The common nexus between the three readings this week is the emerging role of social media in the work of technical communication. There are implications of changing audiences, changing work roles and workflow. Each article discusses an impact but all complement one another to describe the rapidly changing professional field of technical communication thanks to the infusion of social media in our lives.
Ann Blakeslee contributed toward a 2010 book for a chapter titled, “Addressing Audiences in the Digital Age,” and discussed social media’s impact on audiences as it permeates all the corners of our personal and public lives. With the shift from traditional paper to digital documents and communication, Blakeslee first poses the question, do technical communicators need to adjust their view of an audience from selective and specific, to more generic and simpler? The argument is given the reach of the internet, anyone could read your product. Ostensibly though, Blakeslee quickly concludes that technical communicators have to continue to approach their audiences as “contextual, unique and particular.” She finishes her discussion going over three well-established methods of understanding an audience: personas, interacting with readers and reader feedback.
Ferro and Zachry (2014) in their scholarly article, “Technical Communication Unbound: Knowledge Work, Social Media, and Emergent Communicative Practices,” discuss at length how the field of technical communication no longer operates “in a stable structure with set boundaries.” Instead, technical communicators are engaged in knowledge work and have to continuously adapt to new tasks and technology. Ferro and Zachry conclude that successful knowledge work includes understanding how social media is used, what information it can provide about audience(s), and how it can assist in collaboration. I believe Ferro and Zachry agree with predictions from other scholars that social media will become “mission critical” tools in the workplace just like email and instant messaging.
Similarly Stacey Pigg discusses technical communicators’ principal roles of assembling and coordinating texts, technologies and expertise to produce products in her 2014 article, “Coordinating Constant Invention: Social Media’s Role in Distributed Work.” Through this distributed approach to working, Pigg asserts that social media offers a new “means through which individuals can aggregate people and knowledge.” As a result, this gives technical communicators a greater reach to others to collaborate and discover new information.
Given these discussions from peer-reviewed authors, as well as the obvious inculcation of social media into individuals’ lives and organizations, I agree that some forms of social media will likely become “mission critical” tools in the workplace like email. There are two factors that I believe will go into which platforms become “mission critical.” The first factor is the purpose of the platform. By this I mean the nature of the content people post. A social media personality I follow summarized each platform nicely in a recent video:
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Just as Nick described in his quick analysis regarding Miami (FL) PD’s social media audiences, businesses will have to research their target audience and identify the platform(s) that would best deliver a specific type of content or reach specific individuals. The second factor will be how well the platform moderates content. While this is more of a public relations issue, if a medium is viewed as contentious or looses popularity, organizations and businesses will likely seek other social media.