Reach & Crowdsourcing: A Binder of Tech Comm and Social Media

The relationship between technical communication and social media is a peculiar crossroads. The notion of pitfalls and perils of social media, as discussed by Hurley and Hea (2014), seems to define the differences between the two. As I reflect on synthesizing technical communication and social media, I initially question how I would go about doing so. The former seems sterile and definitive, while the latter open-ended, free-spirited, and uncontrolled. Technical communication, for me, has been best approached by Redish (2011) who states technical communicator’s goal, “is to make even complex interactions understandable and usable.” This concept of understanding and usable can transfer to the activity detailed throughout Hurley and Hea’s (2014) article where students prepared instructional documentation for a social media website. So why when I initially went to synthesize the relationship between the two did I feel it was unrealistic? I believe it goes back to the beginning of Hurley and Hea’s (2014) article and the previously stated pitfalls and perils. Social media in the realm of Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter seems very free-form. Devoid of checks and balances, social media commentary can flow freely like the jazz music of digital communication. It can change on a dime with users rhetorically appealing to the same concepts Hurley and Hea forefront – reach and crowdsourcing.

Reach, as defined by Hurley and Hea (2014) is, “the ability to form relationships, address user interests, and determine long-term effects of networking” (p. 57). I would argue reach is central to successful communication as the content must resonate with the user. In the technical communication field, this viewpoint would center on user experience and usability. As the student’s in the Hurley and Hea (2014) article framed their instructional topics, their focus on reach also focused on user experience. By producing an article central to usability, as all of the instructional documents within the article did, the authors ensured the article reached users. Thus within this example, we can see the connectivity of technical communication and social media. Both utilize reach in varying ways to resonate with an end-user. The document itself, the ‘how-to’ technical communication element, uses reach in connecting a user and the technology. The social media component or the ability to engage with the document, leave comments, and share it, uses reach to connect the document to a network. It could almost be deconstructed into two stages: production and dissemination. I don’t think, however, that we need to disassemble this to such a sterile level. The point being both technical communication and social media utilize reach to connect with the users. By positioning users in this way, both technical communication and social media also use crowdsourcing to their benefit.

Hurley and Hea (2014) define crowdsourcing as, “the practice of tapping into the collective public intelligence to complete a task or gain insights that would traditionally have been assigned to a member of or consultant for an organization” (p. 57). When technical writers, for instance, create a manual for use by end-users, they traditionally and hopefully perform user testing. This examination of the user employs crowdsourcing to determine a variety of useful knowledge. This can include user nomenclature when it comes to a particular device or performing a task. It can also include document user successes and failures to determine the required content to reside within a how-to manual. Crowdsourcing, like user testing, requires user experience. It requires engagement with an audience to define what the people want and need. Social media both uses and offers the ability to use crowdsourcing for discovering channels of communication and user information. Similar to user testing for a manual, engaging within a social media channel requires crowdsourcing to comprehend what users are saying. To join a conversation, you need to know both what’s being discussed and topics of interest. You wouldn’t engage with a social media channel focused on MMORPG’S to share a document about games outside this genre. In this instance, you’ve inaccurately utilized the communication channel because you’ve neglected to crowdsource. A more successful approach would be sharing a beta test of a new MMORPG with a Discord channel focused on that game genre. Just as one could share a sample of a user manual for a VOIP phone, for example, with users of VOIP phones in an organization. Crowdsourcing, to be successful, must focus on the user, and ultimately, it must make sense within the conversation. Thus the connection between technical communication and social media can be found within reach and crowdsourcing.

Hurley, E., & Hea, A. C. (2014). The rhetoric of reach: Preparing students for technical communication in the age of social media. Technical Communication Quarterly23(1), 55-68.

Posted on September 15, 2020, in Social Media and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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