Author Archives: AaronF

Emerging from Emerging Media

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Before taking this class, I tinkered with social media. After this class I suspect I will continue to tinker with it. Not because I don’t want to do more, but because working more than full-time and going to school full-time precludes pretty much anything else for the foreseeable future. But, when I’m ready, I know I will be very glad I took this class.

It has challenged me to think about what drives communication within social media, i.e., it’s rhetorical basis. It never occurred to me to think about social media from a rhetorical perspective. But, the great eye-opener for me was to realize social media is perfectly compatible with rhetorical practices.

For example, in social media, we think about how to put the message together: short meaningful sentences if possible. We group information under headings and use lots of pictures. What we are really doing is attempting to deliver a message in as palatable way as possible. In other words, we are thinking about the reader’s experience. And, from what I’ve learned this semester, nothing could be more important.

My Final Paper

Dr. Pignetti suggested my final paper could build off of my blog posts this semester. My strategy for those was to take the readings, think about how they apply to my past and present work, and form an advice-based post. (The advice was intended as much for me as anyone else.)

My paper presents a set of practical guidelines related to social media that can be applied by individuals or businesses. It’s a practical guide—a sort of owner’s manual.

This guide is organized into five components: communication strategy, channels, content, connection, and community. I formed these by thinking about how the principles around social media we discovered this semester fit together. Each principle or idea could be grouped under one of these categories.

Communication refers to the strategy that needs to be considered when engaging in social media. Channels represent the various types of social media individuals and businesses can publish information to. Content is a discussion on what types of information fits into your strategy whether that is self-generated or curated. Connection refers to how you connect your social media efforts to external content and themes. Community means the importance of building a sense of community around social media efforts.

It’s important to see these five components not as individual puzzle pieces, but as pieces of a solved puzzle—they work together to achieve an effective, and comprehensive social media platform.

Good Luck to You!

I have enjoyed reading your blog posts this semester. I learned something from each one and often that something caused to me think in a different direction, if only for a little while. But that, I’ve come to realize, is the point of education.

Eight Tips for Writing in Distributed Work Groups

3d character Working on computer connectet to globe. Conceptual 3d illustration

Let’s face it: Work life is dispersed. On any given day, we might find ourselves connecting with colleagues at their homes, in another city, or across the world.

If I stop to think about it, in the last two weeks, I’ve had meetings with people in Perth, Beijing, London, and remote parts of the Canadian North. These meetings led to collaboration on documents, document templates, training resources, and technical reports. That collaboration took place by phone, email, social media, video chat, and online meeting software.

I’ve had similar collaborations with colleagues from my office who happen to be working from home. I could also say I’ve had video chats or instant messaging sessions with coworkers down the hall or on another floor in my same building. (I could say that but I’m not going to. While efficient, it’s shameful.)

Stacey Pigg in Coordinating Constant Invention: Social Media’s Role in Distributed Work (p. 70) put it this way:

“Social media offer a means through which individuals can aggregate people and knowledge or, at the least, learn how existing webs of participation are held together.”

This is a thoughtful insight. On one hand she’s stating that social media (and I would add to this a number of online tools), provide means for group collaboration and knowledge sharing. On the other, she’s stating social media (and the other tools), when understood, provide a view to group dynamics.

You can call it distributed work groups with a focus on social media, as Pigg does, or remote collaboration, parallel work-sharing, or something else. But, whatever you call it, these group work tools and scenarios “offer unique affordances for overcoming fragmentation” (p. 73), if you have the right protocols in place.

Here are eight tips you can use to get the most out of distributed work groups…err…online group collaboration.

  • Hold a kickoff meeting. This may be the only time everyone in the work group is “together” at the same time. It’s a critical meeting where you can set goals and lay the ground rules. Don’t skip it!
  • Define roles and responsibilities. Who are the writers, the editors, the reviewers, the coders, the designers, and so forth? I like to make a contact list with roles and post it in a shared resource (e.g. an online file share).
  • Designate a document custodian. All documents from actual documents to web content should have a custodian. This person creates and manages the initial artifact. This person–and only this person–is allowed to up the revision number, which saves having to unnecessarily compile multiple versions.
  • Centralize assets. Graphics, sounds, fonts, video, and so on. They all go in a central repository. This is for three reasons: (1) you only need to go to one place to up upgrade or change them, (2) everyone can access them without bottlenecks, and (3) when the project is over it’s easy to archive them.
  • Create a style sheet. From terminology to capitalization to colors to handling bullet lists, insist on a one-page style sheet for every project. It’s one page. Everyone can stick to information on one page. (Not really. It boggles my mind, but that’s why we have technical writers and editors.)
  • Capture key communication. Put someone in charge of capturing key online discussions where ideas or decisions are made. This makes it easy for newcomers to get up to speed quickly. Using tags in social media is great for this.
  • Leverage time zones. For years, I’ve strategically hired contract editors in various time zones. When I’m done for the day, they pick up and vice versa. It’s almost as if there are two of me (a thought that frightens children and coworkers alike).
  • Manage Privacy. In Yammer, where I do most of my group collaboration, I close the group to only those working on a project, whenever it makes sense to do so. Despite our increasing ability to work simultaneously on single files and the like, no one likes the feeling of being watched.

These eight tips are a good starting point. Many others, especially for specific circumstances, could be noted. Feel free to add to the list by commenting.

A Roadmap to Social Media Success for Your Organization

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Of the readings this week, the one that stood out to me the most was Tweeting an Ethos: Emergency Messaging, Social Media, and Teaching Technical Communication by Melody A. Bowdon. Although all the readings* influenced to the contents of this post in some way, Tweeting an Ethos made me think specifically about the roadmap that is needed for ensuring success of an organization’s social media efforts.

The guidelines I offer here are not exhaustive; they are meant to provide a thought framework that can be applied when preparing social media content and subsequently distributing it. This is especially true if, like me, you are being increasingly asked to participate—either developmentally or editorially—in your organization’s social media program.

Here are the guidelines for developing and distributing social media content:

Account for your organization’s core values. Some organizations have documented core values and some do not. If yours is in the former, they should be a core input into your social media editorial calendar (i.e. planned content). If yours is in the latter, your communication team should spend some time assessing what your organization’s core values are and document them. Even if these are not considered formal (i.e. have buy-in from executive leadership) that’s okay. Core values help you know what to write about and what not to, even before you put pen to paper.

Interpret the message. Once you’ve written your social media content, ask yourself three questions: What does this mean? What does this mean to our supporters? What does this mean to our detractors? The answers to these questions should inform the final draft of your content.

For example, you may have had one purpose and intended meaning for your content before you started writing. Is it evident in the file copy? If not, are its purpose and meaning acceptable to you?

Your supporters and detractors will interpret (or seek to interpret) your content in different ways. You should attempt to craft a message that encourages your supporters and discourages your detractors. But, recognize achieving both is not always possible, which is why I recommend the next guideline.

Assess future impact. Remember, at this point your social media content has not been published. It’s a good idea to assess the benefits and risks associated with how the message could be interpreted. This applies to supporters as well as to detractors.

You don’t want supporters to be unhappy and you want detractors to come to your side. Of course, ethics may preclude ameliorating either of those results, but it is better to be fully informed going into a public communication scenario.

Test. Before posting, test content. Big budgets may be available to you to do this with more accuracy. More likely, you will need to take advantage of lower budget, less reliable options. These include running content by objective individuals within the organization (which is why I think I’m getting asked), approaching trusted clients, and following organizations whose social media platforms reflect your own. For the latter case, note responses to content similar to what you intend to post.

Pause before publishing. We’re technical communicators, so this is probably second nature to most of use. We pause and come back to our writing. I once set a “rule” that a 24 hour moratorium on distributing content was in effect, unless an item was time sensitive. I can’t tell you how many times within that 24 hours something changed that either impacted the content, caused a delay in distribution, or cancelled the content all together.

Wrap-up

If I stop to think about it, these five guidelines are really social media inputs into an organization’s ethos. (Bowdon recognizes the idea of ethos is defined in a variety of ways including organizational identity, credibility, or Aristotle’s good sense, good moral character, and goodwill (p. 36).) It’s a circular construct. Organizational ethos drives social media content and distribution. In turn, response based on the content influences organizational ethos—or at least the perception of it.

What have I missed in the guidelines?

*The other readings were Technical Communication Unbound: Knowledge Work, Social Media, and Emergent Communicative Practices by Toni Ferro and Mark Zachry and Using Social Media for Collective Knowledge-Making: Technical Communication Between the Global North and South by Bernadette Longo.

Five Topic Areas to Write About on LinkedIn to Survive In a Smart Technology Future

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As I watched the debate between Andrew Keen and Jonathan Zittrain, Smart Technology – Future Employer or Job Destroyer, on AspenIdeas.org, I became uneasy. No, I became frightened.

I’m a middle-aged man working on a master’s degree. I’m attempting to stay relevant as younger folks enter the workforce and my knowledge and experience becomes increasingly dismissed. I think I understood this was a part of getting older. (It shouldn’t be, but it is.)

Now, it seems, I must also begin to think about how to contend with non-human competitors aka smart technologies.

What’s Up with That?

“The problem,” says Keen, “with this technological revolution—and your right, no one has any right to a [particular] job and no industry has any right to a continuing existence. The nature of technology…lends itself to permanent destruction. But, the problem is that these old jobs are going away and there doesn’t seem to be any new jobs.”

If you’re my age or older that means one of two things. Maybe you’ll squeak by and retire just before the smart technology revolution is in full binary bloom. Or, maybe you won’t and you’ll be displaced much earlier than you expected.

If you’re somewhat or much younger than me, you’re still faced with these two scenarios. But, you have more time to prepare.

On the Other Hand

What if we have nothing to worry about, young or old older?

“If you can find, I hate to use the word efficiencies,” says Zittrain, “because it masks just how rich what we can find is. But, if you find efficiencies, yes, then society faces a question of ‘We’ve just discovered way more abundance, how might we share it?’”

Zittrain is suggesting that allowing smart technologies to do our work would give us the freedom to do what interests us—mostly anyways.

So Which Is it?

Don’t ask me. I’m your competition. The non-robotic kind—or am I?

I will, however, offer five topic areas you can write about on LinkedIn that should, for the time being, be difficult for smart technologies to produce.

Resistance Is Not Futile

In Using LinkedIn to Get Work from the June 2010 issue of Intercom magazine, Rich Maggiani and Ed Marshall suggest LinkedIn is a good way to find and keep a job. They focus on profiles, connections, and job searches.

“The possibilities for getting work through LinkedIn are boundless,” they say. (Give’em a break. They wrote that in 2010, which is like sooooo like long ago like.)

But, they did give some sage advice: “Remember, though, that as a social media network, your chances are enhanced by relying on your [LinkedIn] connections. So cultivate them.”

These topic areas should help you do just that and they are smart-technology resistant:

  • Your Analyses. Only you can analyze an issue in your field, a book review, or a news item and provide your opinion. No smart technology can do that on your behalf.
  • Your Ideas. Smart technology can’t yet see what is going on in your head. Leverage your great ideas by carefully fleshing them out and documenting them in your LinkedIn posts.
  • Your Accomplishments. It’s okay to post your accomplishments. In fact, LinkedIn often does it for you. Be sure to share the takeaways and stick to relevant and/or significant accomplishments for the LinkedIn crowd. Won an award? Good. Finally cleaned the cat litter box. Not so much.
  • Your Experiences. Attended an industry event? Taken a class? Why not write about your experience and related outcomes and findings? Unless you sent your surrogate A.I. robot in your stead, you should have plenty of fodder for your LinkedIn posts.
  • Your Curation. No smart technology can curate content on your behalf. Sure you can enslave some feed aggregator to do the dirty work of compiling content. But, only you can choose what to curate. Don’t just focus on your interests. Build a curation profile that people can rely on.

Unless you are assimilated entirely by some social collective network (you know the one I mean), these topic areas should help you stay relevant—at least until the post-apocalyptic war between humankind and machines.

Would you add anything to the list?

Movie Hits Are Taking a Hit: Shifting from Mainstream to Streaming Media

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The film and TV industries have always been competitive for sure. You have your A-listers, your B-listers, and so called D-listers. The A-listers starred in hit movies and TV shows. Period. The B-listers did made-for-TV movies and some pretty good, if not short-lived TV shows. And, the D-listers, well, they popped up here and there. I’m noticing all that is changing now and I’m not the only one.

A-listers are appearing in TV series and mini-series. B-listers are appearing in movies—good movies, but no one expects them to be hit movies as blockbusters are few and far between. This applies to music and books too, but I’m a movie buff so I’ll mostly stick to what I know best.

Is This All There Is?

In days gone by, our means of accessing content (whether video, audio, or print) were limited. We went to a movie or drive-in movie for, uh, movies. We listened to the radio, groovy records, and later CDs for music and the like. And, we read daily newspapers, monthly magazines, and the latest from the book-of-the-month club.

What you found from those distributions channels were what executives (with the help of media experts and a lot of market study) thought would make the most money. Anything outside of this realm was more difficult to find. (Thinking about if from the other end, if you were the artist, it was difficult to produce because the market couldn’t reach you very easily.) I remember studying aspects of this as an undergrad in various mass communication courses.

But, the reason we see fewer hit movies isn’t because our preferences have changed; it’s because we are finally able to indulge our preferences.

Changing Channels

It’s not that big hits and mainstream content are going away entirely. The reason seems to be our ability to access streaming media—it’s easy. From the content producers end, it’s easier and more affordable to put content online even if you don’t have a robust following yet. The big hit producers are having to compete with these “alternative” content providers. To do that, they have be “in the media” their competitors are in.

A sentence from Howard Rheingold’s Net Smart (p. 251) gives some insight into this process:

“Social media are permitting people to seek support, information, and a sense of belonging from sparsely knit, loosely bound networks as well as the traditional densely knit, tightly bound groups.”’

Those loose networks can be thought of as non-mainstream, alternative content providers and their enthusiasts. So, it’s not that our tastes have shifted, but we’re finally able to access more of what we’ve always wanted to access. Chris Anderson explains it this way in The Long Tail:

“But most of us want more than just hits. Everyone’s taste departs from the main-stream somewhere, and the more we explore alternatives, the more we’re drawn to them. Unfortunately, in recent decades such alternatives have been pushed to the fringes by pumped-up marketing vehicles built to order by industries that desperately need them.

Hit-driven economics is a creation of an age without enough room to carry everything for everybody. Not enough shelf space for all the CDs, DVDs, and games produced.”

I would say it’s been more than recent decades though. It’s too vast a subject for a blog post, but if you look back on the history of mass media and go back just before it began, you’ll find what we call “niche” content today.

Someday soon, I believe that idea will fall away and we’ll just talk about the latest content whether it comes from big-house publishers or sole (and soulful) artists. Someday soon, we’ll watch the Oscars and hear: “And the Oscar for best documentary goes to that woman over there who filmed the entire thing on her mobile phone.” Very respectable.

The Un-Networked: A Story About App Development in a Bubble

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In early 2008, I signed up for Evernote® and became a premium subscriber. It quickly became my digital brain and I used it daily. In 2012, Evernote acquired Penultimate, a note taking app for iPad that allows you take handwritten notes. In 2014, Evernote launched a new version of Penultimate that led to their having to issue an apology to their users.

But, despite their claims of listening to feedback, many Evernote users suggest otherwise in the app’s forums. I believe this “development in a bubble” has led to the company’s CEO, Phil Libin, having to step down and to the company’s having some serious trouble with public relations if not finances, as reported by BusinessInsider.com: The inside story of how $1 billion Evernote went from Silicon Valley darling to deep trouble.

But, why?

I’m no business analyst so I’ll skip the charts and graphs. But, I can tell you why I left Evernote last year as a premium subscriber and active user in favor of another app. I believe the following are some of the main reasons Evernote is struggling—all of which have to do with Evernote being un-networked to its user base.

We’re Listening But Not Really

Howard Rheingold, Author of Net Smart: How to Thrive Online, says “The aggregated by-products of digital participation add up to a marketable commodity…” (p. 135). In theory, yes, but only if the company is listening.

In Evernote’s case, I and other users called for certain features or feature tweaks for years in the user forums. What we got were new apps that eventually died (e.g. Hello and Food), features no one seemed to be asking for (e.g. Work Chat), or redesigns that turned long-standing workflows on their heads or made them impossible.

The net effect went something like this over and over again: “We didn’t get to that fix or feature you wanted, but look! We created a food app because Phil, our CEO is a foodie, and, well, food app!”

We Know What’s Best for You

At the front of the online book, the authors of The Cluetrain Manifesto: The End of Business as Usual list the 95 theses found within it. Number 25 is “Companies need to come down from their Ivory Towers and talk to the people with whom they hope to create relationships.”

Evernote boasts over 50 million users worldwide. It’s my feeling this gave them so much confidence in what they were doing, they became dismissive of what users were saying.

Go to the forums—virtually any forum. I’ll bet you won’t have to scroll long before you find an Evernote team member effectively saying “Let them eat cake!” In other words, they indicate they understand the concerns, but they know what’s best. Whether or not a feature request is in the development pipeline or not is not the business of end-users. At least, that’s how many of us felt.

Drink the Kool-Aid or Else!

Power-user bullying of everyday users is rampant on the forums. Evernote is silent. I’ve read dozens of comments from self-identified power-users in reply to average users’ concerns that leave me speechless.

Effectively, these power-users seemingly become defensive on Evernote’s behalf and will shut-off whiney users: “Evernote is great. I use it 1,000 of times a day and have for 50 years. You just don’t know what you’re doing. I’ve given you two work-arounds, a life raft, and a helicopter! If you don’t like the way Evernote is set up or don’t like my work-around. Leave!” They don’t actually say this, but it does effectively represent their intent and tone.

The fascinating thing is that Evernote lets it go on. And, the next thing you know, that power-user bully has published a post on Evernote’s blog. You start to really feel hopeless as an average user.

A Note from the New CEO

A month ago, Evernote’s new CEO wrote to the user base explaining why the company was laying off talent and closing offices globally. He said some important stuff that may represent the bubble is being popped and Evernote will begin focusing on its user network (and hopefully employee network, if you read the Business Insider article):

“I believe that a smaller, more focused team today will set us up for growth and expansion tomorrow. Here are two things that you can expect from us over the next several months: we will launch major foundational product improvements around the core features that you care about most, and we will pull back on initiatives that fail to support our mission.”

He’s saying the company is going to focus on improving its core product THAT USERS CARE ABOUT MOST. I hope that means the same thing users have been telling Evernote all along: “Great product, but we need it do to A, B, and C, and by the way this needs fixed.”

I’m not going back to Evernote. Not yet. Maybe never. But, I’ll watch from afar to see what happens.

Relying on Heuristics in Digital Communication

I spend nearly every work day reviewing science and engineering reports and memos. Virtually every one of them follow the same structure: introduction, methods, results, and discussion or IMRAD as it is sometimes called. IMRAD is a viable heuristic for what is historically a paper-based, long-form argument. (If it weren’t, it would likely not be so prevalent.)

I’m also asked frequently by the marketing department to review content for online distribution. To help them along and save myself significant substantive editing time, I’ve attempted to provide that department—some of whom are trained technical writers—with heuristics (what I call writing prompts or an outline of sorts) which they can use to author within the various information types they are responsible for. So far, I’ve developed heuristics for blog posts, social media posts, brochures, flyers, and so on.

They’ve come to rely on these heuristics, essentially canonizing them, which was never my intention. I’ve been thinking a lot about why this has happened and its appropriateness. I’m beginning to be cautious about developing heuristics especially for digital communication.

Paper-Based and Digital Communication Are Different

Michael J. Salvo and Paula Rosinski wrote in Digital Literacy for Technical Communication (p. 105) touched on this dilemma:

“One difference between paper-based and electronic communication is that the forms and designs of older analog media have been internalized and naturalized…Use, familiarity, and comfort within these newer information spaces are therefore, to some extent, generational, and technical communicators must now consider how to bridge these generational boundaries that are likely to express themselves as technological preferences.”

I suppose what I’m saying is that the bridge between paper-based (with their traditional heuristics) and digital communication (which lets admit can be a free-for-all) is not heuristics.

Moving Away from Heuristics

What I’ve come to realize is, when it comes to digital communication, heuristics are effective starting points, but should never take the place of authentic communication. By authentic communication, I mean communication conceived of and designed to serve its particular audience and the content itself. This is the opposite of content designed to meet a preset structure (such as IMRAD).

In other words, instead of developing heuristics for digital communication (e.g. “A blog post has these five components” or “The services page on your website should cover three things”), what if we simply approach each rhetorically? Dave Clark in Digital Literacy discusses the “rhetoric of technology” which he contrasts against IMRAD without using that concept specifically.

So, the next time the marketing team wants some help structuring digital communication in particular, instead of writing up a heuristic they can use over and over again, I’m going to write a set of rhetorical questions they can rely on.

Become a Technical Communicator 2.0

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I remember an intense discussion a few years ago at the local chapter of the Society for Technical Communication where members were debating the efficacy of the titles “technical writer” and “technical communicator”. Were they the same? Were they different? If they were different, in what ways? Did it matter what we thought if employers couldn’t get it? How did employers view persons who worked in technical communication?

It was interesting to me to observe how members, based on their experience in the practice, answered these questions. For the most part, those with say 15 or more years of experience clearly remembered being technical writers per se. They also recognized they were much more than that today—at least most were. The less experienced folks in the discussion mostly sat wide-eyed (not because they were impressed, but because I think they were trying to stay awake). For the most part, they saw themselves as technical communicators, but without a full understanding of that term. But, I recognize the more senior folks, including me, didn’t fully understand either.

What everyone these days seems to recognize is that technical communicators cannot just be technical writers. As Rachel Spilka puts it in the foreword to Digital Literacy for Technical Communication, which she edited: It’s not about survival, it’s about evolution. And, I believe she’s right.

Five Steps to You 2.0

Below are five steps we can take to evolve from technical writers or even technical communicators to technical communicators 2.0. A what? R. Stanley Dicks in chapter 2 of Digital Literacy (p. 77) notes that not only has the technology technical communicators use become more complex, so has the their core job of developing text and graphics. So, technical communicators 2.0 are themselves subject matter experts or must become so. Here’s how:

  • Keep up on changes in the field. This seems like a no-brainer, but we’re just as busy as CEOs (although our golden parachutes are more like cocktail umbrellas). It’s critical to make time in our schedules to examine what is going on in our field: attend a conference, hop on a webinar, or, uh, get a graduate degree.
  • Integrate with other teams. The idea of integrating has a sense of equality about it. I think that is often missed by technical communication professionals. We’re not below the development team or just a cost center as far as the sales team is concerned. Well, let me say it this way, we need to promote ourselves within our organizations as specialists within a practice that requires a high degree of skill and knowledge—not because we want to be but because we are.
  • Learn new technologies strategically. Saul Carliner in chapter 1 of Digital Literacy (p. 45) groups technical communication technologies into three categories: authoring, publishing, and management. This is brilliant. While I’ve tried to stay up with technology throughout my career, I think I’ll now look at doing so across these categories. The key will be doing so strategically meaning I can’t keep up with all technology, but following some in each category is 2.0 thinking.
  • Develop a subject matter expertise. About eight years ago I moved from high tech to science and engineering. It required me to gain an understanding of science and engineering concepts. In any given week I deal with, from a content perspective, anything from soil mechanics to geochemistry to frozen dams. Now, I’m not a subject matter expert in any of these things, but I am a subject matter expert in communicating about them, i.e., within science and engineering—and my career has never been better.
  • Lead. To me, this means technical communicators have to manage not only the conceptualization, production, and distribution of communication, but also relations with departments concerned with management, product development, marketing, costs, revenue, and so forth. We’re not just writers we’re managers—or should be. Think, speak, and act like and executive and you should find yourself invited to the big table.

What else are you doing to become a technical communicator 2.0 in our rapidly changing field?

To Blog or Not To Blog

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Sometime in the late 80s, I was watching one of those daytime talk shows. I don’t remember the hosts or much about the guests. But, I do remember an exchange between two of the guests that bothered me then and still does. The exchange wouldn’t happen today, but I do think it message is relevant to blogging: No matter who you are, if you can blog, you can be heard.

“But, who are you?”

At some point during the talk show, the first guest, an everyday person, sat beside a second guest who had achieved a certain level of celebrity. The host commented about a book being promoted on the show to which the first guest commented “I would like to write a book someday.”

The second guest was perturbed and retorted “But, who are you? And, why would anyone want to read what you have to say.” The first guest was visibly hurt.

As I said, the exchange wouldn’t happen today—it couldn’t. The Internet has made it possible for virtually anyone to build an audience.

Audience Pull vs. Audience Push

What the second guest couldn’t fathom is that an everyday person could possibly draw an audience, let alone have something important to say.

Blogging has enabled us mere mortals to pull an audience, unlike traditional media channels that require pushing content (like books) out to audiences.

David Weinberger in his exchange with Andrew Keen on Web 2.0 (http://www.wsj.com/news/articles/SB118460229729267677) put it this way:

“So, traditional distribution makes it look like talent is a you-got-it-or-you-don’t proposition—you’re an artist or you’re a monkey. …With the Web, we can still listen to the world’s greatest, but we can find others who touch us even though their technique isn’t perfect.”

In other words, traditional media channels push content out to the market for a known, established audience. Blogging lets you pull audience in by providing content the audience is interested in.

Three Types of Content

In my estimation, audiences are interested three types of content (from bloggers):

  • Content that says something. You have an opinion and you want to express it. Blogging can help you do that.
  • Content that shares something. A colleague asked me recently to help him plan a keynote address. He showed me some significant research he had done on his topic. At one moment while we were pouring over the data and he was becoming quite excited about its implications to his field, I blurted out “Yes, but none of this means anything until you communicate it.” We both sat stunned by what I had just said. We literally didn’t move or say anything for a few moments; we were both thinking it through. Blogging is a great place to share your ideas.
  • Content that explores something. Not unlike this post, you have a topic that you want to explore. Blogging can provide a way for you explore such a topic. Through commenting, you readers can help you explore too.

What’s in a Name?

Okay, okay, that’s one too many Shakespearian references. Contrary to the talk show guest who criticized the other guest for wanting to write book, you don’t need a name (celebrity) to say, share, or explore something.

Blogs give you the opportunity to pull an audience and readers seem to care little who you are—at first. If you do happen to build a name for yourself, then readers seem to care very much: http://www.therichest.com/rich-list/world/worlds-10-top-earning-bloggers/. Until then, keep in mind these words from David Weinberger:

“With the Web, we can still listen to the world’s greatest, but we can find other who touch us even though their technique isn’t perfect.”f

Bonus Content: Two Alternatives to Blogging

Maybe you have something to say, share, or explore, but it’s limited—you have no interest in committing to your own blog. Here are two alternatives to consider:

  • Comment on blogs of interest. As you read posts of interest, take time to comment. Well-crafted comments can generate as much interest as the original post.
  • Post on an existing blog as a guest. If you build rapport with a bloggers (say, by thoughtfully commenting on their blogs), consider asking if you can write a guest post. Pitch something that fits in with their editorial needs.

You’re New Strategy: Technical Social Communication Media

I have noticed for several years that technical communication and social media are becoming close knit—as the title of this post suggests. Dozens of examples likely exist, but here are four technical communication strategies, in particular, you should be thinking about.

Provide User Assistance

Years ago before social media came along, I put together an annual user conference for the high-tech firm where I was working. My experience the first year, gave me an idea: What if our power-users did most of the talking next year? In essence, I was hoping to get users sharing what they knew and what they wanted to know.

Granted this user-driven training (i.e. training users develop) wasn’t what you might call “user assistance” in that it wasn’t necessarily about performing specific tasks. Rather it was about developing and executing strategies around the technology my company had created.

It worked! Users flocked to hear other users.

Since that time I’ve noted how much easier the Internet and social media have made fostering user-driven training. Users seem to like helping other users—at least they seem to engage in a quid pro quo. Hurley and Hea (p. 57) identify this as one aspect of reach that enables technical communicators to address user interests.

Share Knowledge

Akin to providing user assistance is knowledge sharing. Specifically, uninitiated knowledge sharing. This is knowledge one puts out into the world even though it wasn’t specifically requested by someone. But, the creators of this content know someone wants it somewhere likely because they wanted it at some point themselves.

Examples where this type technical social communication takes place is on sites like Quora, Slideshare, and, uh, blogs.

Gather Research

Hurley and Hea (p. 57) call this crowd sourcing or “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.”

Those of us of a certain age remember the importance of building personal networks (sans social media). We went to conferences, joined local interest clubs, read trade journals, and sometimes wrote questions to the authors of articles from those journals. It’s how we got our careers going.

This research gathering—usually engaged in to access group think to solve a problem or gain an insight—is nothing new. It just happens so much easier thanks to new technologies like social media.

Develop Visible Expertise

“Students need to be able to deploy social media as part of their own efforts to create online personas…” (Hurley and Hea, p. 58). Not just students but everyone.

Books and books have been written on developing visible expertise, which is far easier to initiate than it used to be; however, there’s still the problem of being lost in a sea of so called experts.

Fortunately, technical communicators have something everyone needs: content. You can have all the best technology on the planet, the coolest science, and totally wow engineering, but if you can’t communicate about it effectively, well, you end up like Tesla not Bell.

Now, more than ever before thanks to social media, technical communicators can talk not only about communication but about the stuff they are making usable. That is they are becoming visible experts just like the scientists and engineers they work with.

A Means to an End

You may have noted I’ve been reminiscing how these four strategies used to be done. If so, then I made my point.

Social media is becoming integrated into technical communication. The point not to miss is this is a means to an end and not an end in and of itself, as they say.

Engaging in social media for social media sake is, well, useless. But, understanding the end game will certainly make “technical social communicators” far more valuable right now and better prepared down the road when the next thing comes along.

Reference: The Rhetoric of Reach: Preparing Students for Technical Communication in the Age of Social Media by Elise Verzosa Hurley and Amy C. Kimme Hea

Willing But Wanting: Starting Blogs Is Easy, But…

Keeping up with blogging is difficult.

Oh I want to blog to be sure. Mostly for the reasons Justin Mann points out in Press ‘Publish’: Start an Academic Blog. It’s easy right? All you need to do is “press publish” and you can, according to Mann:

  • Spread the knowledge you’ve developed in your field
  • Build an audience
  • Connect with people with similar interests
  • Develop professionally and advance your career
  • Get some free stuff and cash

This is all good stuff and Mann is right. But, it’s not easy. I should know. I’ve started around five different blogs. None of which exist today and most of which never went beyond a handful of posts.

Why? As Alex Reid puts it in Why Blog? Searching for Writing on the Web, to get good at doing something you have to spend time doing it.

Okay, that’s one reason at least. After working a more than full-time job that includes frequent travel throughout North America, I find it difficult to lift my toothbrush most days let alone write a well-researched blog post.

Ah! And, you’ve discovered my other reason for not blogging (even though I really, really, really want to). I’m a persnickety writer. Nothing I have ever written is good enough. It’s an awful habit and an even worse state of existence. (Melodrama fully intended.)

If you liked this post, you won’t find me on Squarespace, TypePad, WordPress, LiveJournal, or Blogger.