Like it or not, social media is here to stay

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:

(Video will automatically start.. watch only until 7:40)

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.

Posted on November 14, 2020, in Social Media. Bookmark the permalink. 6 Comments.

  1. I really enjoyed the way Nick sums up the engagement strategies within each of the social media platforms. Furthermore, I agree with the two factors you describe: purpose and moderation. Purpose, for me, has always been a major factor regarding why a social media channel should start. For a few years, I sat on the social media committee at our university, and for clubs, departments, and organizations to be an approved university social media account, they had to show purpose. We would provide a description of each platform, much like Nick does in the video. They would then need to explain how their content would adhere to each platform’s engagement style.
    We would also require those submitting for a university-approved account to offer some form of content moderation strategy. We wanted to know how often you would moderate and offer some pros and cons for engaging in commentary that became argumentative or difficult. My role on the committee was eye-opening as we connected with social media coordinators and managers across the country. I had no idea how much strategy was going into social media platforms across Big 10 schools, for example. I’ve read through massive social media guidelines and strategy plans universities compile and provide to any university authorized social media account. Two things they all include is the notion of purpose, the why, and moderation, the how. When we look at the technical communication field, we can see those same parallels with user experience and tech writing. Whereas the user experience team functions as the social media committee, to understand the audience and develop those heuristics. The tech writing team then utilized what they know about the audience and the end product to craft communication that works no matter the modality.

  2. Kim Smith mccroryk0613

    Hi Jason!

    I liked how Pigg and Ferro & Zachry brought up the frequency of freelance technical communicators, and what a damper proprietary, pay-to-play applications can be. Using social media seemed precarious at best, but there are definitely communities that are building an open source platform from which others can benefit. Licensing can be very cost prohibitive, especially if you end up at a firm that uses a different platform. Taking advantage of open communities is an interesting trend in the professional world – each of my professors in grad school have introduced me to groups that they find valuable. It’s been eye opening for sure, even though I feel like a total newb most of the time.

  3. In your closing remarks I like how you mention that it’s not just about the type of content that is being posted for the business’s target audience, but on what platform it’s being posted on. I just recently took a photography workshop and a large portion of it was to identify who your target audience is and to figure out how best to reach them. If it was up to me, I like the word of mouth method as it seems so authentic. BUT, in order to grow your following I know that utilizing more platforms is a necessity. For someone who is comfortable with Instagram and Facebook I feel confident and comfortable posting there, but in order to keep up with times and reach even more people I know I may have to step out of my comfort zone and utilize an Instagram live. Or worse, TikTok (shudders).

    • LOL at the TikTok. I can’t even watch those and I’m not sure of the purpose of some other than the viral choreography. I’ve been working on a celebrity studies project with some Taylor Swift critics and a former student of mine sent me this (there are 3 but I’m only sharing 1):

      @alysssassyla

      taylor swift stalked me: not clickbait #swiftmas

      ♬ original sound – alyssassyla

      So is it fair to say TikTok is like YouTube here?

  4. Jason, I feel a lot of the points you make here about social media becoming distributed work dovetails with this Anne Helen Petersen piece (shared in Canvas right before the midterm) on “How email became work.” For some reason it wasn’t until I read that piece did I realize I NEVER send personal emails anymore, except to an 80+ woman I know here in town because she deleted her Facebook account.

    I wonder how long it will be before none of my social media posts are personal?

    • I am one of those workers who works to empty their inbox. In my view, my inbox is essentially a “To do” list. Thankfully in my current professional role (and one I’ll maintain for many years to come) I receive few emails. Prior to this role, I always linked my work emails to my smartphone. Shortly after starting this position three years ago, my boss quickly called me out when I responded to one of his emails on my day off. He told me not to worry about work emails when I’m not working. I deleted my work account from my smartphone right then and its been a relief to only handle work emails when I’m at work. Perhaps that is another simple approach for Anne Petersen can encourage.

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