Understanding Social Media Stakeholders and Their Needs

As I read through the Using Social Media for Collective Knowledge-Making, Tweeting and Ethos, and Technical Communication Unbound articles there were two main concepts that really seemed to jump out at me – the idea of social media stakeholders, how those stakeholders use their social media tools, and how [as technical communicators] we may need to adapt our communications based upon social media channels.

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The idea of stakeholder analysis is a way to analytically look at individuals who are impacted by a particular event/situation/problem/etc. and understand how they are impacted.  As technical communicators, by conducting stakeholder analyses we can better articulate the communication messages and more effectively design systems to better suit the stakeholder needs.  As Longo stated in her article on Using Social media for Collective Knowledge-Making, “technical communicators and teachers of technical communication are poised to understand content users now as producers and to work toward relationships between [information and communication technologies] and human interaction to design documents and content in this global context, allowing us to cross community boundaries” (2013).

This statement defines the importance around establishing stakeholders in order to build those relationships Longo describes.  If we can understand how those stakeholders use social media, we can in fact, better communicate and refine our messages to those individuals.   The following graphic by Meritus Media shows, at a high level, how many stakeholders there can be and drives out what they value.  How a customer uses Facebook is different than how an employee uses Facebook.  If we can begin to identify and analyze those stakeholders, we can truly begin those targeted communications that means something to our readers.

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One thought, however, that was raised after reading Bowdon’s article on Tweeting an Ethos, was on how [technical communicators] use these channels.  As Bowdon found in a study he conducted, “[technical communication students] had trouble discerning and articulating the values of their various organizations, but all of the groups faced great difficult when trying to product content to post on Twitter and Facebook in order to keep up a consistent, meaningful presence on behalf of their organizations.  They were unsure how to translate that understanding into a Twitter or Facebook thread” (2013).  What this called out to me was that we, as technical communicators, need to be cognizant now only about stakeholders and how they use social media channels, but how we use social media channels to communicate with those stakeholders.

One of the biggest challenges for us will be to effectively use and communicate via social media channels.  To Bowdon’s point, delivering a message on a social media channel can be very different than drafting an e-mail or writing content for a Web site.  Learning how to translate our messages to a 140-character tweet and learning when it is most appropriate to use Facebook to share messages will become part of our skill sets that we will need to master.

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Posted on November 8, 2015, in Literacy, Social Media, Teaching and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink. 10 Comments.

  1. Hi Chelsea,

    I like your comment about discerning between the different channels of social media and deciding which one is best for a particular message. I think many people are confused by this, and thus, they use all available channels. While I don’t see anything necessarily wrong with that, a targeted approach could be a much more effective and cost-effective. For example, I get annoyed when organizations use Facebook and Twitter only to funnel readers to another news source to boost their Web site rankings; if you don’t have any real news to share via Facebook or Twitter, then don’t post anything. I know where to find you. I think that could also be a partial solution to reducing the “noise,” or distractions, of online media.

    Mary

    • Terrific post! If you read mine, we definitely have cohesive ideas about stakeholder engagement and analysis.

      One idea that I continue to explore and think about is how communication channels have changed, but the challenges and methodologies really have not. I’m coming from the vantage point of watching things change and develop over about 20 years.

      For example, the idea of content strategy. We’ve been doing that ever since I can remember. I remember in high school, 30 years ago, going to shadow a technical writer, who was documenting electrical engineering. As I think back on that conversation where he was explaining to me that he was developing content strategy. He didn’t call it that, but we would today.

      • Hi Aaron,

        This idea of “content strategy” is interesting to me. I look at content strategy like I do as technical communication – it’s like looking at a mermaid mixed with a hippopotamus and a walrus and trying to figure out what it is exactly… for each person looking at the creature, it would be something different.

        The interesting thing about content strategy for me is looking at the varying types of organizational content and the systems you might use to present and store that information. Is it web content, enterprise content, software content, document management, learning content, or electronic document and records information? Depending on the type of content we deliver, will not only drive stakeholder engagement but will drive how we share and disseminate that information.

        Thanks for your response this week!

        Chelsea

    • Hi Mary, I think your thought is spot on. One of the things people tell me all of the time is this idea of communicating “7 times, 7 ways”. I can tell you, every time I hear that I become slightly nauseous because those individuals literally think you need to put the same exact message out seven different ways.

      But for me it really does come down to knowing your audience as discussed in this post, but also to you point knowing the communication channels we have available to us and having clear guidance and expectations on how those channels are used. To you point, what is the goal of using Facebook? Or an internal company e-mail. What limitations (both in content and design) do we keep the channel to so it doesn’t spiral away from our intended goal? I think these are definitely things technical communicators need to think about, especially as our roles in society become increasingly more complex and utilized.

      Thank you for your response this week. This has definitely given me some food for thought on some of my own work.

      Chelsea

  2. You make a lot of great points here, Chelsea.

    One of the challenges I am currently thinking through at my college is how do we communicate effectively to a diverse group of stakeholders? Being a smaller community college, the institution that I work for caters to students and community members at all different stages of their lives with different demands on time, finances and attention. How to we reach all of them without becoming to generic? Should we instead be narrowing our focus?

    At least with advertising, there are ways to communicate specifically with a number of our audiences. We use mobile targeted ads for high schoolers and newspaper ads for their parents. We hang posters is rec halls, and place radio ads on specific stations. Our facebook advertising is so specific to our demographic that I haven’t seen it yet because I am not the age or in the correct county to be targeted.

    Despite the intention to target our audiences specifically, the range of formats that we utilize makes me feel that we are still painting with wide brush strokes.

    • Hi Allie,

      Now you make a really great point. In fact this is also something I am working on in my own organization because we too are becoming so dispersed. We have 20 different locations, remote staff spread across the United States, and a range of stakeholders ranging from modern-day millennials to elderly or non-technical employees who hardly know how to use a computer. Just short of sending an e-mail, we too have a number of channels to reach out, but they are (like in your case) very generic. And, to my earlier point to Mary, I feel they suffer from identity crises.

      One of the efforts i am currently working on (which at times feels insurmountable), is a company-wide stakeholder analysis. While communication is only a portion of why we are doing this, one of the outcomes I am looking for is a greater understanding of what my stakeholders think. This stakeholder analysis, provides our company with opportunity to reach out and ask those individuals what they prefer – in order to help guide the work we do. I think so much of the time we just assume or guess based on previous experience, but as our audience becomes more and more dispersed, this “best guess judgement” will become less and less reliable.

      Thanks for your response this week. This is definitely something I could talk about until the cows come home!

      Chelsea

  3. Good point about how producing content can be difficult for people used to “social” genres being “social” and not formal or news oriented. Given the comments your peers have provided, this might be an excellent topic to explore further in your final paper, especially since the reading was published in 2013 and things have evolved so much in terms of businesses having official social media strategies in place.

    • Hi Professor Pignetti! I think this is a great thought. One of the things I often come across is the difference in internal versus external social media strategies. There is definitely less out there when it comes to internal social media strategies (how we use social media to communicate information to employees). I think it will be an interesting thought to contemplate both avenues of refining our audience and their needs and further understanding and formalizing the use of our communication vehicles (including social media). I will for sure be in touch with you on this one. 🙂

      Chelsea

  4. natashajmceachin

    Hi Chelsea,

    I’m no where near proficient in translating business/professional ideas into social media posts, and you were correct when you said the ability to translate these messages is a skill we definitely need to master.

    Since the professional use of social media is so new and platforms are constantly changing, I imagine the etiquette and guidelines are pretty vague. As I mentioned, I’m no social media strategist, but I’d imagine the key to success here would be to stay on top of changing platforms and most importantly stakeholder needs.

    • Hi Natasha,

      I couldn’t agree with you more. I think that is why I have found this class so unique, as it has added to this idea of using social media for internal communication purposes (at least for me). Understanding and knowing how changing social media platforms can impact a SMS (social media strategy) is very important. And then how you use those channels to correspond to the stakeholder needs is spot on.

      Gaining that skill for translating content to different social media platforms however, I can only imagine to be difficult. I too am nowhere near being proficient in this area, but as a topic of further research, I think this will be very important to understand how to acquire and maintain this skill over the changing technological times.

      Chelsea

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