Doing What at Work?

Bringing it all together, this week’s readings get right at the heart of where technical communications and social media meets. It seems to me that they connect on three levels: personal, professional, and in principle.

Personal Use of Social Media

We began the course discussing our personal experiences and affinity or hesitations with using social media. In Alone Together, Turkle largely focused on the personal space and how we develop online identities and communities as we navigate social media in our discretionary time. I think it’s telling that our exposure and familiarity with social media tools comes increasingly from our personal use before crossing over to the professional realm. This will certainly be true for the upcoming generation of “digital natives,” who learn Facebook and blogging long before they need to use it for work.

I’ll also note that in my experience, there is a brick wall between using social media for personal reasons and for professional reasons. I have a “home” laptop and a “work” laptop, and the two worlds don’t mix, not even in social media. However, as the research from Ferro and Zachry shows, many people don’t experience this separation and the line is a lot more blurred.

Professional Use of Social Media

At this point of intersection, social media is directly used toward professional work — whether advancing your own career or the goals of your employer. Ferro and Zachry put a number on it with participants using social media for 20-27% of their workweek. In Pigg’s example of “Dave” the fatherhood blogger, using social media literally is his work. This is a fascinating trend and a major change from a decade ago. Rocky Mountain Media presents several interesting statistics about this, including the graph below, but the major theme is that everyone predicts professional uses of social media growing.


Rocky Mountain Media Group:

Social media strategy is now a job position and a conversation in many boardrooms. In the resumes that I review, social media literacy and experience with particular websites are nearly always listed as skills and reasons to hire.

Again, in my personal experience, this is a tough concept because we’re a very insulated company with concerns about intellectual property and proprietary information that causes us to ignore social media channels for outreach. Instead, we wait until customers are signed with us, and then bring them into our own social media community that we’ve formed, rather than using social media to connect with a wider audience.


Graphic courtesy of Bradon Gaille Marketing (note that the study is from 2013)

Applying Lessons Learned from Social Media to a Professional Workspace

This is the aspect I find the most exciting. How can we take what we’ve learned from the social media phenomenon and use it to improve traditional technical communications? I see it in two major categories:

Managing Content

We’ve discussed this at length in earlier weeks and I don’t want to continue to harp on it, but this comes back to being symbolic analytic workers who are redefining technical communications in a new world. Technical communications is no longer just typesetting and publishing or even producing content, but rather thinking critically about what information an audience needs and the best way to deliver it. We’ve talked about the importance of filtering and navigating to help the audience find the content they need. Pigg discusses this as moving past “textual coordination” to “social coordination,” where we’re not only arranging information but also leveraging the contexts of social media tools and personal careers. Web 2.0 has shown us both the wonders and the pitfalls of mass amounts of content and what types of tools we can provide to help people navigate it.

Managing Communities

We can also take the lessons learned online about relationships and interaction and apply them to technical communication. Longo’s discussion of his “Practicing Science, Technology, and Rhetoric” colloquium hits on two major lessons — the power of collaboration and the ability to cross geographic lines. Lofstedt and Holmberg further expand on this and emphasize how there is opportunity to expand user participation in technical communication today. They write, “SM [social media] make it possible to move TC [technical communication] from the current one way broadcast and producer controlled model into an interactive co-generating model. In this way the problem with passive users and narrow feedback may be overcome.” They also suggest forming user communities and leveraging existing social media platforms for technical communication. Social media has demonstrated the huge potential for forming communities and encouraging user-generated content, and the field of technical communications can begin tapping into this.


Abel, J. Social media at work. Rocky Mountain Media Group. Accessed 12 Nov 2016

Löfstedt, U. & Holmberg, S.C. Social media as a mean for improved technical communication. Syst Pract Action Res (2016) 29: 297. doi:10.1007/s11213-016-9373-8

Posted on November 12, 2016, in Social Media, Technology, Workplace and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink. 3 Comments.

  1. I found it interesting that your company has formed its own social media community. This fact, along with the final part of your post, could be the set up for your final paper, particularly when you state, “Social media has demonstrated the huge potential for forming communities and encouraging user-generated content, and the field of technical communications can begin tapping into this.” Do you think your workplace could be a case study for this? A sort of comparison of mainstream social media channels and then more private ones guarded by intellectual property and proprietary concerns?

  2. I really like the idea of your company forming its own social media community. I find that fascinating and very useful, especially for the more sensitive and restricted companies. Due to my experience with Operational Security and Need To Know from my government contracting work, that is a great way to sidestep that as a roadblock to social media (though the access the provider has is always in the back of my mind and the minds of privacy-conscious feds).

    Recycling knowledge is always a great concept, especially when we’re in a field that touches so many other fields. Taking tips and tricks from my friends and colleagues is something I’ve always done.

  3. In this modern time when everyone is Googling everyone else, self-reputation management is vital, and I think that separating your “professional image” from your “casual self” online is a bedrock concept. I actually have two Facebook accounts. One is my “professional” one, under my real name–it is linked to from my blog, my website, and my LinkedIn and is part of my personal brand. I’ll accept friend requests of pretty much anyone I actually know, but it’s generally a weak-ties network. I curate my activity pretty heavily–I mostly only post stuff relevant techcomm or about Chicago. I keep the privacy settings pretty lax. I typically post just enough to make it look active.

    My “personal” Facebook, on the other hand, is under a pseudonym and has the tightest privacy settings you can have. I post/share pretty much whatever is on my mind, but my friends list is highly curated and fairly small, limited to close friends only. This is my strong-ties network. Once per year or so, I’ll “prune” the friends, and move people I’ve lost touch with to my professional Facebook.

    I think there are many people, particularly among the younger set, who would benefit from a similar setup.

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