Monthly Archives: September 2017

Adapting our Lives in a Web 2.0 World

All three readings this week seemed to focus on the ways that the world has adapted to social media and services.  In the workplace, our education system, and our personal lives, we have changed how we interact and communicate with each other. There are also new opportunities that social media and services can give us that we have no fully explored yet.  This leads to the question; how can we fully take advantage of these new opportunities when we do not fully understand how much or little limitations we have?  I will explore aspects of success and failure with both education and work-related adaptations to online services and social media.

Education

The classroom is no longer limited to school hours or physical boundaries.  Online classes and academic services used by schools are helping education reach and accommodate more students.  Ferro et al. argues that education has expanded to be more inclusive and participatory.  Students do not have to wait until class starts, as online resources can help them keep in close communication.  Online forums for classes have always been helpful for commonly asked questions by students to help everyone involved in the class more efficiently share knowledge and misunderstandings in coursework.

I cannot argue that using online services for school isn’t helpful, but I do feel like it has a long way to go.  With the budget limitations every education system has, it is difficult to quickly improve and create a more efficient online educational environment.  I am currently enrolled in two Universities and taking online courses with both.  The other University I am getting my Master’s degree in computer science.  Compared to my bachelors which was all in person, this experience has been much more of an independent journey.  Half of the fun of college was meeting people and talking to them about literally anything but school.   I do think that online courses can be improved in relation to this.  For example, what if we were provided with, encouraged, or expected to use an active communication service, like a chat service, to get to know each other and collaborate with better.  Forums and email give us passive communication, and this can lead to students and teachers only discussing what they need to get work completed.  It feels much less likely we will actually get to know small details about each other when we have our real lives offline.  Longo states that community can be as much “an act of exclusion as it is an inclusion” (p. 5).  It seems as though the online classroom has created a community that is more academic than social.

Work

When reading Pigg’s article about distributed work I was quite surprised in the direction that was taken. I thought it would focus on a company like mine with offshore workers, but instead it was much simpler.  The study on Dave and his fatherhood blog was completely inspiring.  I was very impressed by his ability to establish a niche community in a boundary-less environment of the internet.  I love that the internet gives a voice to people like this.  In the book industry, you may have the best idea, but getting published is still chalked up to luck.  Now we have this uncharted opportunity to be both a writer and an entrepreneur.  Being successful may still have to do with luck, but getting your work into a public domain is trivial.

Pigg also brings up room for improvement in the work environment especially when considering employees restrictions involving “cyberslacking” and internet monitoring.   Although it may be obvious that certain websites may be inappropriate for work, the nature of my job relies heavily on access to multiple services and social media sites.  One example is that we have Skype and most chat options blocked on our internal network.  Half of my team members live in Maryland whom I have to call daily, so we end up creatively huddling around phones and sharing web communication tool accounts just to do our jobs.  Additionally, integration with certain social media sites can be required depending on the projects we are working on.  To do this we have to ask special permission from IT to do jobs assigned to us.  Ferro et al. explores the expanding usage of social media and online services that people use to complete their jobs today.  It looks as though we will need to reevaluate our approach and the tradeoffs of restrictions vs. employee efficiency.

Both work and education have gone through a lot of trial and error in order to adapt and take advantage of online technologies.  Although there seem to be a lot of potential innovations, these aspects of our lives have budgetary limitations that cannot afford error.  At the rate technology is changing these parts of our lives may never fully embrace the newest capabilities available, but they are definitely opening up new opportunities.

Distributed Work and Collective Knowledge-making

Social media have spurred changes in communication­—technical and otherwise—far beyond expanding its reach and speeding its delivery. Stacey Pigg, in the article, “Coordinating Constant Invention: Social Media’s Role in Distributed Work,” points out that communicators use social media not only to distribute their work, but also to collaborate with contributors and to build their careers.

I have a little experience with the first and third examples listed there. As a broadcast journalist, I used social media to distribute news stories beyond the traditional, set-time radio newscasts, and also to create relationships with more followers (for lack of a better term), in the hope that some of them would become listeners. I have not had much experience with using social media as a collaborative workspace, but this may be the biggest development of all.

Bernadette Longo, in her article, “Using Social Media for Collective Knowledge-Making: Technical Communication Between the Global North and South,” points out just what a leap this idea of collective knowledge making is. When a work is put out online and others can contribute to it, through feedback, comments, or even direct additions, such as in a wiki, the line of authorship becomes blurred. The creator becomes as much a moderator as an author, and the product continues to evolve long after is published (if that’s even the right word anymore). The resulting product is “richer, deeper, and more useful” (Longo, 2013, p. 23). The idea of inviting readers to be contributors to the finished product takes the concept of audience-centered content to the extreme. The audience is, in fact, invited to help craft the final product until they find it most useful.

The social aspect of social media is well illustrated in Pigg’s article, which traces the work activities of a freelance communicator she calls Dave. During the course of a work session at a coffee shop, Dave reads other bloggers’ work while he composes his own blog. He and these other bloggers comment on each other’s work and link to one another’s blogs, helping to grow their audience together. Pigg points out the temporary alliance bloggers form as they build their community. Dave is also deliberately building his online persona as he creates his work and seeks out communities to join. He hopes the name recognition and credibility he establishes will attract more freelance work. To stay engaged in the online community, Dave constantly monitors social media, such as Twitter, and participates in the conversation.

As I mentioned, I have not collaborated much via social media or publicly available online services, though I have done considerable collaboration by email. In my current job, working for a large, national health care organization, I collaborate via email and Skype with people far away, some of whom I have never met in person. Some materials require input and approval from multiple departments in various regions across the country, so we email drafts back and forth (I know, it seems like this would be easier with Google Docs, but security and virus concerns make these forbidden). When we need a quick answer on something and we don’t want to get lost in the clogged email inbox, we instant message one another through Skype. We also share sample documents and discuss larger issues—enterprise style standards, best practices, etc.—through Yammer, a business-oriented internal social media platform.

Longo argues that social media is more effective in maintaining real-world interpersonal relationships that in creating new, virtual ones. I have to agree, as I am much more likely to interact with people I know in some other context. My most frequent social media interaction is with my own family. We have found social media to be very useful in keeping in touch. Back when I first went to college in the dark ages (the 1980s), our parents were lucky if we called home once a week. These days, my wife and I are able to exchange daily updates and even inside jokes with our grown daughters, one on the east coast and the other studying abroad. Depending on what we want to share—a quick comment, a picture, a video—these interactions might take place via Facebook Messenger, SnapChat, or WhatsApp. Whatever tool we’re using, it helps us feel closer together.

Pigg’s real-life example, “Dave,” can’t even articulate all of these different tasks he’s accomplishing with social media. We are developing new techniques and approaches before we know what to call them. Technical communication education must constantly evolve to understand, describe, and teach these concepts. The constant change creates challenges, but it should also be exhilarating. There’s no time to get bored with the same old same old. Communication is not static. There is always room for experimentation, looking for a better way to produce a better product and reach a broader, more interested audience.

Where is the internet taking us?

I was very intrigued by the YouTube video posted by the Apsen Institute titled “Is the internet taking us where we want to go?”  The host discussed that last summer there were two big news stories; Ferguson and the ice bucket challenge.  It was noticed that the frequency of the stories varied dramatically depending on the website.  Twitter covered Ferguson heavily while you were much more likely to see an ice bucket challenge video on Facebook.

We all know the algorithms behind search engines and social media are different depending on the site you prefer.  The host posed an interesting question.  Can we use social media and its algorithms to sway users reactions and habits?

The host gave a good example showing how social media did make a difference in trackable situations.  In the last presidential election Facebook selected 60 million users which is just a portion of their total number of users and added election content to the top of the Facebook page.  They put a notice saying that it was election day and gave a link to find your local polling location.  It was determined that this created a measurable increase in polling turn out.

The big question that was posed was is it ethical for social media to use its algorithms and content to control peoples choices and access to information.  Would it be ethical to change the algorithms during the Ferguson riots to show more pictures of cats or any humorous content and reducing the amount of news stories and videos of burning buildings.

I don’t think enough social media users understand how the social media sites have the ability to control information.  While I do think there is the potential to really reduce violence in the case of the riots.  There are a significant number of social media users that use Facebook and its variety of reliable and not so reliable news sources as their only source for information.  It is a very common occurrence to see one of my friends on Facebook like a clearly fake news article.

The last significant issue with control of algorithms is control of information and censorship.  It is a very delicate and complicated issue.  While some censorship can be beneficial to a groups general wellbeing, it is not in everyones best interest to not hear both sides to every story.  It is scary that social media sites can make decisions to sway things like politics.  We need to remember that many social media sites are businesses.  While most users don’t have to pay for their services, many businesses do and this generates significant income for the company.  I am not implying that all social media sites would take money to sway voters etc but it is within the realm of possibility.

Social media in the Navy

In their article, “Professional and Technical Communication in a Web 2.0 World,” Stuart Blythe, Claire Lauer, and Paul G. Curran (2014) wrote that “the availability of digital and mobile technologies has blurred the lines between personal and professional purposes, and has implications for how we characterize even seemingly inconsequential writing acts such as texing” (p. 282). As social media use evolves, the Navy has implemented policy changes to adapt. Here is my rundown of the good, the bad, and the ugly regarding the Navy’s and Sailors’ uses of social media platforms.

The Good: Social media platforms have expanded the reach of the Navy’s public affairs offices. For example, here is the link to my command’s Facebook page. It shows pictures of ships providing humanitarian aid following Hurricane Maria and recently promoted Sailors. Commands’ social media pages are invaluable to family members of deployed Sailors so they can see some of the missions their loved ones are doing. Many Sailors prefer to use Facebook Messenger to contact loved ones while deployed or just stuck in a secure space. I have one particular Sailor who will more likely respond to a Facebook message than a phone call.

Many Sailors who are “sponsoring” a prospective gain to the command usually first turn to Facebook to find the new Sailor’s contact information. Danah M. Boyd and Nicole B. Ellison (2008) learned in their research “Social Network Sites: Definition, History, and Scholarship” that many people don’t use social media to find new friends (p. 211), but in the Navy it is common practice to “Facebook stalk” incoming members to the command.

Group texting apps such as WhatsApp also help facilitate communication. During Hurricane Matthew in 2016, the base was evacuated. My chain of command did a poor job creating group text phone trees, so information flow was spotty. During Hurricane Irma, we created WhatsApp groups and the communication flow was greatly improved.

The bad: Boyd and Ellison (2014) cited Acquisti and Gross (2006), who said “there is often a disconnect between students’ desire to protect privacy and their behaviors” (p. 222). This is true in the Navy as Sailors have been disciplined for documenting their misbehaviors. The most recent case involved two corpsmen (these junior Sailors were misidentified as nurses in some media reports). who used SnapChat to share videos of them making newborns rap and pictures of their middle fingers with the infants. The caption read, “This is how I feel about these mini Satans.” What was likely just a stupid post to blow off some work steam will likely cost these Sailors their careers due to the outrage on social media. The commander of Navy medicine also implemented a new policy prohibiting the use of cell phones in patient care areas.

The ugly: Boyd and Ellison (2008) also discovered that homogeneous populations tend to associate on social media as well (p. 214). In the military, a group of likeminded servicemembers created a site to exchange nude photos of their fellow military members. It prompted the Chief of Naval Operations to make online harassment punishable under the Uniform Code of Military Justice to include sharing intimate photos.

Moving forward, I hope more Sailors, especially the junior ones, can learn from the mistakes of their peers and only use social media for positive purposes.

How is Social Media Evolving?

Social Media has evolved and adapted to accommodate the way we as humans want to communicate with each other.  The boom of social media has triggered an ongoing cycle of refinement as we find new ways we want, or don’t want, to use social media.  A corrective behavioural pattern can be observed over time based on demands and problems.

Many social media sites have evolved into frameworks for people to use the application as they need. This is to accommodate users so they don’t have to have accounts with a new service for every group they have.  Boyd et al. closely review the history and refinement of Social Network Sites, and highlights the demand for niche online connections.  These types of sites give smaller groups a sense of community that they could get without having to physically find people. These days many network sites have designed themselves to support these niche sets of people in the form of Facebook Groups and Subreddits.  Boyd et al. also bring up the rise of user-generated content sites.  Sharing videos, music or photos no longer requires your own hosted website.  This is another version of adaptation to address a social media problem.

Social media evolution has successfully brought more users to a few very popular sites.  Consequently, this evolution of digital media is creating a level of data that we never had before.  Jonathan Zittrain brings up how we can observe when two people are going to be in a relationship by looking at their data on Facebook.  This type of pattern can only be observed by comparing many data sets in order to identify patterns.  This level of intelligence is opening up a variety of jobs such as Data Scientists and Analytics, which are symptoms of the boom in social media usage.

This level of information has also brought up less desired symptoms.  Privacy being one of the big issues.   What does social media owe us in terms of privacy and are they allowed to profit off of it?  Uber could be an example of taking it one step too far by tracking the location of a user even when they’ve been dropped off.  But if Uber had disclosed that they tracked passengers would that be okay?  Theoretically speaking, Uber could have disclosed the information and most of their users could have jumped ship.  Alternatively, they could have become the cheaper option to Lift because of the extra money being made by openly selling or publishing the data.

Using data for profit can also be seen in the rise of targeted advertisements.  There is a lot of controversy over targeted advertisements because users feel violated.  This is still an ongoing debate on whether or not this is ethical.  This is another form of social media evolution to accommodate users, but not necessarily with the user’s interest in mind.

Jonathan Zittrain also discusses the algorithms behind digital media and how they can influence a user’s perception.  This brings up the ethics on changing algorithms to accurately portray current events.  This entire discussion is a grey area.   For example, when you look at “Popular” articles on a social media site, what does that mean?  Who determines what is popular? Many user-generated content sites use an algorithm for determining this, is this ethical?  And if a site profits by altering the algorithm, should there be consequences?  There appears to be a demand for some kind of governance but it is unclear what it should be.

Problems like privacy and governance will open up new ways for certain social media sites to either thrive or fail.  In the end, we should see new adaptations of social media for every new problem or demand that comes up.

Breaking mindset

This is my first course for my certificate requirements. I wasn’t totally sure I would “fit” into the MSTPC program since my background is literature, and I have limited experience with technical writing and media. I saw it as a challenge of my boundaries of knowledge. However, as a reader of some of the class material, I felt I was not part of the target audience since I am not familiar with technical writer jargon etc. Of course, if a reader cannot relate to the material, it is a struggle to maintain interest and focus. Nonetheless, I kept on reading. As I was reading Blythe, Lauer and Curran’s “Professional and Technical Communication in a Web 2.0 World,” I began to relate, to focus and to reflect.

I teach mainly composition at a technical college, yet we still devise our composition classes as if they were for a four-year college. I have had some of my students complain about having to take one writing class since they felt it didn’t pertain to their program. Of course, in the end they understand that any writing genre (mainly essays) will help them communicate more effectively in their careers. However, the set curriculum may not be sufficient if many of my technological-minded students are going into careers where more technical writing would be the norm.

A student who graduates from a technical school is more apt to be required to write similar forms of communication as mentioned in Blyth, Lauer and Curran’s report. Figure 1 (Blythe, Lauer and Curran, 2014, p. 273) lists research papers only on the bottom of the type most valued column; whereas, emails, instruction manuals, websites, presentations and blogs are at the top of both the list of most often used and most valued. So, perhaps I can begin making changes in my courses to meet the future needs of my students.

 

I am not discounting the value of essay writing and the objectives of our mandatory writing courses, for it does require the skills needed to do many of the more technical forms of writing. However, perhaps exposing students to other genres of writing would be beneficial in that it may attract the interest of a more tech-savvy (or interested) audience and may lead students to feel like they are getting more out of their course that they can apply directly to their programs and future careers.

 

Perhaps being a student again (not originally by choice) has reminded me of how my students feel when entering my required classes. Plus, this class is broadening my understanding of writing and the value of different forms of communicating in today’s technical world. Hopefully, my students will feel the same.

Who are we online?

Who are we when we are online? Are we really ourselves, or do we take advantage of the technological filter of the Internet to create a slightly (or greatly) more idealized version of ourselves for public consumption? In the article, “Social Network Sites: Definition, History, and Scholarship,” danah boyd and Nicole Ellison outline many of the aspects of social networks that have attracted the interest of researchers. Two of those aspects, which are related to each other, are impression management and friendship performance. So what kind of impression are we trying to make?

There are three main ways to make an impression on a social media site that I can think of. Ellison and boyd point out research that explores how people’s profiles and friend lists make an impression. I would say that what you choose to post adds to the impression people get when they connect with you online.

Let’s start with the profile. When you are building a social network profile, you are deliberately deciding what you want people to know about you. Let’s set aside privacy concerns for now—my brother, for instance, won’t post his true birthdate, not because he doesn’t want people to know he’s the oldest, but so it’s harder for an identity thief to impersonate him—and focus on what we do and don’t want people to know about us.

On my Facebook and LinkedIn profiles, I allow people to see my age. I’m not ashamed. Maybe next year when I’m 50, I’ll feel differently, but I doubt it. I include all of the jobs I have held as an adult. My Facebook profile includes all of my education, including high school, to help me connect with past classmates. My LinkedIn profile only includes my post-high-school education. It also includes my resume, professional awards, and links to some articles I have had published.

This information is factual, but mainly designed to make me look good, I guess. However, if you pay attention to the education section, you’ll see that at one point I began a college career and then abandoned it. It took me many years to finally accomplish that task.

Secondly, let’s look at the Facebook friend list and LinkedIn connections. According to boyd and Ellison, research indicates that who your friends are make up part of your online identity. I would add that the number of friends might also affect the impression people have of you. I have 476 Facebook friends and 326 LinkedIn connections. That seems respectable to me. I do not work very hard to increase those numbers. But I just noticed I have a friend who has over 1,100 Facebook friends and somewhere over 500 connections on LinkedIn. My impression of this is that she is more popular than I am! My self–worth is slightly diminished.

As far as who my friends are, I’m not sure what that says about me. There are some wonderful people on the list and some I would not choose to hang out with in person. I have not made a point of courting influential social media friends, though I do seek out influential professional connections on LinkedIn.

I think that what we choose to post on social media also makes an impression. Some people brag about themselves or their kids, others complain about their jobs or spouses, some make political statements, and some post amazingly uninteresting minutia. I like to post pictures of myself kayaking and playing guitar, because I think that’s the closest I come to looking cool. I have bragged about my daughters; that shows what a great parent I have been. I have posted pictures of awards I have won, brag brag. Other than that, though, I like to make people laugh, so I am much more likely to post about something stupid I have done than something that makes me look good. I would not likely post about a successful day on the job, but I did post a story about getting lost in the back hallways of the hospital where I work. The impression I probably made there? Funny, but stupid. Maybe I gain a few points for humility.

I have a feeling that after reading some of this research, I will have the urge to polish up my online self!

Relationship between technical communication and social media

There is a strong relationship between technical communication and social media. In the article Rhetoric of Reach: Preparing students for Technical Communication in the age of social media the authors discuss that link between social media and technical communication is heightened due to the number of internet users and increased availability of social media. They also discuss that 247 million Americans have internet access. The new found access to social media in recent years has increased the amount of internet users who are exposed to technical communication. However I think a significant amount of the original content found on social media doesn’t follow the implied rules of technical communication. Many posts are not clear or to the point. Many posts are not original content to begin with. A lot of writers of social media content don’t consider the audience either. The content may just be for themselves. A lot of the content of social media has nothing to do with anything technical. There is a clear connection between social media and technical writing. But there are many examples that show how some social media doesn’t follow the definition of technical communication.

Be professional

In their article, “The Rhetoric of Reach: Preparing Students for Technical Communication in the Age of Social Media,” Hurley and Hea (2013) discussed their students a fear of “illegitimacy about social media,” which is reasonable considering their introduction of Social Media Gone Wrong: Greatest Hits (p. 56). However, I’ve found the easiest way to counter the illegitimacy fear is to be professional.

Kitten Lady’s Hannah Shaw is a perfect example. She is an animal advocate and on her website, she provides resources — mainly YouTube videos — on how to take care of kittens. As she says on her website, http://www.kittenlady.org, she started to create resources when she tried to find information on caring for neonatal kittens and came up empty-handed.

Whenever I have a question about kitten care, my first stop is her YouTube channel. Hannah isn’t a vet or vet tech but that does not dimish her credibility in her videos because they are beautifully produced. They look professional therefore her audience associates her with being a credible professional. Even her kitten rap videos, which are made just for fun, follow suit with her instructional pieces.

Hurley and Hea (2013) also mentioned their students were leery about social media because there’s so much noise, it can be difficult to be heard (p. 60). Thank goodness the internet loves cats. Hannah recently hit 500,000 followers on Instagram mostly because her feed is adorable kittens. She uses the kittens as a draw and links to her other media in the caption.

My friend Megan, a registered dietitian who runs http://www.thenutritionaddiction.com, recently posted on Instagram that taking professional-looking photos was a major key to building her business and attracting new clients.

Neither one of these ladies are technical communicators, but they are both using social media to instruct their audiences. Hurley and Hea (2013) had their students complete similar projects for technical communication classes (p. 63).

While social media can reveal negative personal information about people, it can also convey positive personal information as well, which makes social media personalities like Hannah and Megan seem more relatable. Hannah reveals that she takes vacations, so she doesn’t burn out from neonatal kitten care. She also recently broke down crying on a live post because of all the mean comments she was receiving. Most of them suggested she needed to take care of all the orphaned kittens. She used the video to stress “You are someone and you can help, too.”

On her Instagram, Megan confesses that her favorite foods are chips and salsa and she has a penchant for vodka. Again, it’s that “real talk” that adds to her credibility on social media.

Technical communicators who want to use social media should do so professionally and with a human touch. It shows empathy, which I think is the epitome of social media. Think of it as wearing a tuxedo T-shirt. It says “I want to be formal, but I’m here to party” (Cal Naughton Jr. from Talledaga Nights). 

Technical and Professional Communication: One tweet at a time

I’ll admit it. There was a time I never though I would tweet, or snap, or instagram (apparently that can be used as a verb). As a broadcast journalist at the time, I already complained that some of my newscasts were only a minute long. What on earth could I say in 140 characters? Eventually I saw Twitter as a way to parcel out bits of breaking news, stay engaged with my audience when I could not break into programming, and develop an interactive relationship with them. Now that I work on the public relations side of media, I am continuing to learn how social media can be used in a professional way, allowing me to reach an interested audience, form relationships, establish credibility, and collect useful feedback.

The article, “The Rhetoric of Reach: Preparing Students for Technical Communication in the Age of Social Media,” by Hurley and Hea, illustrates many of these points in arguing that technical and professional communication students should take seriously the study of social media for professional use. I am lucky that, after a long break from school, I completed my undergraduate work recently, and my coursework included study and practice in social media.

I now work for a large and very credible health care organization that uses social media for many of the purposes outlined by Hurley and Hea. My organization distributes helpful and interesting health and wellness content, written by doctors, nurse practitioners, nutrition educators, and others, in order to establish a relationship with patients (and potential patients) and to establish credibility.

We do not solicit readers to provide their own helpful insights on how to perform cardiovascular surgery, so crowdsourcing is not really part of what we do, but I have seen it in action. I first became aware of online crowdsourcing way back in 2000, when I was experimenting with home music recording. I was trying to pick out the best combination of equipment to make reasonably professional-sounding recordings in my spare bedroom. I discovered the online community at homerecording.com, where I could search for answers and post my own questions about specific microphones, multi-track recorders, and other gear, as well as how to use them. It didn’t matter to me that those answering were not employees of a company, or even trained experts. It was like calling up a friend who knew about the subject and asking what they would do, except it was a total stranger.

The examples Hurley and Hea use, such as Instructibles.com, show how a user can use such a platform to not only reach an audience, but to obtain free feedback, serving as market research and consulting help. While many comments may be inane and unhelpful, some will help the producer create even better content.

Social media analytic tools can help a content creator evaluate what kinds of content will be most widely read, though I have see the concept of the “economy of likes” at work. We were recently discussing how an article about potential health benefits to allowing your pets to sleep in your bedroom was being widely shared, much more so than articles containing more “hard hitting” health information. The students in Hurley and Hea’s classes were right to point out that just because something is more widely read and shared does not indicate it is of the highest informational value. Still, this is nothing new. Traditional media are driven by ratings and readership. TV programs that rate the highest aren’t necessarily of the highest value; they simply catch the attention of the most people.

Having worked in traditional media through the rise of the worldwide web and social media, I watched my peers first sneer at, and then embrace platforms such as blogs, Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and Instagram, gradually learning how to use them effectively to maintain a relationship with their audience. Not that I had tremendous foresight. I had to be coaxed along, just like everyone else.

I’m a believer now. The technical and professional communicator who dismisses any channel that they think only their children will ever use will miss huge opportunities to reach and engage an audience, but he or she should take the time to evaluate how and why they will use a particular channel for a particular purpose.

Reached

The Good, The Bad & The Ugly

Prior to this course, I saw social media like blogging and Facebook as a tool for communicating with friends and family; Whereas, LinkedIn was more professional.  I never understood how to use Twitter, so I paid no mind to it, and especially chose to dislike it as social media when tweets by celebrities and politicians cause an uproar and divisiveness within our communities.  Perhaps I am a bit “old school,” for I saw these forms of communicating to be more social and not to be used in an academic sense. Generally, I teach my students that blogs are not to be cited in academic papers, unless you research the author and can show that the individual is an expert in his or her field. In essence then, I taught them to see social media to be “illegitimate.”

Bridges of Technical Communication

I realize I need to change my perception and teaching methods to “encourage students to adopt a critical stance to disrupt dominant constructions of social media as either wholly illegitimate or entirely beneficial” (Verzosa, Hurley & Kimme Hea, 2014). Since I do teach for a technical college, many of my students may work for a company in which they have to create blogs, manage a Facebook page, Tweet clients and more. All become a form of technical writing and are not merely one’s musings of the days events or shout outs to a friend. These forms of communication are important and can truly help as a bridge of communication between a business and its’ customers.

P.S.

I was just chatting with my son about class and what we are discussing this week. He shared with me some musicians songs–one in particular called “Erase Your Social” by Lil Uzi Vert–Warning though..some may find the language offensive. My son confirmed that there are mixed emotions regarding social media with his generation (he is a Junior in high school).

 

Third-time blogger

This is not my first go at blogging. Having completed my undergraduate degree fairly recently, I was required to blog regularly for a couple of classes. My first blog was a random collection of posts about communication in general. It was a chance to practice the mechanics of blogging, including embedding images, video, and other media, and it served the secondary purpose of forcing me to research a new communication topic each week. However, I can’t imagine anyone following that blog of their own accord.

My second blog project allowed me to pursue any subject I chose. I decided to do an interview format focused on community theatre entitled, “Dan the Theatre Man: On Enjoying and Excelling in Community Theatre.” In choosing a subject I had an interest in, I was able to apply some of the concepts outlined by Alex Reid in the article, “Why Blog? Searching for Writing on the Web.” I focused on a subject in which I had a strong personal interest and could speak about with reasonable authority, having participated in the craft for 35 years. I’m not sure my blog fulfilled the mission of showing an urgency to the subject matter or fulfilling an important and reasonable purpose, but I definitely achieved the “state of flow” described by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, as I got lost in the writing. I aimed for 500 words, but often found myself wanting to write three times that length. My enthusiasm for the subject matter made for a readable blog. Thanks to shares from some of my interview subjects, I was able to reach as many as 500 readers for my top post.

I agree with Reid’s belief that having an outlet with complete freedom of choice makes writing more enjoyable, and the more students write, the better they will get. Creating your own blog is also a good exercise in defining a target audience.

Overall, I enjoyed the experience of creating my own blog and the exercise helped me hone my efficient writing skills, even after I had been writing broadcast materials for more than 25 years.

Continuous Integration

There are very specific digital cultures that people need to understand when approaching certain social media platforms. For example, I should not talk about my personal life on LinkedIn, and I should not share company information over Facebook messenger. “The Rhetoric of Reach” suggests that understanding this culture is necessary before even approaching social media as a means of technical communication. The paper also suggests that these cultural boundaries are becoming looser. What the executive of a company says on Twitter can change the stock of the company in addition to their public image and employment.

My company recently became active in social media and made a huge deal out of it. Multiple emails and were given on how to publicly present ourselves when interacting as a member of the company on social media. The purpose of the social media was purely business driven. And I really don’t blame them after all the social media mishaps that have occurred online. When an employee posts the public often sums up that one user’s comment with the entire company’s world view. This level of scepticism is unfortunately a new standard.
On a more positive note, the understanding of digital cultures can help influence and “reach” more people. A couple of my friends worked at a company called Klout. Klout specialises in helping improve social media using scores and metrics for a user trying to get more viewers, or “reach.” It kind of seems like a credit bureau but for your social media. Of course, services like this cost money so it may not be in scope for a group of students doing a class project. For the more serious people trying to monetize and influence the world, however, this may be a great option. The fact that a company like this even exists is commentary on the quickly increasing trend and power that social media has.
Another form of “reach” I’ve noticed is the trend in monetary crowdsourcing sites, such as GoFundMe. The number of shares for each campaign are often in the thousands to promote more donations I actually did a small project this summer and observed how the sentiment metric of Tweets and stories influenced the overall success of a GoFundMe campaign. From the small amount of data, I had it appeared that positive stories and Tweets tended to be associated with successful campaigns.
The reasons people use social media are growing beyond entertainment. And in return social media is having more influence over things like money and our jobs. Staying literate in technology and the culture that surrounds it seems to more necessary than ever.

Blogging Literacy, Trends, and Journalism

Back in the days of LiveJournal and MySpace I got into the groove of writing blogs for everyone to see.  I would primarily write about emotionally driven subjects that nobody would ever listen to in person.  There was some fun in waiting to see if anyone would comment or view the posts that I made.  I especially loved DeviantArt because I could get public feedback over artistic pieces I posted online.  Over time the concept of privacy and permissions became more popular so I stayed with social media platforms that only displayed content to people I knew.  Additionally, the culture of blogging changed as well.

 

These days I use blogs for sourcing a lot of my information for work.  I read technology blogs often to get first hand experiences of how to create things with certain technologies.  They often give new perspectives that you cannot find from any book. You can also publicly solve problems online with groups of people you would not be able to find locally.  This aspect of technology blogs is a great way for engineers to network or get hired with new companies.  Technology blogging gives a great feeling of community and inspiration.

 

This article highlights the trends in blogging in today’s digital world.  Blogs are bringing more graphical inspiration, less comments, more content, and more inspiration.  Many blogs don’t even have one dedicated blogger, but a collaboration of many influential writers.  In regards to graphical inspiration, you can observe the new, or not so new, trend of food blogging.  Rather than a lengthy post about one topic, food blogs have a specific graphical standard they are upheld to. Many food bloggers benefit from a great camera to take pictures of the food.  I will find myself choosing recipes specifically for the beautiful pictures, regardless of whether or not the recipe seems to make sense.  I find myself actually trusting visual aids more than the content of the articles. And I can’t seem to stop myself.

 

Upon reading many of the articles on blogging literacy, I find myself wondering what the real difference between a blog and a news outlet is.  I suppose at this point they seem to be the same, as many examples listed, like Huffington Post, are treated like news outlets.   Now that everything has a digital version it is hard to differentiate between the two, especially when the content is the same.  Additionally, certain goals seem the same, more content and more viewers.  Unfortunately, the concept of journalism does not seem like a shared goal.  With the emerging technology, trusted sources of news may not be so easy to find.

Jennifer’s blogging experience

As I mentioned in my introduction, I first started blogging for an undergrad class. During that time, I was also the web editor of my college newspaper, The Times-Delphic. So, I also created a blog for the newspaper. Reporters blogging was all the rage at Gannett, so I thought I should mimic the tactic.

I don’t recall a lot of people reading either blog. I usually blogged after I posted an issue so I could highlight it. I also blogged when there was breaking news that I posted to the Web site. I honestly don’t remember what I had to blog about for my class. How sad is that? In my defense, it was over 10 years ago.

Despite my limited recollection of what I actually wrote, I remember thoroughly enjoying the experience. Alex Ried’s article “Why Blog? Searching for Writing on the Web” explained that school assignments are just that — assigned. Whereas blogging “is an excellent opportunity for exploring and developing intrinsic motivations for writing” (p. 303).

During one of my performance reviews, I mentioned starting a health and fitness blog for The Des Moines Register. I never followed through with it, but I wanted to create it because it was a subject I was interested in and wanted to learn more about. Again, 10 years later, I still haven’t blogged about the topic, but I did create a PowerPoint on it for training. I included pictures of RuPaul, cheese, and booze, so you know it’s not boring.

I am looking forward to reacquainting myself with this medium.

 

Blog on blogging

Blog, blog, blog. . .

I have never blogged, nor found interest in blogs. Perhaps this was largely due to time constraints, but I am also sure it was due to my personal bias toward blogging, for it seemed to me that many used it to vent. I thought of blogs as more of an online personal journal.

The Writing Process

Many of my students blog, so I decided to use the following video about writing a blog as a way to connect with my audience, and show them that writers don’t just write– they follow a process.

Audience, Tone & Context

In addition, to sharing the above video about writing a blog, we also discuss audience, tone and context. Since the professor in the video is Canadian, that alone opens a discussion on audience, tone and context. So, we also evaluate the professors choices in devising this video.

Ta Da!

After doing activities like this with my students, I realized I needed to change my attitude about blogging. My goal as a writing instructor is to get students to write– even if they are writing blogs. Most likely they will enjoy the process more since it isn’t a traditional “essay.”

 

Blogging Experience and Literacy

I haven’t had a lot of experience working with blogs. When I was in high school in a web design class we designed the graphic side of a blog. We had to make a blog but it was really focused on design and presentation not in the content of the blog. That was the only experience I’ve had with writing a blog.

I have read a number of blogs on a variety of topics. I feel that blogging is a balance of content and design. Both aspects are equally important in my eyes. It can be hard to hold a readers attention without an eye catching and easy to read design.

The article I have picked to react to is the 16 Top Tips from Blogging Experts for Beginners article. Overall I have a positive reaction to the article. It does seem like it is focused more on blogs that are meant to make a profit or for a business instead of ones for educational content.

Some of the tips given in the article that I found valuable were being consistent, giving away your knowledge and being true to your voice. All three of these ideas help develop the blogs value and increase the reliability of your content.

Some of the tips that I didn’t find to be helpful in an educational blogging setting were give give away stuff, give your email list priority, and keep it short. These tips may work in some situations but may have less value in an educational setting. Especially keep it short. Being consistent and concise is important but after reading the description of our blogging prompts for the rest of the semester we will need more than a minute or two of reading which was the recommendation in the article.