How To Show Management Your Value As A Technical Communicator

Chapter 1 and 2 of “Digital Literacy For Technical Communication” focuses on the history, the role, and the value of technical writers. Chapter 2 can feel like a downer because it discusses how the role of the technical writer can be vague for managers. In fact, Dicks writes “Technical communicators need to worry about how they are perceived and evaluated and whether they might be likely sources for being reengineered and either either eliminated or outsourced” (64). 

I have felt these worries myself at times. After a copywriter left the company, my manager decided to hire a different role versus hiring a new writer. It made me wonder if he didn’t see the value of having two writers on his team. Dick outlines his four points for how technical writers can still show their worth in today’s companies. In my post, I’m going to discuss how I show my value to my managers and company. I’ve discussed iterative design enough in my previous posts, so I’m going to leave this skill out of the list (although I heavily suggest gaining design skills as a technical communicator). 

UX Expert or User Advocacy

UserTesting’s Company Logo. Source: UserTesting.com

I believe technical writers have a better understanding of the company’s customers than most employees in a organization. That’s because technical writers have to think about the needs of the customer whenever they write a blog post, a case study, documentation, etc. This puts technical writers in a prime position to lead UX (User Experience) efforts in a company.  

I commonly contribute to UX discussion, especially in regards to the design of my company’s website and products. However, it is not enough to simply know UX. In “Don’t Make Me Think, Revisited“, UX professional, Steve Krug, states that most believe they know UX regardless if they have been trained or not. 

As technical writers, that means you must become versed and trained in UX practices. Back up your assumptions about users with usability tools. I am currently designing a usability study using a research tool called UserTesting. With this tool, I plan to run 10 unmoderated tests that will help me understand how users feel about my company’s website. I am also running a survey to better understand user’s direct feedback about the company. Through these efforts, I am showing my company that I can lead my company’s UX efforts. I am bringing consistent value by helping them gain more insights about our customer base.

Content Strategy

Source: EngageContent.com

I don’t think I need to discuss how content strategy works because most of us already know it. But I do believe we possibly underestimate the value of this skill. In my experience, I’ve run into two types of writers in companies — those who just want to write, and those who strategize and write. I totally understand just wanting to be left alone to write and not focus so much on the strategy part. Content strategy takes away time from writing. And most of the time, the content plans you put together can be hard to stick to. However, you will gain respect from your colleagues if you do spend time putting this strategy together. 

I realized the value of content strategy after interviewing marketing directors. I’ve been interviewing directors a lot because my company is currently looking for one for our marketing team (this person would essentially become my boss). One candidate asked me some interesting questions after our interviews. She was extremely interested to know how I spend my time as a writer. Based on her questions, I could tell she was trying to figure out if I was a writer who just wrote, or if I was willing to be content strategist as well. This caused me to reflect on other questions director candidates have asked me, and they are always asking me about my content strategy. Even when I meet with my non-marketing director, he is asking me about my content strategy. 

Even though content strategy isn’t my favorite thing in the world, I’ve learned that many see tremendous value in taking the time to spin up a plan.

The Bottom Line

You may be feeling that this list is extremely marketing oriented. Like Saul Carliner’s history of the technical writer in Chapter one of our readings, my list has a personal dimension to it. There are still many ways technical writers can add value to their company through other means: programming, documentation, product management, etc. I would love to hear how the rest of you have found ways to bring value to your company, organization, or even to yourself, in your profession. 

Posted on October 28, 2018, in Marketing, Technology and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink. 6 Comments.

  1. Hi Jeffrey,

    One of the areas that organizations seem to need a lot of help with these days is monetizing their content. The Society of Women Engineers (SWE) has a sponsorship opportunity for its content called Digital Media Packages. Sponsors can pay a fee for the Society to help them write blogs, record podcasts, create videos, and do tweet chats about topics related to women in engineering technology. We label the content as provided by the sponsor. I help them through the process of creating this content using their employees as the subject matter, and SWE benefits by getting content that relates to SWE’s mission.

    Organizations also need help with analytics. There are a lot of applications today that make it fairly easy to track content and report on its engagement. I find that my clients are extremely interested in the business case behind the money they spend on content. It’s a valuable service to not only report analytics to them but then respond to trends we see in that data.

    Thanks for your post.

    Angie

    • Hi Angie!

      This is extremely interesting. I don’t think about monetizing content that often because my services for my company don’t focus on that. I can definitely understand the analytics portion of that value too. Measuring the success of content can be rather difficult. To have someone who can provide the proper context for the content’s success is extremely valuable. It can also be difficult because companies tend to be interested in different types of engagement (time on page, number of downloads, etc.). I have found that my company is more interested in MQLs more than visits and such forth. It has caused me to focus my content strategies on generating MQLs.

  2. Hi Jeffrey,
    As a Communications Specialist, content strategy has become very important to me. I’m a firm believer in strategizing to write. In the past, I loved to write – I’d loved to find a quiet place (often in nature) to sit and let my imagination float. I wrote what felt good to write. But, most of that type of writing didn’t have a purpose other than me liking to do it. Recently, the person I report to has helped to challenge my thinking and to strategize. Since I control a lot of internal content that people want to post on our company intranet, newsletter and other avenues, she has also encouraged me to challenge others to think about what they are communicating, why, and asking if the mode they are using to communicate is the most effective. I’m an idea person. I can come up with several ideas a day, and I get very excited about them. But, it’s important to take a step back and think about what the audience’s needs are, then decide what the message should be, and then make a plan to deliver that message in the most effective way. So, when you touched on content strategy, that hit home with me. Thank you for sharing that.

    • Hi Lisa!

      I am interested to hear how you have challenged others to think about the ways they communicate, in regards to external and internal communication. In my recent blog post, I have started to think more about how we manage the way others create and write content. It’s an interesting concept because I know how to manage my own content strategy pretty well, but I have a challenge managing and inspiring others to write content in effective ways when they are not on my team.

  3. This is a very interesting post about writing and content strategy and one you might be able to expand into your final paper. Can you tell me a little more about your interviews with marketing directors?

    • Hi Dr. Pignetti,

      Thanks for asking. I’ve been interviewing director candidates for about 8 months now. My company is looking for someone who is not only strategic but technical. What does being technical mean in this context? Honestly, it is easier to see then describe. We had one candidate who explained to me how she was designing a program (with tools I’ve never even heard of before) that would increase user traffic across the site. She was extremely qualified, but got a better offer from a different company in the end.

      Talking to director candidates has given me a ton of experience giving interviews, but it can be extremely time-consuming if you can’t find the right candidate. We have been pretty picky about the type of candidate we want, so it has increased the time of the process. Like I mentioned in my post, the candidates are extremely interested to know the role I play on the team. What type of writer am I? What does being a technical writer mean to me? You can tell that being a technical writer is so multifaceted that they need me to define how I see myself.

      These interviews have taught me that directors want someone who can handle the content marketing for them, but they want to be able to provide their input into the process. They want someone who has vision more than they want someone who can actually write. When your interviewing directors, they are also interviewing you because they typically have other offers elsewhere. You have to sell them a bit, so I’ve learned how to sell myself as a technical writer and tell them what they like to hear. This will definitely become helpful if I ever desire to start looking for a new job down the line.

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