that were most meaningful to me and that suited my purposes at the university at that time.

I think of the Web the same way: you “make it small” by doing several different things. First, you join the communities that are most meaningful to you. For myself, I value Facebook and LinkedIn. I have my network of “friends” on Facebook with whom I interact every day. This network consists mostly of new friends, old friends, friends from high school, coworkers and friends of friends. I limit views of my profile to friends, and I feel “safe” in this network, even though I know “safety” and “privacy” are illusory on the Web. But I know this, and I am careful what I post and comment on.

It’s the same with LinkedIn, although in a different realm. Some of the people whom I’ve “invited to become part of my network” or accepted their invitations are also Facebook friends, but most are current and former colleagues and people I’ve networked with over the years. There are even a few people in there whom I don’t know, and I don’t even know how we connected in the first place. I use LinkedIn very differently than I do Facebook in that I use it largely to generate business for my freelance work by networking with people who might want to hire me.

I also am the social media chair of the local chapter of the American Medical Writers Association, so I approve or decline membership in our group and occasionally post about an upcoming event or other topic. I’ve never posted anything else, and I’m much more guarded about doing so than on Facebook. Not because I feel unsafe but because the audience is professional, and I feel I’d have to have something uniquely insightful to post before I’d attempt to do so.

So, much of your ability to make the most out of an online community is understanding its audience and reach. Likewise, savvy people know that online-only “friends” or “contacts” on social networking sites control every aspect of how they appear to you (and vice versa). In other words, the man or woman “behind the curtain” may in fact be almost unrecognizable and unfamiliar in person. Thus, I think most adults know to exercise caution when dealing with people whom you have never met in person.

And I think we are, as a whole, becoming more and more savvy about the relationships and communities we participate in online, as well as more and more cautious about what lurks “out there.” In the last decade, we have amassed many a cautionary tale. But, as in “real life,” we can choose whom to be friends with and whom to listen to and communicate with. Our job is to “make the Web small” by effectively managing our exposure to different types of information from different sources and to understand that they are not all equal. If we can do that, the Web is an invaluable resource and a fantastic source of knowledge. In other words, yes, there are plenty of cockroaches, but you might not see them if you keep the light on.

The Illusion of Privacy in a Public Space

online privacy

While we all are vaguely aware of the risks that can occur when we post personal information to social media sites, we still do it. Unfortunately, many of us fall prey to the“Privacy Paradox” that occurs when we are not aware of the public nature of the internet. Oftentimes this is because we believe in the illusion of boundaries, and that these sites will protect us.

Yet, posting to social network sites not only concerns privacy, but can have legal consequences as well. In Boyd and Ellison’s article “Social Networking Sites: Definition, History and Scholarship” they state “The legality of this hinges on users’ expectation of privacy and whether or not Facebook profiles are considered public or private” (p.222). In other words, the uncertain boundaries between whats public and private on social networking sites are forcing us to challenge the legal conception of privacy.

To illustrate, in Wausau Wisconsin, DC Everest High School suspended a group of students from their sports seasons after photos of the students drinking from red solo cups surfaced on Facebook. While school officials couldn’t prove the teens had been drinking, they believed the correlation between the iconic red cups and a beer bash was enough grounds for suspension. As a way “to kind of make fun of the school”, the teens decided to throw a root-beer kegger.

Once the party was in full swing, its no surprise that a noise complaint was called in to the police. At first glance, it looked like an underage party with mobs of teenagers, booming music, drinking games and of course-red solo cups. However, when the cops came to bust what they believed to be a group of underage drinkers, not a drop of alcohol was to be found. Instead, they found a quarter keg containing 1919 Classic American Draft Root Beer. Infuriated, they breathalized nearly 90 teens and every single one blew a 0.0%. As a result, the students were able to prove their point that you can have a party and drink non-alcoholic beverages from red cups.

Needless to say, the story created a buzz and soon made local and national news. Did the school have a right to interject? Or is underage drinking something that should be between students and police? What are our rights concerning online privacy? And how does the law play into all of this?

Stepping away from the light hearted nature of the story above, personal content posted to social media sites can oftentimes have more more serious, threatening ramifications to users. Identify theft, stalking and even murder are all real consequences that can and have occurred. Despite hearing these stories, we continue to make it easy for anyone, including hackers, to access our personal information because it is readily available to anyone with a computer or mobile device.

Consequently, the boundaries between whats public and whats private on social media sites are ambiguous. Even more, “…there often is a disconnect between our desire for privacy and our behaviors” (p.222). So, the real question of how to resolve this issue remains. Would more restrictive settings on these sites help us? Or, as Jonathan Zittrain’s talk suggests, do these sites have a duty to look out for us and minimize potential risks?

While the answers to these questions are uncertain- the need for a more educated and proactive public is. If we are able to fully understand the extent of our actions, perhaps we would take more precautions. Knowledge is the solution to protecting our online privacy and minimizing potential risks. Now it is just up to us to use it.

I am a happy go-lucky monkey cockroach.

Why is it when people want to relax after a hard day at work that some self-appointed authority figures want to try to ruin it for the majority? These uptight authority figures are scholars who found the treasure trove of social media, and have decided that the best way to keep their paychecks rolling is to argue and complain about how social media is not being used to the scholars’ intelligence standards. Well, I cannot argue about them making money with their complaining about social media, as making money from social media is one reason that social media exists.

Most of the people who are posting their thoughts and experiences in social media are using a wide variety of media, such as texts, photos, videos, and etc. Most people are posting for their friends and family; they are not doing it to establish an audience. While some people believe that if you do not like a posting, just move on or post a complaint, or, even better, just block that person, scholars such as Andrew Keen decided write nasty opinions about social media websites’ users. According to The Wall Street Journal‘s article “Full Text: Keen vs Weinberger” (2007), Keen claims that social medias websites’ users are “monkeys” and “cockroaches,” and that our postings are “infantilized self-stimulation rather than serious media for adults.” Furthermore, he states that users’ copy and pasting media (such as YouTube videos, Pinterest, etc.) is “creating a generation of media illiterates.”

Interesting theory, but Keen is wrong. If Keen wants serious adult time on social media, he could create his own online group, or stay at work. When most people need a break from adulthood, they turn to social media, so what? The medical field has stated that we need a work/life balance, so relaxing with a cat video that someone copied and pasted from a social media website is perfect. And from someone whose mother is learning how to use the Internet, copying and pasting anything online is a skill, thus I cannot believe that any generation is media illiterate. Many social media websites were created for connecting with others and allowing users to show off their personality, so social media was created for entertainment, not specifically for intellectual debate, although there could be groups created on these websites for such discussions.

So, how are these scholars finding all of our postings, which are leading to a “digital abundance …to intellectual poverty” (WSJ)? It turns out that what many scholars find disgusting about our postings, they cannot wait to read and analyze. boyd and Ellison, in their article, “Social Network Sites: Definition, History, and Scholarship,” stated that scholars gather information from users’ profiles, forums, and discussion groups for research, and that this information “offers unprecedented opportunities for researchers” (2008, p. 224). I find this very disturbing, that some stranger may be taking much of a user’s posts, friendship connections, and etc. and then analyzing this information for a paper. (Should not the user first be contacted, asked for permission, and receive compensation?) I believe that other people who know about these scholars’ plans do not like this as well, because of the following message that can be found posted on a great number of profiles on FetLife:

fl

I had often wondered why people would have this message posted on their profile page. Who would research people’s profiles? I had never thought to ask, but after reading bodyd and Ellison’s article, I understand that users’ posted information is indeed being used for many purposes. Besides one purpose to tear social media websites down for users’ “digital narcissism” (WSJ), another purpose may be to shape how we see the world, done by website companies themselves.

Now, in Jonathan Zittrain’s talk on the “Is The Internet Taking Us Where We Want to Go?” (Aspen Institute, 2015) panel, Zittrain states that websites like Google and FaceBook use algorithms, that can control what a user sees in a search or in their news feed. For example, he reports that these companies have altered searches (Google can remove people’s history, among other things) and change what appears in a news feed (not letting certain news stories to go viral). In these cases, I do not mind companies not allowing us information because these are free websites, and they have to make their money somehow to pay for all the bandwidth that users burn through. However, if users were paying to use these websites, then whether these companies liked users’ postings, content, etc. or not, users should be able to see everything, and the companies should not be able to force their opinions on the users of how they think the world should be.

Thus, for some social media websites, many users may not be aware that the social websites that they are using for enjoyment and staying connected to others are using their information in way that the user may have never wanted. Because many of these social websites are free to use, some users would be fine with having their information used for marketing, but not for research and analysis. For those who do know what the scholars are doing with their information, some users have posted messages telling people not to use their information for research purposes. If having one’s information used as research was not bad enough, there are scholars complaining how we are using the social media websites for play and not for intellectual discussions. For those scholars, I believe that they need stop forcing a false doomsday on people and enjoy what was meant to be enjoyed. If these scholars feel that they really do not like a path that social media is taking, then they need to stop complaining and find a way to make it better. If they cannot, they can always build something for people like themselves. The Internet is large; there is plenty of space for them, the cockroaches, and the monkeys too.

 

References

Aspen Institute. (2015, July 4). The Internet Taking Us Where We Want to Go? [Video File]. Retrieved from YouTube https://youtu.be/rGUvi5qv6BU?t=29m34s

boyd, d. m., & Ellison, N. B. (2007). Social network sites: Definition, history, and scholarship. Journal of Computer-Mediated Communication, 224.

The Wall Street Journal. (2007, July 18). Full Text: Keen vs Weinberger [Web log  comments]. Retrieved from http://online.wsj.com/news/articles/SB118460229729267677

 

 

 

 

 

 

Social Network Blog

In Social Network Sites: Definition, History, and Scholarship (2007), Danah Boyd and Nicole Ellison catalog the history and rise of social network sites (SNS). They describe and timeline. Social networks emerged, declined; Facebook learned from others mistakes and then took over the world. Boyd and Ellison differentiate that “network emphasizes relationship initiation” whereas “social network sites…enable users to articulate and make visible their social networks” (p.211). Boyd and Ellison show us the “science;” Andrew Keen and David Weinberger argue exposure, fault, privacy – cockroach.

 

The giant cockroach; I didn’t need that visualization. That’s what The Internet Is Not the Answer (2015) author Andrew Keen calls social media “authors-formerly-known-as-the-audience” in a web 2.0 woe and pro point/counterpoint with David Weinberger. I admit I’m on team Keen and slide more so into negativity as he laments the chattering “digital narcissism,” lack of art, and death of objectivity as more amateurs become authors on the web full of “lost truth.” His point is “the Web is us…a mirror rather than a medium” (214). What happened to us?

 

Weinberger and Keen bait each other, make good points, and I found myself checking the New York Times (NYT) bestsellers list: http://www.nytimes.com/best-sellers-books/combined-print-and-e-book-nonfiction/list.html and the Top 40 hits for today: http://www.at40.com/top-40/chart/38049. Not sure what I thought I could tell from that since I don’t recognize any of the music. But I see Weinberger’s point that the Web is meant to reach far and it’s far-reaching. He sees the good; Keen doesn’t.

 

This is killing me. Six hours in, numerous edits, and I still haven’t produced anything worthy of a blog. So I throw in a RedBox movie on teens and social media. For someone looking for a ray of sunshine in the cloud of crap online, this choice was a big mistake. Has anyone seen Men, Women, and Children (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MHMqpwnUazY) with Adam Sandler and Jennifer Garner?

Men, Women and Children

It’s a worst-case, but probably all-to-real look at what’s going on with our families, and kids constantly exposed to, and numbed by social media. I want to scream. Kids can’t socialize without a device, families can’t communicate, and every tool leads to porn. Mom preaches Internet and social media safety to neighborhood groups, installs cameras in her kid’s rooms, keystroke loggers on computers, and insists her daughter take her phone everywhere “so I can track you.” One girl intent on becoming a Kardashian-ism makes a selfies site so modeling agencies can see her gift. Then Mom adds provocative photos of her in an effort to get her noticed. Oh, it does. Dad laments the missed “rite of passage” of finding his son’s porn magazines – it’s all on the web. So he does what any Dad would; checks it often – and orders an escort. Helicopter Mom psycho-checks daughter’s FB, MySpace, Twitter, and email. She’s safe, right? Except in gym where her friend nonchalantly shares her latest cell phone captured sex act. Everyone is desensitized, devoid of common sense and self-worth, and addicted to technology. Do I have to be that Mom?

 

I know there’s good stuff out there. TED Talks (https://www.ted.com/talks) amaze me; speakers people are brilliant, inspired, informed, and show me a new way to think. My kids take Udemy (https://www.udemy.com) and Kahn Academy (https://www.khanacademy.org) courses, and I wouldn’t have found this program without the Internet. But I just learned that once you put something on the Web it’s out there forever. Don’t laugh at me. I just realize why I haven’t seen classmate blogs; I’m on the UWStout720 site. Sigh. My kids are on social network sites, but not Facebook (http://facebook.com) since us “old people” took it over. But they tweet, YouTube (https://www.youtube.com), and visit places I don’t know about. I better show them that movie. Right after I install cameras and recording devices on everything. Thank God, they don’t have cell phones.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Natasha’s Test Blog 2

As soon as I began reading “The Rhetoric of Reach: Preparing Students for Technical Communication in the Age of Social Media” by Hurley and Hea, I felt like I was being sold the “social media/blogging ruins professionalism” ordeal that’s been a major part of my young, professional life. I’m often advised to delete all of my social media accounts because simply having one looks bad to potential employers, and many of my friends have actually stopped using social media due to this fear. I feel like the majority of people have a negative connotation about social media because the media showcases the career ending follies of irresponsible, formerly successful professionals.

Examples of the ways social media can hurt you are rampant as ever, however the most brilliantly glorious professional social media successes are so seamless they go unnoticed. The article instantly made me think of 1 company that single handedly proves how essential social media is to technical communication. Apple uses their social media presences like no company I’ve ever seen.

Apple is THE master of social media advertisement and technical assistance. Around a month before the annual iPhone release (that’s completely shrouded in secrecy), new iPhone rumor sites begin popping up in Google searches, and on Facebook to strike up interest. Arguments and debates spring up alongside questionable “leaked images” to get the Apple junkies excited to see the new device. I’m not sure if Apple is actually responsible for this commotion, but it seems unlikely that they aren’t as it’s the perfect marketing strategy.

By the time the iPhone release video is available, the Apple fan base is so anxious to see if their speculations were realized that millions of users stream the live video feed and bombard Twitter, Instagram and Facebook with #iPhone trends. I’ve been around to watch cell phones rise to their current popularity, and I have yet to see an HTC, or Samsung Galaxy raise as much release day insanity as an iPhone.

By the time iPhone pre orders become available, customers can hardly pre-order because within the first 5 hours Apple has literally sold more iPhones than they have in existence at that point. Many pre orders aren’t filled for months, and people just keep on buying. The well produced videos and easily sharable links and videos saturate the internet, convincing America that they need the newest addition.

On the technical communication side, the Apple Support Communities are a series of community forums that are incredibly helpful for tech support. The beauty of this site is that it is the ultimate FAQ, some answers come from Apple Geniuses and others from other users. You simply type in a few key words about the issue you’re facing, and a list of responses appears in past threads. These forums are incredibly useful for customers without AppleCare insurance plans, and for those who don’t have time to wait on hold for 45 minutes.

In conclusion, social media and blogging can destroy a professional image, but they can also make it invincible. It is imperative that technical communications professionals learn how to use social media to strengthen their credibility and introduce clients/readers to their services.

iphone_addiction_798185

Natasha’s Test Blog 1

As the “Why We Blog” study by Nardi, Schiano, Gumbrecht, and Swartz highlighted, the most common motivations for creating/ participating in blogs are to document one’s life, blogging as commentary, blogging as catharsis, blogging as a muse, and blogging in a community forum. I typically stick to the community forum style blogging in both academic, and non-academic settings.

Prior to this class I’ve had very general experiences with personal blogging, nothing too involved. Earlier classes I’ve taken in the MSTPC program as well as courses in my undergraduate education included an online “blog as a community forum”. I would actively participate in message boards, and engage in discussions by responding to my classmate’s threads. These were very functional blogs, and I obviously only participated because I was required to.

As mentioned in this article, the motivations for blogging “are not mutually exclusive and might come into play simultaneously”; this is the case in my non-academic community forum blogging. I’m a very private person, and don’t trust the people around me to completely confide my personal problems. I am incredibly dependent on advice forums like enotalone.com where I can anonymously pour my heart out and receive multitudes of responses from complete strangers.

What I love most about enotalone.com is that people of all ages, from all over the world, with entirely different backgrounds can give me raw, unapologetic advice. It can’t offend me because they’re only a name with a smiley face avatar, and I realize they’re also more comfortable sharing things about their lives that may help me. In this situation, I’m getting the help I need, and they’re getting some sort of fulfillment by helping me. I don’t have to worry about gossip or people holding my mistakes against me because these people can hardly determine what country I live in.

A few years ago I created a blog on Tumblr, and used it to journal my personal life. Again, I’m very private so I did not invite my friends and relatives, but I accumulated a decent following of international strangers. This was a bit cathartic for me, as it was another outlet to ramble on about things that were bothering me. However, I eventually lost interest in my Tumblr page and haven’t posted in years. The most enjoyable part of having a Tumblr blog was designing it; I spent more time perfecting its appearance than substantial writing.

In conclusion, I’m not much of a blogger unless it’s required for academic purposes, or I’m going through personal challenges I’m uncomfortable bringing to my friends and family. I have enjoyed the bit of blogging I’ve done so far, but I can think of a million other things I’d rather do.

anonymous3

The Relationship Between Technical Communication and Social Media

Chelsea’s Test Blog 2

The relationship between technical communication, social media, and even the use of Technology is becoming more and more apparent in our everyday lives.   As I was reading through the article The Rhetoric of Reach: Preparing Students for Technical Communication in the Age of Social Media, it dawned on me how why this very topic is so important.

Software companies (like Microsoft) are incorporating in their new software releases, the capability to participate in social media much easier and without having to know how to write HTML5 code and still publish to the Web.  Let’s look at Microsoft Office.  As I draft this blog article, I now have the option to publish this article as a blog post right to my blog site.

Snapshot of Microsoft Word 2010 - Save and Send Features, Taken by Chelsea Dowling.

Snapshot of Microsoft Word 2010 – Save and Send Features, Taken by Chelsea Dowling.

Moreover, as Hurley and Hea demonstrated the impact of social media and technology is becoming even more prevalent within the medical field, where they provided an example of a 48-year-old individual who was punished for providing enough information about a patient that their identity was eventually revealed.   Might this explain the increasing Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) regulations?   Just the other day, a friend’s mother who works as a dental hygienist was explaining the increased HIPAA training they are required to take each year.  In fact, EHR 2.0 published a presentation on Social Media Compliance for Healthcare Professionals.

But overall, one of the most striking points that Hurley and Hea eluded to in their article, was the importance of educating students and communication professionals around the critical theory aspects of social media.   While it is important to deploy social media in our own efforts / initiatives and to debunk the negative assumptions around the use of social media (Hurley & Hea, pg. 58), we also need to understand how / where these assumptions fit within our own situations.

Overall, I think this is one of the most important factors that we need to keep in mind.  For example, in my current social setting, I would say there is a large difference in how people of all ages use social media.  For example, being in such a rural area of Wisconsin, many Gen Xers and Baby Boomers  are limited to the amount of exposure they have to social media as well as limited to the desire to access that type of channel.   Therefore, as we begin to understand how we reach out to our stakeholders, we can use critical theory to allow us to “consider how social media fits into our professional lives” and be able to evaluate and use social media responsibly (Hurley & Hea, pg. 58).

Generational Technology Gap

Image from: How does social media as a technology affect sleeping patterns?
Posted on April 26, 2013 by insomnicacs

Hurley, E.V. and Hea, A.C.K. (2014).  The Rhetoric of Reach: Preparing Students for Technical Communication in the Age of Social Media.  Technical Communication Quarterly, 23(1), pp. 55-68.

Aligning Social Media to Organizational Professional Communication

(Chelsea’s Test Blog 1)

Prior to beginning my master’s program at UW Stout, one of the initiatives I began in 2014 was researching and proposing the development of an internal blog for our department.  At Organic Valley, our Information Technology department is comprised of approximately 79 employees, ranging anywhere in age from 21 to 61-years-old.  As a part of my role, three years ago I developed an internal departmental newsletter which I transformed to be accessible via e-mail (condensed version), a full online version, and a supported printed version.

Someone who has previously developed a newsletter might appreciate the work that goes into, but in case you haven’t done a newsletter here is the tedious process I had to endure each month in order to share the recent happenings with our employees.

Newsletter Process

The process of creating a printed newsletter.

Needless to say, I missed a few months (since I am the only one who does what I do within my department).  In an effort to spread the workload, I begin researching into available options that might not only improve / address the workload that I was dealing with, but to provide an accessible and online platform for our staff to have immediate access to our department and Cooperative news.

Believe it or not but there is actually little research on the use of social media within organizations as a tool to communicate with their own staff (at least it’s not published).  So in 2014 I began the effort to have an internal departmental blog established and to have this be an opportunity to develop a new communication channel within our organization and begin moving us away from just communicating via e-mail and an archaic 15-year-old intranet.

Nonetheless, I am sure you can imagine that one of the articles that was tucked away in our Blog Literacy folder on D2L, really grabbed my attention.  While The Social Media Release as a Corporate Communications Tool for Bloggers article, written by Pitt, Parent, Steyn, Berthon, and Money, did not specifically articulate this article to be meant for internal communication purposes, there were a number of points that truly resonate with the issues that internal organization often deals with.  Pitt et al., found that an increasing number of blogs are becoming a more formalized tool within organizations and, are in fact, being used to keep their stakeholders apprised of the current activities (2011).  “Professional business communicators will need to give increased attention to their use of social media release,” (Pitt et al., pg. 7).

As a professional communicator, it is interesting that this became such a natural tendency for me to move towards and begin researching for internal communication purposes.  One of the thing we often struggle with, is out do we best manage to spread our information across an organization that reaching almost 1000 employees – especially when face-to-face communication is the most effective way of sending and receiving messages.  Notably, this was one point that Pitt et al. addressed in the article in that social media channels are beginning to emulate that face-to-face model (pg. 3), which seemingly matches the growing need for business to use this as a communication tool.

But where is my blog and how is it matching up with this theory of using social media for internal communication purposes?  Well… needless to say you will be able to find a number of articles that will give you pointers on writing a great post, how to manage contributors – I even purchased a book called Born to Blog by Mark Schaefer (an excellent read and highly recommended).  Unfortunately what these resources don’t tell you is how to maneuver the muddy waters of internal organizational politics to move something along quickly (but that is for the next article).

Let’s just say, when it comes to establishing a brand new “tool”, it’s amazing the amount of push back and stops people go to.  Fortunately, as our company is looking at implementing Microsoft SharePoint (which I am told has many blogging capabilities), I am on the road to redemption.  Almost.  Now the holdup will be the design of the blog, which will lead you to one of my upcoming blog articles on the value of information design.

Pitt, L.F., Parent, M., Steyn, P.G., Berthon, P., and Money, A. (2011).  The Social Media Release as a Corporate Communications Tool for Bloggers.  IEEE Transactions Professional Communication, 54(2), pp. 1-11.

Test blog # 2

In “The Rhetoric of Reach: Preparing Students for Technical Communication in the age of Social Media,” authors Elise Hurley and Amy Hea contend that “technical communication instructors are well-suited to teach social media in our classrooms…” (2014, p. 56). I agree and believe students can benefits from the technical communicators expertise; especially since “know your audience” is the mantra of both. But why should they do it when they environments almost clash? Social media writing and technical communication are different “art” forms with different subjects, styles and intentions.

 

Social media writing is often emotional not persuasive, opinionated not factual, and careless instead of careful. Social media sells –  either oneself or a product. The design of social media communication is opposite that of technical communications’ thoughtfully created artifacts. Technical communication is grounded in scientific, instructional, or persuasive prose; professionalism is guaranteed. Technical communication aims to make complicated information clear. Social media writing is small: small spaces, small terms, and smaller sentences. It’s killing the elegance of writing.

 

In the 2015 article: “Are Social Media making us Stupid?” Liz Swan and Louis Golberg quote Sherry Turkle as stating “a fluency with texting and tweeting is commonly correlated with a dearth of skills in face-to-face interactions…and eroding the traditional divide between speaking and writing” (p. 8). And there’s a danger with “being out there.” Write “wrong” in an instructional document or report and the error can be quickly corrected. Do it online and it can kill a career or stall one yet to start. Reputations matter and one Google search and your boss is deciding if you’re their next best or least likely. Fortunately, this can be avoided and everyone has advice. Check out Time Magazine’s 10 Social Media Blunders That Cost a Millennial a Job – or Worse, or CIO with 6 Social Media Mistakes That Will Kill Your Career, or the mocking by Shurver.com of those who said a bit too much in 8 Careers Destroyed by Social Media.

Social media intersects professional communication with collaboration and content sharing, and reach and crowd-sourcing are  good heuristics for defining an active audience, and helping creator and consumer interact. Yes, technical communication instructors can help students improve their social media writing skills, but should it be their job? Perhaps in a visual rhetoric class, but in today’s social media climate wouldn’t a business or marketing professor do as well? What about an English Composition instructor? Or Miss Manners.

 

 

 

Test Blog #2: User Beware!

It is easy to see why so many of us back away from recognizing social media as a serious communication tool.  Who hasn’t scanned a friend’s Facebook page only to see a post and think, “Eck! Why on earth would they post that for everyone to see?”  We have all heard about teachers who have lost their jobs for posting snarky comments about students or politicians who have lost respect for their social media faux pas.  The cautionary tales are endless.

And then, there is always that “friend” on social media who just seems oblivious to his or her inability to put together coherent thoughts.  While we may not judge them as harshly as we do the ones who make the ethical mistakes via Facebook and Twitter, we still walk away with certain ideas about their intelligence or attentiveness to detail.  When we look at the assortment of photos on a person’s Facebook page, we make certain conclusions about how they spend their time. With one click our comments, photos, thoughts, and stories can be seen by anyone.  People can access our list of “friends.”  They can see what sites we are linking to and make assertions about what is important to us.  Our life is naked for (potentially) everyone to see.  The opportunities for drawing conclusions, and often negatives ones, are endless when so much information is visible.

It’s hard to not judge someone by the quality and content of their social media use.  That judgment that we feel towards others, can translate into a fear that prevents us from fully harnessing the positive power that social media can provide us in our professional careers.  However, we damage our careers by not adopting a positive relationship with social media in the professional arena.

In “The Rhetoric of Reach: Preparing Students for Technical Communication in the Age of Social Media” (https://uwstout.courses.wisconsin.edu/d2l/le/content/3019142/viewContent/17759443/View), Hurley and Hea discuss the reasons many students are reluctant to accept social media as a legitimate and necessary tool in their professional careers, while they may utilize it–albeit cautiously–in the personal lives.  Within the technical writing community, “assumptions about professionalism and credibility seem too high a price to pay for (social media’s) use (p. 56).”  There is fear that one poorly thought out post or “tweet” will make us look incompetent or worse.  Your reputation or job may hang in the balance and throwing something out to the public that could strip you of those, can be scary business.

Hurley and Hea also point out that students have “concerns about the immediacy of social media–that users can write something and instantly send it to numerous audiences on the Web–suggested for them a carelessness about the craft of writing (p.60).”  That immediacy may seem fine in your social circles, where friends are posting photos of what they ate for dinner.  It may not seem so simple when you are representing your company.  But it is precisely that same immediacy that allows a company to reach the desired audience, with a message that is effective for them (the audience), at precisely the right time.  It can be an extremely targeted method of communication with consumers and therefore vital to most businesses.

Potential technical writers must begin to get comfortable with professional social media practices while they are still pursuing their formal education.  It is not for social or professional purposes; it is an intrinsic part of both.  It is no longer an optional tool in the technical communicator’s “tool belt,” but a necessity.

Test Blog #1: Loving my blogs from afar

I love my blogs a lot… from afar.  I have several blogs that sit largely abandoned on the hosting site.  They are all lifestyle and home related, all were brought into existence with passion and love, but I can’t find the focus and energy to consistently post to any of them.  I’m starting to think I’m only addicted to the “idea” of my blogs, because despite the lack of attention they get, I still shell out for the hosting and reregister the domain names when I get the reminders.

Lost on The Way To Blog

Some days I wake up and spend the entire day trying to get to the computer to get some blogging time in.  I am the only adult in my house though.  My roommate is my five year old daughter.  I will never cry the blues about being a single mom, but you are the only one that is going to get the things done that need to be done.  And trust me, my daughter does not make it easier.  I adore her, she’s a wonderful child, but she is five.  She is messy and into everything.  She has lots of ideas for me, and, for that matter, I have a long list of things I want to do with her each day.  We are mutual distractions.  We stay busy all day.

Every now and then, I will go searching for the forgotten passwords (since it’s usually been a while since I last used them and inevitably I forget them). She senses my concentration.  She could get absorbed in playing with Barbie dolls for an hour, but the minute I sit down at the computer, she smells that I’m doing something that requires a little of my focus. Within minutes she will be in the bathroom yanking my eye shadows out of the drawer and asking if I mind if she puts green eye shadow on my cheeks. (For the record, the answer is usually “yes.” She will only be little once.)

And when I do get alone time with my blogs?  

Every once in a while, I actually manage to sit down at my desk and get logged into one of my blogs.  I usually start out excited about the topic of my post, but I begin to struggle over the mechanics of what I am writing and question the content.  The clock starts ticking and I begin to feel guilty.  The list of “to do’s” starts going through my head.  Often I find myself wondering about things like “Did I pay the phone bill yet?”  A thought like that almost always means the end of my blogging time is near.  Inevitably, I will have to click open the AT&T site, just to check the due date and quiet my brain.   Once I find myself off my blog site, my thought off my topic, who knows what other “must do’s” will pop into my head. And if I wait long enough, my little pumpkin will come in asking me to help her put on her Belle costume… it doesn’t matter.  The end result is the same.  Another half written entry will sit there for a month until I come back and no longer remember my train of thought or feel interested in the topic.  This has happened over and over, too many times to possibly count.

Is There Hope?

Clearly, I never give up hope on my blogs.  The file folder on my nightstand is stuffed full of papers and post-its with topics and ideas I want to add… when there is time.  Alex Reid’s article “Why Blog?  Searching for Writing on the Web” (https://uwstout.courses.wisconsin.edu/d2l/le/content/3019142/viewContent/17759448/View)  presents a novel idea.  Blogging doesn’t have to be a major event on my schedule.  I don’t necessarily have to clear up a whole block of time.  He mentions devoting just 10 minutes, a couple of times a week (p. 313).  He even talks about using a mobile device for frequent short posts (p. 314).  And Reid doesn’t seem alone in this idea that a blog can be done regularly without taking up lots of time.  Nardi, Schiano, Gumbrecht and Swartz echo this idea in “Why We Blog” (https://uwstout.courses.wisconsin.edu/d2l/le/content/3019142/viewContent/17759450/View) when they note that some bloggers post once a month (p. 42).  Instead of feeling guilty for neglecting my blogs or feeling pressured to write a full-length article I could start with baby steps… habitual baby steps.  Even on the busiest of days, there is a good possibility I can lock myself in the bathroom with a tablet for ten minutes, before anyone notices I’ve left the room.

Writers, writiN & d NXT gnr8n n social media :P

text slang, emojis

In their article “The Rhetoric of Reach: Preparing Students for Tech Comm in the Age of Social Media” Hurley and Hea asked college student to reflect on the extent that social media influences writers and writing. As a whole, students were able to identity social media’s positive aspects such as staying connected to family and friends and its ability to generate hype over new products. On the other hand, students also agreed that social media generally influences writers to write carelessly and unfinished.

While I was not an English major, I do have an appreciation for good writing. Seeing postings with no particular point that incorporate emojis and shorthand slang make me cringe. Despite this, I agree with the article in that a thoughtful and active presence on social media can be beneficial and bolster careers. However, it made me question what implications will this type of writing have on our younger generations who have grown up with these types of communications?  

Besides proper spelling and grammar, penmanship is a concern of mine. I distinctly remember learning cursive in elementary school and laboring over a capital “Z” so I could write my crushes initials next to mine in the margins of my notebook. (For all of you who are wondering it would be SKJ + ZBS). While I eventually was able to master this skill and fill every space I could with our initials surrounded by a bubbly heart, it took time and perseverance.

Largely due to the excessive nature of my “doodling”, one of my friends told Zach and soon everybody in the class knew. To my disappointment, Zach did not share my feelings and that was the end of my third grade crush. While the love between us didn’t pan out, my love of cursive and penmanship did. My handwriting, (most of which is cursive) is something I pride myself on to this day. After a quick Google search, I discovered that many states are no longer are teaching cursive in elementary schools. While its not completely shocking, it is slightly disappointing to learn that good handwriting is no longer a vital form of commutation.

At the same time, I wouldn’t say that computers and our use of social media are entirely to blame. I simply find it interesting how communication has progressed and the effects it has and will have on writers of future generations. The digital landscape is evolving, and if we want to survive we have to keep up– emojis, shrt& & aL 🙂

Test Post #1: Blogs vs. more tailored publishing platforms

Blogging is a useful format for many people to get their ideas out into the world, but I’m noticing that it’s increasingly having to compete with other publishing platforms for my participation.

In their essay titled “Why We Blog,” Bonnie A. Nardi, Diane J. Schiano, Michelle Gumbrecht, and Luke Swartz observed five reasons why their subjects wrote in blogs; “documenting one’s life; providing commentary and opinions; expressing deeply felt emotions; articulating ideas through writing; and forming and maintaining community forums.” (“Why We Blog,” pg. 43.)

When I kept a blog as a teenager I used it as a journal. As a college student, I blogged while studying abroad to share my adventures with family and friends back home. Later I maintained a tumblr page that reblogged design-related images and links that I found elsewhere on the internet. I read blogs to learn about the thoughts and ideas of interesting people.

All of these motivations are still driving my online behavior today, but they manifest through other platforms. I keep my family and friends posted through Facebook. I edit and share photos that document my day-to-day life through Instagram. I follow designers, celebrities and interesting people on Twitter and Instagram, and repost interesting content through Twitter and Facebook. For me, all of these platforms are more centralized, easier to post to and to browse than a blog.

I am looking forward to exploring this class’s use of a blog as the nucleus of course discussions. As I don’t have a background in writing, I’m hoping that frequent blog posts and responses can help me improve my writing skills. I am curious, though, to compare my experience in this class using a blog to post our discussions to my experience in the other course that I’m taking simultaneously. In that class we post our responses to a discussion board. How does one format compare to the other?

Test Blog #2: The art of a tweet

It’s not hard for me to see how skills in technical writing can be immensely useful in constructing a professional presence with social media. The most recent example in my life is my experience of trying to familiarize myself with Twitter. Tweeting didn’t seem all that hard until I tried it myself. As an initial “lurker” on Twitter, I spent a long time building up a twitter feed full of interesting people and organizations without actually posting myself. On the surface, composing a good tweet doesn’t seem like it should be that difficult. It’s only 140 characters. It can be an offhand comment, or three words before re-tweeted content from another user. It can be a series of emoticons and a link. How could that be difficult?

Sometimes it takes trying to do something myself for me to be able to recognize the artistry in others’ efforts. Since I took my own name as a twitter handle I decided that it was a good idea to start using it to establish a presence on Twitter. I struggle. It can easily take me 15+ minutes to compose a good tweet. It requires consideration and skill to be able to compose an eloquent thought with a bit of humor, the correct attributions and maybe a link, all under 140 characters. My favorite Twitter personalities make it look so effortless. Now my goal is to tweet more often to refine my own skills, and hopefully to fill my account with enough decent posts for any interested party to kindly ignore a couple duds. After all, it’s under my actual name. I have my reputation to consider.

This experience of mine came to mind while reading “The Rhetoric of Reach: Preparing Students for Technical Communication in the Age of Social Media” by Hurley and Hea. It’s so easy for someone who is not familiar with a social media platform to disregard it. The overwhelming cultural narrative, as expressed by Hurley and Hea’s undergraduate students is that, “Social media often influences writers to write carelessly and unfinished. Because the social media may just be a way to communicate with others, people often forget the structure of the English language and instead just abbreviate words in the quickest manner to get a simple point across, not leaving room for proper punctuation or spelling.” (Hurley and Hea, p. 60).

Before I tried tweeting, even though I was reading other’s tweets, I didn’t have an appreciation of the skill needed to be an effective communicator in this medium. Just like the students in Hurley and Hea’s class, it took to experience of actually engaging in the platform myself before I was able to see the talent that goes into composing relevant and poignant content within the confines of the media. These talented authors have to consider their audiences and make themselves a peer in order to appeal to their readers. Additionally, they have to distill their thoughts to fit eloquently into the word limit. While I struggle to improve my own use of twitter, at least now I have a better eye for what makes a good tweet. I can appreciate the contributors in my twitter feed, not just for their content but also for their skill.

You’re New Strategy: Technical Social Communication Media

I have noticed for several years that technical communication and social media are becoming close knit—as the title of this post suggests. Dozens of examples likely exist, but here are four technical communication strategies, in particular, you should be thinking about.

Provide User Assistance

Years ago before social media came along, I put together an annual user conference for the high-tech firm where I was working. My experience the first year, gave me an idea: What if our power-users did most of the talking next year? In essence, I was hoping to get users sharing what they knew and what they wanted to know.

Granted this user-driven training (i.e. training users develop) wasn’t what you might call “user assistance” in that it wasn’t necessarily about performing specific tasks. Rather it was about developing and executing strategies around the technology my company had created.

It worked! Users flocked to hear other users.

Since that time I’ve noted how much easier the Internet and social media have made fostering user-driven training. Users seem to like helping other users—at least they seem to engage in a quid pro quo. Hurley and Hea (p. 57) identify this as one aspect of reach that enables technical communicators to address user interests.

Share Knowledge

Akin to providing user assistance is knowledge sharing. Specifically, uninitiated knowledge sharing. This is knowledge one puts out into the world even though it wasn’t specifically requested by someone. But, the creators of this content know someone wants it somewhere likely because they wanted it at some point themselves.

Examples where this type technical social communication takes place is on sites like Quora, Slideshare, and, uh, blogs.

Gather Research

Hurley and Hea (p. 57) call this crowd sourcing or “the practice of tapping into the collective public intelligence to complete a task or gain insights that would traditionally have been assigned to a member of or consultant for an organization.”

Those of us of a certain age remember the importance of building personal networks (sans social media). We went to conferences, joined local interest clubs, read trade journals, and sometimes wrote questions to the authors of articles from those journals. It’s how we got our careers going.

This research gathering—usually engaged in to access group think to solve a problem or gain an insight—is nothing new. It just happens so much easier thanks to new technologies like social media.

Develop Visible Expertise

“Students need to be able to deploy social media as part of their own efforts to create online personas…” (Hurley and Hea, p. 58). Not just students but everyone.

Books and books have been written on developing visible expertise, which is far easier to initiate than it used to be; however, there’s still the problem of being lost in a sea of so called experts.

Fortunately, technical communicators have something everyone needs: content. You can have all the best technology on the planet, the coolest science, and totally wow engineering, but if you can’t communicate about it effectively, well, you end up like Tesla not Bell.

Now, more than ever before thanks to social media, technical communicators can talk not only about communication but about the stuff they are making usable. That is they are becoming visible experts just like the scientists and engineers they work with.

A Means to an End

You may have noted I’ve been reminiscing how these four strategies used to be done. If so, then I made my point.

Social media is becoming integrated into technical communication. The point not to miss is this is a means to an end and not an end in and of itself, as they say.

Engaging in social media for social media sake is, well, useless. But, understanding the end game will certainly make “technical social communicators” far more valuable right now and better prepared down the road when the next thing comes along.

Reference: The Rhetoric of Reach: Preparing Students for Technical Communication in the Age of Social Media by Elise Verzosa Hurley and Amy C. Kimme Hea

Test blog #2: Social media a viable tool for dissemination of technical information – Van Beusekom

Elise Verzosa and Amy Hea’s article pointed out that social media often has negative connotations for students concerned that using it will undermine their academic lives and careers. These students are fearful that their university, employer or future employer will see their postings, and it will have ramifications for them, because once posts are up, they tend to take on a life of their own (eg, Anthony Weiner’s photo)..

Of course, their concerns are legitimate when it comes to posting photos and blurbs about their late-night escapades or hateful rants. But people who think that not posting photos of themselves or any information on social media will preserve their privacy have got it all wrong. Today, privacy is an illusion. I don’t have to go on Facebook to find out how old you are, where you live, where you work, where you go to school, who your neighbors are or how high your real estate taxes are. It’s all out there–and much more–for anyone to see.

But posting technical communication on social media is no threat, and I can’t understand why anyone would think otherwise. In fact, I see its usefulness every day on LinkedIn, where fellow professionals post how-tos, advice and other information to enhance both other people’s careers and their own. By making themselves an expert, they are positioning themselves to be seen as a trustworthy, authoritative source. Often, I find myself wondering how to do something (eg, how to remove chewing gum from upholstery) or why something is the way it is (why does my cat go outside only to turn around and want to be let back in 20 times a day?). I’m looking for practical advice (eg, how to get promoted) and personal stories from people who’ve been there (eg, how I got promoted). I’m getting married next year, so I’ve Googled things like “good processional music” and “Minneapolis catering” dozens of times lately.

I’ve also posted some promotional how-to articles on e-how for friends’ businesses (eg, a “how to clean and preserve your deck” article for a local deck-washing business). Of course, I often respond to other people’s how-to questions on different forums (eg, how do I display cupcakes at my wedding? “Try an acrylic cupcake tower.) I once posted a photo of my flower towers, a project I found on homedepot.com and did at home; a friend saw the photos and asked me how I made it, so I ended up posting step-by-step instructions. Anyone can do this, which brings me to the next point.

The caveat in using technical communication via social media is that it’s hard to be sure if the poster is a legitimate expert and not just someone out to make $25 for posting an article on e-how (I’m not sure what they pay now, but they used to pay per article). I find that it’s best to always verify the facts some other way, by checking out similar posts on other social media forums or Googling it. Not that I’m against using Wikipedia; I find a lot of useful stuff there, but I verify it elsewhere. I’m also always skeptical about the information found on sponsored sites.

It can be hard to get the information you need online because the Internet is so congested. I find Pinterest to be one of the top offenders when I’m searching for something in particular, because many people post photos or images of things on Pinterest without saying where they found them, so it’s a couple of wasted clicks when I could have possibly found a solid lead elsewhere. Plus, so often, they’re so old and out of date, they’ve outlived their usefulness.

Another way to be relatively sure of the soundness of the information is to use only trusted sites; I find academic institutions and well-known organizations to be pretty trustworthy. And I tend to rely on information from people with credentials versus without. For example, I am 100% confident I can trust a post on mayoclinic.com written by a doctor (although, chances are, someone else wrote it for him). On the other hand, I wouldn’t go on just any discussion board and take the medical advice of someone whose daughter’s husband’s second cousin once had the same symptoms.

All in all, I find that, as long as I take the time to drill down to the level of information I need and the trustworthiness I desire, I’m able to find what I need. And by posting valuable information to help others, I return the favor.

Willing But Wanting: Starting Blogs Is Easy, But…

Keeping up with blogging is difficult.

Oh I want to blog to be sure. Mostly for the reasons Justin Mann points out in Press ‘Publish’: Start an Academic Blog. It’s easy right? All you need to do is “press publish” and you can, according to Mann:

  • Spread the knowledge you’ve developed in your field
  • Build an audience
  • Connect with people with similar interests
  • Develop professionally and advance your career
  • Get some free stuff and cash

This is all good stuff and Mann is right. But, it’s not easy. I should know. I’ve started around five different blogs. None of which exist today and most of which never went beyond a handful of posts.

Why? As Alex Reid puts it in Why Blog? Searching for Writing on the Web, to get good at doing something you have to spend time doing it.

Okay, that’s one reason at least. After working a more than full-time job that includes frequent travel throughout North America, I find it difficult to lift my toothbrush most days let alone write a well-researched blog post.

Ah! And, you’ve discovered my other reason for not blogging (even though I really, really, really want to). I’m a persnickety writer. Nothing I have ever written is good enough. It’s an awful habit and an even worse state of existence. (Melodrama fully intended.)

If you liked this post, you won’t find me on Squarespace, TypePad, WordPress, LiveJournal, or Blogger.

Test Blog #1: Good, Better, Best.

good-better-best

“Good, better, best. Never let it rest. Until your good is better and your better is best.”― Tim Duncan

My only experience blogging was during college while I was a marketing intern at RNR Realty. Among other things, I was responsible for doing a bi-weekly blog post using WordPress to promote their business and generate leads. The majority of posts pertained to real estate, home buying or home improvement, and the content was largely up to me to decide. Additionally, each month, I would pick an area around the Twin Cities to use as our “Neighborhood Feature” and write about the areas highlights, attractions and housing markets. Unknowingly at the time, I incorporated several of Belle Beth Cooper’s “16 Top Tips from Blogging Experts for Beginners” into my work.

Despite being short lived, my foray into blogging was beneficial in that with practice and over time I was able to improve and my “good” and become “better”. The question now is how can my prior experiences coupled with the readings from this class enable my “better” to become “best”?

Good

When I first began my internship I was largely writing for myself and wrote to topics that were of interest to me. However, a few weeks in I discovered my audience and I did not share similar interests. While I found sustainable housing, up-cycled furniture and Frank Lloyd Wright homes intriguing, my audience clearly felt otherwise. Eventually, I realized I wasn’t writing for myself; I was writing for RNR Realty, and if I wanted my numbers up, I needed to re-vamp my strategy. As a result, I had to dig a little deeper and try to get a better handle on my audience.

Better

To that end, I started to run the analytical reports at the end of each week so I was able to see my viewers and where they came from. Because RNR Realty represented residential, commercial and international buyers and sellers, the audience stemmed from a diverse background. Yet, when I ran the demographics of past customers as well as people who followed the company on social media, certain patterns began to emerge. I discovered that most of them were first time homebuyers with credit issues- many of whom had young children or pets. With this deeper understanding of my audience I was able to tailor my posts to these specific interests and increase my numbers. While my internship and subsequent blogging for RNR Realty came to an end, a new chapter of blogging through the MSTPC program with UW Stout has just begun.

Best

In Alex Reid’s “Why we blog? Searching for Writing on the Web” he recalls Malcom Gladwell’s observation that “it takes over some 10,000 hours of dedication to a craft or profession to become an ‘expert’”. Thus, expert status of anything, including blogging, takes an immense amount of time, repetition and perseverance. However time isn’t all that it takes to become a good blogger. Moreover, the supplemental articles point to other areas of interest that can improve bloggers including Csikszentmihalyi’s theory of flow, the appropriate length for a blog post and finding the perfect balance between academic and conversational tone.

Obviously there is more to good blogging than the points mentioned above, however I think these are great additions that can aid my own (or any blogger’s) “better” to become their “best.

Test blog #1 – What not to do. Van Beusekom

As a favor to my brother, I write a small blog to promote his business’s products: food industry-related items like cuptake towers and cake pop holders. I call it a “small” blog because I don’t follow many of the blogging best practices, mainly because neither one of us is very serious about it, we don’t have a lot of extra time and I don’t do it for pay. I write a blog post every quarter, which I guess is consistent, according to “16 Top Tips from Blogging Experts for Beginners.” But it certainly isn’t often enough to maintain any followers.

Problem No. 2 is that I’m no expert on the subjects of which I write about: fancy cupcakes and cake pops. Since our audience is people who are experts on fancy cupcakes and cake pops, we should have an expert voice. I did try recruiting top bakers in the field to write blog posts about their businesses, favorite recipes, etc., but although some agreed to do it, no one ever followed through–despite my nagging. So, while I know who are audience members are (Tip No. 2), and I did try to get ideas from the audience (Tip No. 1), it didn’t happen as I envisioned it. That’s how I ended up writing the blog myself, and I don’t think I sound very authentic.

I have to mention that our audience is made up largely of very busy small-business owners (bakeries, cake makers), so I’m not sure how much time they have to peruse a blog when they’re trying to order a cupcake tree for an upcoming event.

And that brings me to Problem No. 1: I don’t really write very much at all. Basically, I asked some baker bloggers if I could repost some content from their own blogs, and one or two agreed as long as I give them credit and link to their site, which I always do. Sometimes I find a cool recipe or project online and link to it. I write a nice, creative, enthusiastic introduction, but I don’t bring a lot of added value to the content. I am not writing for myself (Tip No. 3).

The blog is part of the business’s Web site, which is connected to a Facebook account, but that’s the only marketing we do (vs. Tip No. 4). We’re hoping to use lots of keywords to help us get found online, and I do have to say that our Facebook page is getting more and more likes and views than ever. However, I’m not sure how much the two are related, if at all, because we haven’t looked at the blog analytics for awhile. We also didn’t want to bother monitoring comments, so it’s not interactive at all (so many comments now are from spambots, etc.).

So that’s the status of my small blog and why it’s not thriving but simply existing. I learned a few things from the Top 16 tips, though. For example, I’m going to start issuing a call to action, something I’d never done before except on Facebook (Tip. No. 6). Seems obvious, but I’d never thought of it.

Actually, I think a lot of blogs are like mine: poorly maintained and underperforming due to benign neglect. I can’t tell you the number of blogs I’ve seen in which the writer obviously started with enthusiasm but then just couldn’t maintain the momentum–either due to lack of time or lack of engaging content. One of them I saw was for a deck-maintenance business. The owner started out writing things like “Just did another deck,” but that got pretty repetitious, and apparently, he couldn’t think of anything else to say. He stopped writing after a few weeks. That blog should obviously be taken down.

One other problem I’ve seen with a lot of blogs is that the writer just does not have a unique voice or anything new to say about a topic covered by tons of other blogs. How many blogs about wedding dresses with pictures of elegantly dressed people in front of old barns and decrepit cars does one need?

I also think that many bloggers just aren’t very well informed, nor good writers. Not just anyone can write a good blog; you have to have something to say and the ability to say it in a compelling way. Now, I’m not talking about the guy who wrote a blog to document his wife’s health, as in the article, “Why We Blog.” Like CaringBridge entries, that blog probably saved that guy a lot of time and helped keep people connected with what’s going on. I’m talking about poor writers who could accomplish their goals just as well on Facebook. Blogs have their place, but I don’t think everyone has the skills to write a good one.

My post was about a lot of things not to do–but, in my experience,  the most valuable advice comes from one who’s been there and learned a few things. These things likely won’t save my blog because I just don’t have a strong motivator to do it. But I do know that, going forward, if I’m going to write a blog, I’ll be more ready to step up to the plate.

Test Blog # 1

Blogging: I Don’t Get –

In the course of my graduate studies I’ve posted on WordPress twice. Both were called blogs, but they were actually literature reviews. That’s the extent of my experience participating in this medium. So it was very helpful to review Belle Beth Cooper’s 16 Top Tips from Blogging Experts for Beginners. Turns out I have been implementing a few of the top tips, such as knowing and understanding my audience, and sharing my knowledge, all within my own blogo-spheres: email, Messenger, and Words with Friends. Or am I just posting? Is that what’s done on Facebook and if posted somewhere else it’s a blog? Well, I checked out Sue Waters’ 2008 blog, Differences between Blog Pages and Posts. I’m going to need more information. Maybe I’m too old to blog; what would I say?

Who Blogs and Why?

So I was interested in the survey results of Nardi, Schiano, Gumbrecht, and Swartz’s (2004) article Why We Blog. The authors searched Google’s Stanford portal for “blog” and “weblog” to categorize blogs and explore motivations. Oh no, emotional catharsis; I don’t do that in public. With a pool of 23 people aged 19 to 60, I’d hoped to see a breakdown of motivations by age. Had the 20-somethings expressed feelings, the 30-somethings rallied to a movement, or had the 50-somethings realized the changes and chances they started thirty years earlier? They didn’t say.

But I do know that when I ran my own Google Stanford search (https://itservices.stanford.edu/search?q_as=blog) that “weblog” no longer produced results, and that Stanford’s political blog of 2004, “The Cardinal Collective” died. But INSTAPUNDIT is still alive, and today was skewing Stephen Colbert for his all-white writing team of 17 men and 2 women. Yikes, he’s in trouble.
Is Anything Off Limits?

What’s off limits for a blog or post? Are medical procedures of a sick-or-soon-to-be-departed-loved-one appropriate for online? How come? If medical information requires a written release, why do people think they can splash it out for everyone? And I won’t even get into the “well-meaning” friends with their “tributes” after my brother died. Stop it! What happened to crying on a friend’s shoulder or visiting a therapist? And if they aren’t emotional outlets, blogs let the anonymous spew vitriol. Didn’t blogs start as factual journalism? So I Googled “topics to avoid in blogs” and guess what I got. Books and CD’s to buy and subscriber-ready advice columns on creating perfect blogs. OK – blogs sell things!

Sell me On It –

Kristi Hines’s “build your email list” and Jeff Bullas declaration that you must “give stuff away” (as cited in Cooper, 2013) makes sense. Could there be a more cost-efficient and effective way to lure online shoppers than with a blog? Can’t a well-said, well-read blog accomplish what thousands of dollars in marketing funds aims to? It looks exhausting. Trying to make everything “grab” the reader. Heck is what I’m saying here with reading? I live by: Does it need to be said? Does it need to be said now? Will it help or harm? How I’ll mesh view of blogs with the actual tasking of writing something that I hope is interesting to someone, anyone, remains to be seen.

For now I’m just keeping copies of these articles as a guidebook, and to share. They’ll stay in actual folders in my desk where I can reach for the papers. All I have to do is print them out…
So imagine my annoyance when I saw that I could share these articles via a half dozen social media platforms – but there wasn’t a printer icon anywhere on the page. Copy and paste? Really? Maybe I should blog about that.

 

Dana Livesay is a graduate student at the University of Wisconsin-Stout. Foreign to all things social media, she is determined to dive into Emerging Media and come out a better blogger.

Relationship Status of Technical Communication and Social Media – It’s Complicated

I have to agree with Elise Verzosa and Amy Hea regarding their paper on “The Rhetoric of Reach: Preparing Students for Technical Communication in the Age of Social Media,” when they say how most people feel that posting on social media websites can have disastrous results for one’s professional career, but in reality, social media websites can actually be helpful and build a person’s professional career in technical writing.

While it is true that there have been cases of people’s careers being ruined because of some inappropriate, personal postings such as scandalous photos or opinions, if a technical communicator uses social media for business goals and stays away from religion, politics, and things that one would not share with their grandmother, they can be successful. Stories of social media success can also be found on the internet, although they are not as popular to talk about as the scandalous stories are.

Naturally, the first social media place that most professionals start with is LinkedIn, as that social medial website’s target audience is professionals who want to network with other professionals and companies. While building a profile and adding samples of your work there is a great start, there are other websites to join as to display technical writing skills. These websites include Dice, Instructables, eHow, and Fiverr, just to name a few. With Dice and Fiverr, technical communicators can not only build their portfolio, but they can also build a client base too.

Fiverr, like Instructables and eHow, allows the technical communicator to see how much reach they have with their writing, as all three social media websites allow users to like, comment, and share the technical communicator’s website page. If the technical communicator’s work has value – users find it helpful, then the more likes and shares his or her page will receive.

Of course, the technical communicator’s writing should be professional written for these websites to show credibility and authority.   Because of the need for clear, professional writing, people who feared that social media eroded the “grammar, correctness, or lack of professionalism” will find that fear to be invalid (Hurley & Hea, 2013, p 60). A professionally written piece is likely to receive a greater audience through shares and likes than a poorly written one.

If it turns out that the technical communicator’s written work needs clarification or a rewrite, the technical communicator can participate in crowdsourcing. In crowdsourcing, the technical communicator can learn what needs to be corrected through comments left on their work’s page, or they can join that website’s community and ask others to read their work and to provide a critique of what was done well, and what needs more clarification. By asking for feedback, the technical communicator is engaging the community and learning from others. This also helps the technical communicator build skills of working in groups, and learning where they could possibly turn for answers when they need help.

Lastly, Hurley and Hea mentioned that the “most successful DIYers had a significant social medial presence across social media platforms,” and because of that, their work had more credibility, their work was shared more often, and they had a large following (p 66). While I believe that to be true to a point, one cannot rely only on plastering work on several social media websites. What Hurley and Hea fail to mention is that to build up that following, one must engage the community as well by responding to users’ comments, questions, and private messages quickly; create a call to action by asking questions or feedback; and by posting their message on several websites, but with each posting, writing something a bit different, otherwise, it would be deemed as spam, and the technical communicator could actually lose followers. If people liked or added a technical communicator to several of their social platforms, the users will want to see something different on each platform, otherwise, what is the point of adding/liking the technical communicator to each social media platform?

All in all, I agreed with what Verzosa and Hea’s “The Rhetoric of Reach: Preparing Students for Technical Communication in the Age of Social Media,” and found their myth busting of technical communications’ fear about posting on social media to be accurate. I enjoyed learning how Verzosa and Hea, as technical communicator instructors, taught technical communication students find value in their social media writings through reach, via Instructables.com and through crowdsourcing. My only issue was to clarify that posting across several social media platforms was not enough to build an audience. What is further needed is responding to users’ questions and comments in a timely manner, and when posting across several social media platforms that the posts be written differently, as not to be confused with spam. Verzosa and Hea’s paper is a great resource for those technical communicators new to social media and who are carrying the fear of building their professional technical communicator career online.

 

 

Source:

Elise Verzosa Hurley & Amy C. Kimme Hea (2014) The Rhetoric of Reach: Preparing Students for Technical Communication in the Age of Social Media, Technical Communication Quarterly, 23:1, 55-68, DOI: 10.1080/10572252.2014.850854

My Experiences – Paid vs Free Blogs & How My Customers Reacted

I have had a few blogs over the years. The first couple of blogs were owned by the blogging website, and since I did not want to pay for a blog, the blogging website had advertisements everywhere. I used these blogs until people started to complain about the advertisements, so I paid a blogging website (LiveJournal) a fee to never have advertising on my blog again. I still use this blog today, maybe once or twice a month.

A few years later, WordPress became wildly popular because of how easily you can customize it with themes and widgets. I believe that people can also sell things with a merchant shopping cart on there too. For this WordPress blog, I paid someone to set it up so that it was on my own server. I had even purchased a new domain url for it. Sadly, the WordPress theme that I was using was retired, rendering my website useless. Since I did not have time to find a new tech person to update my website, my website currently sits defunct online.

So, what did I do with my blogs? My blogs were to promote my business and gather a loyal customer base. I would post photos and videos of my products, as well as cartoons and news about my industry. These postings automatically fed into my Facebook news feed. I found that when I posted stories of my adventures with my business, I would get the most replies on those postings. When I would post a video of my product, I would get the most sales. Photos were a hit or a miss. With photos, I would get the most criticism – positive and negative – responses. When I posted news or cartoons, people really did not respond much.

However, when I shared content links from others, my customers enjoyed those and would share those with others. This made me take a look at how other companies were engaging their customers with their Facebook news feeds. I began taking screen shots of things that I found to be quite clever and fun, so that I could do something similar later. Unfortunately, with what little time I have now, I have not tried anything of these ideas, but I hope to test the ideas out maybe next year or two. This should give me plenty of time to create nice content that will be ready when I want to use it.

Now that I have touched upon my experience with my own blogs, I will talk about my experience with other blogs. The only other blogs that interest me are those that give me ideas to make my business more successful. I personally do not care if there are photos or not, I just want good information that I can put to use right away. I do not want filler or fluff. That stuff does have its place, and I have done it for my own blogs once in awhile, but when I want answers, I want answers immediately.

So what have I learned through all my experiences? I learned that blogging is a lot of work, so if I was going to blog, I wanted to make it count and send sales my way, as paying my bills was the goal instead of writing just to write. Thus, I did not spend any time reading blogs that could not help me with my goal. My goal was to succeed with my customers and my business. It still is.