Fear of Social Media? Embrace It!

No one ever said that social media is easy. The internet is a wonderful place where we can connect with one another, use it for business, and get our entertainment. Likewise, social media works in the same fashion which all kinds of content can live in harmony.

Can social media and technical communication work together?

Whenever I think of social media and technical communication, I go back to my first professional presentation and conference proceeding, “The Benefits and Pitfalls of Social Media Networks” (Koch, G. L. & Renteria R. A., 2009). With my co-presenter, we showed how social media can be used in productive ways despite the negative press surrounding it at the time. To counter the notion and fears of social media, we provided tips to help colleagues embrace this emerging communications technology.


Society for Technical Communication 2009 Summit Proceedings

In “The Rhetoric of Reach: Preparing Students for Technical Communication in the Age of Social Media” Hurley and Hea (2014) describe modern stories where professionals damage their career because of something they posted on social media. In their article, they describe students who have a fear of using social media in the context of technical communication. I find it amusing that in the years since I co-presented about social media that these issues of using it for professional causes remain present. I still refer to ”fatty paycheck” Tweet, Facebook Fairy’s Kevin Colvin, and Airline Crew Insulting Passengers on Facebook as early examples of social media mistakes. Fortunately or unfortunately, the internet is a great record keeper.

So, where does social media sit in the form of technical communication? Hurley and Hea present responses that showcase the reasons social media is not favorable for technical communication purposes because students think it can “cause more harm than good,” make people forget how to write well, and feel “they must dumb-down literature because of the diverse audience that now has access to it” (2014).

Due to the sensationalism of social media, students are often less likely to use these new and emerging technologies for professional purposes. However, me and my co-presenter provided the counterargument years earlier that you can, indeed, use social media for professional purposes. We showed that while using social media can be a risk, the benefits may outweigh the dangers when used appropriately and after becoming familiar with the privacy settings (Koch G. L., Renteria, R. A., 2009).

Lastly, the literature is not being dumbed-down, instead plain language is taking root. When looking at effective writing, I consider taking the easier and simpler route of writing because it is closer to how we communicate with each other in real-life. In the well-known adage of “less is more,” let’s consider adding another one: “plain language is easy to understand.”

We can use social media for many things and nothing should stop us from embracing it for educational and professional purposes. It’s not a bad thing.


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

Koch, G. L. & Renteria R. A., (2009) The Benefits and Pitfalls of Social Media Networks. Society for Technical Communication 2009 Summit Proceedings, 83-86

About Roger Renteria

Professional Life: I am a technical communicator, writer, and presenter. Hobby Life: I'm a blues dancer, hiker, and foodie.

Posted on September 18, 2016, in Social Media. Bookmark the permalink. 7 Comments.

  1. I couldn’t agree more that communicators should use plain language. I’ve been dismayed by the jargon, buried verbs, and passive voice in our readings. Often, I have to read the material several times to decipher it.

    I agree that social media encourages people to write in an accessible, conversational style. This helps readers understand and participate in the discussion.

    • Yep! If you are having to read the material several times to decipher it, I’m thinking about the countless folks who may not have the technical skills who struggle to understand content that isn’t written using plain language.

      • I’ve not seen this Plain Language movement before. Thanks for sharing!

        • You’re welcome, Dr. Pignetti! I was introduced to it during my first technical writing job. I didn’t use much of it there because the documents I worked with contained a lot of institutional language that couldn’t be changed. It wasn’t until I started working at my current job where I put it to better use because I can apply it to writing for the web. For me, I think it’s a nice communication strategy to reduce the burden on the reader to understand content.

  2. Thank you for this perspective. The emergence of plain language is very beneficial. I work with people daily to help them build and improve their writing skills. Often, I see that their biggest challenge is getting what is inside their head to show up on their papers. After I have a brief conversation with them, I explain that if they write conversationally, as if they were writing what they would be saying if they were talking, it might make the task of writing easier.

    I also want to address the positive side of social media. Many years ago I taught at a private school. Facebook was very popular among the high school students, and people were quite worked up over the dangers. However, realizing that the students all had Facebook, and having the worst flu season in a long time, I created a Facebook group for my class and students who were at home could check Facebook for their lessons, notes, assignments, and get-well wishes. It worked wonderfully. I also used Skype in the classroom. On occasion I would have Skype in a student to class while they were home sick. These are a couple of examples of where social media can be amazing educational tools.

    • I had a very similar experience as a writing tutor in undergrad. I would read what they had written (usually pretty undecipherable), then ask them what they meant by that sentence. More often than not, they would give me a very eloquent spoken sentence that made total sense. My follow up would be, “So why didn’t you write that?” Their answer, 100% of the time? “I didn’t know I could do that!”

      Sometimes I feel like education is failing these students. They get so caught up in meeting word counts and following fake grammar “rules” (split infinitives, anyone?) that they never have the chance to learn that they can actually write. I joke that it took me 4 years to learn to meet word counts, then 6 to unlearn it and write concisely. (And I still suffer from wordiness when I switch into “academic” mode. The differences is now I have the skills to go back and do some verbal landscaping.)

  3. Sometimes I feel like by not partaking in social media I’m missing out on a lot, but I can’t in good conscience enter into that world. I find myself unable to embrace it. When I say I’m missing out on a lot, I don’t mean that my life isn’t complete or I feel like there’s a void or something quite so existential, but quite frankly my friends simply leave me out of things because I’m not on Facebook. For example, I was accidentally not invited to a friend’s bridal shower, bachelorette party, and wedding because I wasn’t on Facebook and that’s where she gathered her guest list. Did I feel unmemorable and forgotten considering we’d been friends for 15 years? Certainly. Should I blame it on Ashley’s negligence or my absence from Facebook? I am not really sure anymore. So many people say “that’s just how people communicate today.”

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