Monthly Archives: September 2015
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).
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.”)
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.
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?
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:
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:
- How can we make a difference, not by isolating ourselves or distinguishing ourselves from others, but rather through collaborative efforts?
- 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.
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)?
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.
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.
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.
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, 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.
“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.
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.)
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
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.
“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”?
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.
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.
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.
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.