Author Archives: jessryter

So long, farewell, see you next semester!

I spent the semester reading, discussing, and connecting those readings and discussions to my current technical communication role. My goal in this program is to become a better technical communicator, and this class has been an excellent start for me. All of our readings and discussions have helped me to think about what communication strategies I am already using and what new methods I can try.

I found the Spilka text especially helpful and relevant, as it framed the evolution of and current trends in the technical communication field within the context of traditional technical communication roles and responsibilities. As I am new to the field, all of this background really helped to orient me and help me understand how my job role became what it is today. In my final paper, I traced three themes through the different authors in the Spilka text and applied them to my own role as a technical communicator.

It was extremely helpful and interesting to read all of your creative blog posts and insightful comments on my posts throughout the semester. Thank you all for creating a helpful and supportive discussion environment. Best wishes for a happy and healthy holiday season and a great new year! The abstract for my paper is below.

Abstract

The emergence of digital technology has had a profound impact on the field of technical communication and its actors. This paper explores changes in the field of technical communication and in the roles of technical communicators, evolution of the technical communication audience, and Information Design and Content Management Principles. My intent with this exploration is to establish where my current technical communication strategies are consistent with the field literature and theory and identify areas upon which I can improve and new methods that I can utilize.

 

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The Circle of Trust

This week’s readings deal with privacy, trust, and ethics in the digital world. The Schofield and Joinson piece, “Privacy, Trust, and Disclosure Online,” and the Katz and Rhodes piece in Rachel Spilka’s Digital Literacy for Technical Communication, “Beyond Ethical Frames of Technical Relations,” really approach the same question from different directions. What does it take to gain user trust and maintain integrity in an increasingly digital world?

Schofield and Joinson (2008) argue that privacy and trust “interact in determining online behavior” (p. 24). They discuss multiple dimensions of both privacy and trust, and they suggest that users often rely on some combination of these components of privacy and trust to guide their purchasing decisions and online behavior.

As digital communities grow, members look for ways to verify that other members are who they say they are. Schofield and Joinson (2008) point out that there are many ways to build trust online such as use of profiles, photographs, media switching, and linguistic cues (p. 21). Individuals use these tactics to build trust among other individuals, but how do companies gain the trust of their customers?   The below comic strip is a good example of how companies do not gain customer trust:

Schofield and Joinson suggest that assuring customers that the information they disclose and the transactions they conduct will be dealt with appropriately and competently is an important building block for user trust. Also important is the company’s reputation; if people believe that they can trust a name, this belief can be more influential on purchasing behavior than trust building techniques such as privacy seals and statements.

While conducting business online might require disclosure of more personal information than it does in person, it also offers benefits such as “personalized service, convenience, improved efficiency” (p. 17). As online business continues to grow, this is evidently an acceptable tradeoff to many users. I know that when I am faced with the choice of going on a retail hunt for vacuum cleaner bags in the rain or giving Amazon my address and credit card number and having the vacuum cleaner bags delivered to my door, I almost always choose the latter.

Similarly, many users appreciate the personalized aspects and conveniences of online shopping, which are enabled by user tracking. Schofield and Joinson (2008) assert that users who maintain the same pseudonym in multiple online arenas can be tracked more effectively than users who switch pseudonyms from site to site (p. 26). As pseudonyms protect a person’s identity, I’m not sure why it’s beneficial for a person to have multiple pseudonyms. I tend to think consumers benefit more from enabling companies to track their usage in order to provide them with better products, recommendations, and customer service than from maintaining multiple pseudonyms in order to inhibit user tracking and preserve the notion of privacy.

Katz and Rhodes (2010) argue that “to stay competitive, as well as avoid potential crises, organizations and the professionals within them must both acknowledge and actively engage in multiple ethical frames of technical relations” (p. 230). Essentially, this is also an argument about establishing and maintaining trust and identity through a digital medium.

The 6 ethical frames Katz and Rhodes present explain how we use technical relations to achieve certain goals. Rhodes’ study, in which she examines Email as A Tool and an End, Email as Values and Thought, and Email as a Way of Being, demonstrates that depending on how we use it, email technology can be: both a means and an end, a value system, a method of rational calculation, and an extension of individual consciousness- or some combination of these. Even in the lowest common denominator of these ethical frames, where email is considered a tool, email is the mechanism that facilitates achieving a common goal through a digital medium, which requires at least some notion of trust and integrity.

Katz and Rhodes (2010) offer, “In delineating the ethical frames of technical relations that define human-machine interactions, we therefore recognize the socially dynamic and constructed nature of ethics; indeed because we do, we hold that technology both instantiates and helps construct social and moral values” (p. 231). This statement illustrates the bidirectional relationship between technology and social and moral values; ethics is a fluid concept that changes as social norms change. Social norms are changing as a result of technology, and thus the ethical frames of technical relations offer us a way to correlate the changing use of technology with corresponding ethical implications.

Cultural Differences in Communication

This week’s readings provide some great insight into how technical communication (and communication in general) can have very different characteristics across cultures. Prior to reading Barry Thatcher’s chapter in Digital Literacy for Technical Communication, I hadn’t really thought about this as an issue; I had assumed that intuitive ways of providing instruction and organizing information didn’t vary among cultures. Thatcher’s example of his environmental project with the U.S. and Mexico border illustrates that this was not a valid assumption (although I don’t feel quite so bad because Thatcher admittedly made the same incorrect assumption while teaching technical communication at an Ecuadorian University).

Thatcher presents a framework upon which we can identify the areas of communication that are evident in all cultures: I/Other, Norms/Rules, and Public/Private. He summarizes how different cultures deal with these areas differently, and the implication is that different treatment of these areas requires the use of appropriate communication methods. To communicate effectively within a culture, we need to understand these three areas within the culture and adjust our communication methods accordingly. Even so, Thatcher believes that it is possible and desirable to adapt digital communications to be relevant cross-culturally.

Kenichi Ishii’s article, “Implications of Mobility: The Uses of Personal Communication Media in Everyday Life,” provides another perspective on cultural differences in communication. Ishii makes various points about mobile media in Japan that differ from my understanding of mobile media in the United States. I am wondering whether the differences are because things have changed since 2006 when the article was published, because of cultural differences in how people use mobile media in Japan versus the United States, or a mixture of both.

Ishii (2006) uses the term “mobile mail” to describe both SMS and email messages “via mobile phones because in Japan, SMS and e-mail have almost converged into one service (mail) and users usually cannot clearly distinguish between these two services” (p. 346-347). In my experience, this is very different from in the U.S. Here, SMS messages (text messages) are primarily used as short form communication between two  or more well-acquainted mobile phone users, and they travel from one mobile phone number to another. Emails tend to be slightly more formal, email addresses are significantly less private than mobile phone numbers, email messages travel from one email address to another (even if the email is viewed on a mobile phone), and emails can be much longer than text messages.

References to the portable radio, Walkman, and pager also made me wonder whether Japan is at a different point in adoption of mobile technologies or whether the article is simply out of date. In the U.S., portable radios and the Walkman (a portable CD player) have largely been replaced by MP3 players (like the iPod) or by mobile phones that can play music. Pagers have also lost ground to mobile phones. In understanding an article about the implications of mobility on everyday life in Japan, it would be helpful to know whether the differences I noticed are a result of a 7 year old article or cultural differences between Japan and the United States.

I found it very interesting that in Japan users make the most calls using their mobile phones from home, second most from work, and fewest when they are out and about. I wonder if this is true for the United States too. Despite the fact that I have landlines both at home and at work, this is probably true for me as well. I think this is mostly because my mobile phone also acts as a PDA, and I can access my entire phone book in one place and simply press a button to call rather than having to look up and dial a phone number on a landline phone.

Ishii (2006) posits that Japanese youth use text messages as a way to feel connected while avoiding conflict and demanding relationships (p. 349). This is definitely a parallel phenomenon to the U.S. trend Sherry Turkle references in Alone Together. While both Japanese and U.S. youth apparently replace face to face communication with mobile communication at least to some extent, Ishii does point out a study in which about 50% more U.S. adolescents than Japanese  adolescents felt that they could initiate a conversation with someone they don’t know. In any case, it seems that understanding cultural differences in communication will help technical communicators to communicate effectively both within different cultures and across cultures.

 

Users Taking Over the World

As I was reviewing our course syllabus after completing this week’s readings, the title of Unit 3 struck me: “Work and Play in a User-Generated World.” I started thinking about what a user-generated world is and realized that it’s exactly what our readings have been describing. A user-centric sphere in which users demand good customer service, quick response time, new forums to communicate with each other, and improved and more efficient searching is, most definitely, a user-generated world.

While product research and development has always been motivated by the product’s users/audience to some extent, it is clear that consumers have been empowered and their opinions and voices amplified as a result of the rise of social media and digital technology in general. Ann M. Blakeslee’s chapter, “Addressing Audiences in a Digital Age” in Spilka’s Digital Literacy for Technical Communication, addresses how the concept of the audience has changed, especially for technical communicators, since the dawn of the digital age.

According to Blakeslee, while it was once reasonably safe to assume that a print user manual would have a fairly narrow, well

defined audience limited to people who were likely familiar with industry jargon, such assumptions are no longer likely to be accurate. The internet has offered greatly increased accessibility to technical communication, and thus greatly expanded the potential audience for documentation. While Blakeslee acknowledges that it may be difficult for technical communicators to understand and define their now larger and more varied audiences for general documentation, she points out that it is easier to predict and understand the audience for particular types of documents such as instructional documents (2010, p. 201).

Just as digital technology has facilitated and expanded access to documentation, it is also (according to Qualman, Maggiani, and Marshall) revolutionizing the way we search for jobs. Social media allows for the rapid exchange of information- including information that helps both job seekers and recruiters. Qualman predicts that as with everything else on the web, middlemen will become less valuable and eventually be eliminated; job seekers will be matched with more appropriate jobs without the need for classified ads, job boards like Monster, or headhunters (2013, p. 178).

Qualman anticipates that LinkedIn will be a major player during and following the elimination of the middleman from the recruiting and job seeking processes (2013, p. 178). Therefore, he can see job searching and hiring becoming even more referral based than they were previously.

The article “Using LinkedIn to Get Work” by Rich Maggiani and Ed Marshall also voiced the idea that LinkedIn will become increasingly more important in hiring and job seeking. In addition to advising job seekers, the article also advises the currently employed on how to maintain their profiles in order to stay up to date with their networks and potential future employers. This advice includes frequently posting status updates and listing events attended.

I had no idea how much LinkedIn offered in terms of job searching prior to reading this article. I did not know how LinkedIn job postings work or that there are job tabs within groups. I was not surprised to hear that LinkedIn is an increasingly important recruiting tool, though, as my company is currently using LinkedIn for recruiting.

I was intrigued by the idea of constantly updating the LinkedIn profile with status updates and the like, but also a bit wary. I’ve always had the impression that being very active on LinkedIn in the way the article recommends implies that a person is looking for work or projects or is advertising their own services. In the case of someone who is happily employed, I could see this being a red flag for their current employer and triggering questions about whether the employee is looking to leave. Maybe though, employers will understand the benefits to them of their employees expanding their social networks, and this will not actually be a problem.

Technology or Bust?

The chapter “Information Design” in Digital Literacy for Technical Communication echoes a sentiment I’ve been having throughout this class. Salvo and Rosinski make the following point that especially resonates with me: “Use, familiarity, and comfort within these newer information spaces are therefore generational, and technical communicators must now consider how to bridge these generational boundaries that are likely to express themselves as technological preferences” (2010, p.105).

This bridge of generational boundaries is one that I don’t think has been adequately addressed in our readings until now. I think the tone of many of our previous readings has been that technical communicators must change they way they communicate or face the possibility of becoming irrelevant. I found in this frequently repeated theme an implied argument that technical communicators are resistant to new technologies, but their users are not; thus, technical communicators must adapt their communication methods to them to keep up to par with their users.

While I believe that this scenario is the case for some technical communicators, I have encountered the opposite problem in my current job. Savlo and Rosinski argue that technological preferences are generational. I see evidence of this daily; my users, consumers of the documentation I write, are more of my parents’ generation than mine and are more used to and accepting of print communication than digital. In fact, in some cases I have encountered resistance to digital communication, despite the fact that print communication is still equally as available and accessible.

Don’t get me wrong- there are some users (mostly the ones closer to my generation) who do actually want to experience digital communication and even recognize its benefits. For example, my digital communication platform, Doc-to-Help, allows me to link words I’ve used to glossary terms, group key concepts together, offer direct links to related topics, and provide the user with the ability to search for a term or topic. If my users could get comfortable with this digital communication platform, I have no doubt that it would serve them better than a 50 page printed user manual.

In addition, as our product is a SaaS (software as a service) application which is accessed via a computer, an internet connection, and a browser, it should be safe to assume that our users, since they are able to access our applications, do not have the technological obstacles (lack of access to these tools) that Salvo and Rosinski point out could potentially inhibit their accessing online documentation.

Nevertheless, Salvo and Rosinski are right that we as technical communicators do need to do our best to bridge the generational gap and appeal to everyone. I am still trying to figure out the best way to continue making print documentation available for those who really need it but at the same time encouraging my user base to shift to the digital platform as it is faster, less resource intensive, and offers unique functionality.

The aiim white paper, “Systems of Engagement and the future of Enterprise IT,” brought up a very interesting point about how accessibility of technology has changed. Whereas traditionally new technology has been available first to businesses and larger institutions and then has trickled down to smaller organizations and eventually individuals, we are now seeing the opposite trend where technological trends seem to take hold at the individual level and grow until they reach larger organizations.

The aiim paper predicts, though, that businesses will have to speed up their responses to technological innovation and undergo a transformation which will further facilitate collaboration or risk becoming “roadkill” (p. 4). This new way of doing business is described as “Systems of Engagement” rather than its predecessor “Systems of Record” (p. 5).

I can already see this transformation happening in my company. We are a small company, but one of my coworkers works across the country in a different time zone, some of our consultants work in a different time zone as well, and some of our customers are in still different time zones plus have different work hours than us. These growing communication constraints require that we find new and effective ways to engage with each other such as video conferencing and hopefully increasingly better mobile devices and cheaper and more accessible bandwidth as the paper predicts.

Does Social Search + Social Media = Social Commerce?

In Chapter 5 of Socialnomics, Erik Qualman (2013) asserts: “In the future, we will no longer seek products and services; rather, they will find us” (p. 72). While on one hand this idea seems a bit frightening, on the other, it is sometimes daunting to have to make a decision about what to buy when there are so many options available, and it seems rather comforting as well as helpful to be able to narrow down the options based on reviews from friends whom, as Qualman aptly points out, we trust more than reviewers we don’t know.

Qualman explains that this is all part of social commerce, a method of using social media as a vehicle for searching and marketing. Qualman refers to the searching aspect of social commerce as social search. He gives the example of Steve who is expecting a new baby and needs to buy a car seat. From Steve’s social search, he can tell who of his friends has recently bought a car seat, which model they bought, the average price of the model they bought, and many other helpful nuggets that will make his purchasing decision much easier. Steve then conducts a similar social search which helps him to decide which new car to buy.

While social media is certainly a very powerful tool for finding out the product preferences of one’s social network, it does not yet offer the advanced level of searching abilities that Qualman refers to with his concept of social search. While the missing components of the social search Qualman describes may evolve naturally with social media, I wonder whether there will ever really be a way to search for a generic product (like a car seat) and find out how many of one’s friends have purchased that sort of product recently, and then narrow the search by brand, model, price, reviews, etc. This seems to me like it would be complicated and privacy invasive; most importantly, I wonder who would profit from implementing a search like this.

In addition to describing the way social media affects searching, social commerce also describes how social media is transforming marketing.TripAdvisor recognized the marketing opportunity afforded by the Where I’ve Been Facebook application, which allowed users to track places they’ve visited, and tried to buy it. When the asking price was too steep, TripAdvisor decided to develop its own version of the application, Cities I’ve Visited, making use of established and free technology like Google Maps.TripAdvisor’s application quickly soared in popularity, and while they didn’t have specific user contact information, they did have great access to information about popular destinations and the ability to provide links for their users to best selling trips. By creating this application, TripAdvisor developed a value-added approach that provided significant marketing opportunities.

According to Qualman, social commerce will also lead to more sophisticated product placement opportunities for companies. As e-books continue to gain popularity, Qualman believes that brand names will be clickable and the site visits will be trackable. While it may be helpful to be able to click on a product I don’t know about to find out what it does, it might be annoying to have every single product mentioned in a book linked to advertisements.

I found Qualman’s example of the “Tom Sawyer approach,” in Chapter 7 of Socialnomics, especially interesting. Just as Tom Sawyer made painting a fence look so appealing that others begged him for the opportunity to help, ESPN similarly offered people the unpaid, responsibility-heavy opportunity to become a Super Fan and report frequently on their respective teams, and people were so eager to have this opportunity that ESPN had a large pool of applicants to select from. This example offers a bigger lesson about how letting fans contribute to a product, show, or service adds value for those fans and for other fans as well as shifts some of the production and marketing burden away from the company and onto the fans. This seems to me to be an incredible marketing and production strategy which will almost certainly gain traction in the coming months and years.

The Politics of Social Media: Country, Company, and Communication

If any of us still had doubts that our lives and our work are undergoing major changes as social media and other technologies continue to grow, this week’s readings might have really struck us hard. While I’ve participated in many of these technological changes as they’ve happened, I was still in awe when I read Qualman and Spilka’s impressions of what the cumulative impact of these transitions will look like.

Qualman expects a significant shift in how political campaigns are run based on Obama’s 2008 campaign in which he successfully utilized social media for getting his message out and increasing his popularity as well as for fundraising. I think this makes sense in the context of increased social media use for advertising because essentially a presidential candidate is advertising or selling himself/herself.

I do wonder whether there is any difference in the demographics that will be receptive to increased political social media advertising. My impression is that younger people, such as college students, tend to be more liberal while older people tend to be more conservative. Younger people also tend to use social media more actively than older people. Thus, I wonder whether conservative use of social media in campaigning will be as effective as liberal use because of the demographics in question and their media preferences.

Qualman generally paints a very rosy picture of social media and its ability to facilitate communication. It seems that his rule of thumb is that businesses should use negative comments to improve their products and their customer service rather than trying to delete them. I think though, especially as social media enters the political realm, that it is not always possible to take negative comments and turn them into a positive outcome.

Yesterday I was reading a Facebook post from the Obama administration which contained a factual update of the latest news about the government shutdown. An alarming number of people commented with vulgar language toward the President in posts that did not contain suggestions or anything else that could even potentially be productive. More people responded to those people by returning the vulgar language; thus the entire thread turned into something negative rather than something informative and productive. While sometimes the fact that anyone can post anything and have it be seen by many people is a benefit of social media, there are cases like this one where it can also be a negative.

Qualman also talks about the shift of product and service marketing from message and positioning focused to more customer-centric via social media. I’m not sure I agree with him here. For one thing, I think marketing has always been more customer focused than he gives it credit for. I think focus groups and market research, which have been around far longer than any of the technologies in question, are great examples about how marketers have always cared about what products, services, and features are important to their customers. Also, I think a company could have the best customer service in the world, but without a cohesive strategy and message, I don’t think they could possibly have a competitive product.

The Spilka reading offers more interesting food for thought about how our lives and jobs are changing as technology evolves. Spilka introduces the concept of a constant deskilling and reskilling where technical communicators will constantly need to get retrained as their job descriptions change. I think this analysis may be rather extreme. Because we now perform “knowledge work” or “symbolic-analytic work,” we think critically, and we work with concepts and information; I think these skills are easily transferrable to slightly different job functions and will not require us to retrain ourselves entirely.

I agree with Spilka’s point that although technical communicators will still be writers, editors, and product experts, our function will increasingly become adding value to information as our work becomes even more symbolic-analytic. It seems to me that the tone in talking about our functions evolving is negative, but I think it’s a good thing since we have a lot more to offer. In my job I already fill the roles of technical writer, product expert, editor, customer support person and usability consultant, and I think it allows me to grow, both personally and professionally, more than a traditional technical communications job would.

Technical Communication is a-Changin

In the Introduction of Rachel Spilka’s Digital Literacy for Technical Communication, she poses three questions about how the field of technical communication is responding to and evolving with digital technology that the anthology sets out to answer. She sheds some light on what being a technical communicator has meant in the past, what it means today, and what it might mean in the future.

Spilka argues that traditionally technical communicators have acted more as individual contributors than as contributing members to a larger team effort but that technology has transformed the field into one which requires us to take on new and broader roles and responsibilities and work more definitively in the context of a team.

I experience this daily in the workplace, although until reading this chapter I had no idea whether this was typical. My main responsibility is to write user documentation for my company’s web based software applications, but I also perform the roles of user advocate, user experience and application design consultant, customer support representative, and editor for anything that the outside world might see. I work directly with the development team, and I contribute in ways that definitely go beyond technical writing.

One of Spilka’s main themes is that we as technical communicators need to be willing to evolve with our field as new technology emerges if we want to stay relevant. I tend to agree with her, but I have encountered somewhat the opposite problem; the users of my company’s software are mostly of an older demographic and seem somewhat resistant to receiving technical communication digitally. I would like to provide our users with interactive web documentation and instructional videos, but they seem to prefer traditional printed user manuals.

Currently, I am using Doc-to-Help, a documentation publishing software that allows the writer to author in Microsoft Word and then apply styles to create web based documentation and print documentation. I think that interactive web based documentation provides an excellent opportunity to serve the users with relevant information in a clear and easily navigable way, but I am struggling with the fact that although I may not need to evolve much to arrive where technical communication is today, many of my users are not there yet. I need to find a way to embrace the emerging technology and changes in the technical communication field while still catering to my user-base and serving them in a way that they find accessible.

In Erik Qualman’s chapter of Socialnomics “Word of Mouth goes World of Mouth,” he provides many examples of how social media and other technology is changing our daily routines from how we amuse ourselves while waiting in line at the supermarket to where we look for world news and updates on our friends’ whereabouts and activities.

I have heard many people echo the “who cares what I am doing?” sentiment about social media, but often in the same conversations, these people express the desire for information about other people that they could easily obtain via social media. I am connected to my phone and computer constantly, and I am on board with Qualman’s arguments about why social media is useful and how it helps us to fulfill the need to communicate with others and keep apprised of their updates; however, I wouldn’t necessarily agree that social media makes me more productive. I think there are likely times when social media saves me time, but I also think there are many more times when I just fritter away valuable time looking through pictures posted by people I really don’t care about simply because they popped up in my newsfeed.

I found Qualman’s JetBlue Twitter example to be a perfect illustration of a situation in which social media is more effective than traditional means of communication. Qualman and his wife were stranded in the Austin, Texas airport when their flight (and all flights for four days) were cancelled due to extreme weather. They needed to get to Boston as soon as possible and tweeted about their situation asking for help from JetBlue. Although JetBlue’s social media customer service was overwhelmed that day, another traveller was able to respond to Qualman and his wife and help them to develop an immediate and efficient course of action that got them a flight home home rather than a frustrating cycle of phone calls that may or may not have have gotten them home. This, I think, is social media at its best.

Customer Service via Social Media: on Tow Trucks and Ravioli

Social Media has been an important part of my reality since high school. My social media experience began with Myspace and soon gave way to Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn. Currently, I do not use Instagram, Tumblr, and Pinterest, but many of my friends do, so I may consider giving them a try in the near future.

Boyd and Ellison’s article, “Social Network Sites: Definition, History, and Scholarship” makes an interesting distinction between the terms “Social Network Site,” which they explain as a site that makes use of an existing social network, and “Social Networking Site,” which they explain as a site used with the goal of growing a social network and initiating new relationships.

As soon as the authors made this distinction, I wondered how they would categorize LinkedIn. I was rather surprised when they categorized LinkedIn an example of a Social Network Site. I think LinkedIn might actually be a little of both; while many professionals do use their existing social networks to find people to connect with, the ultimate goal is often to gain a new contact and initiate a new relationship (which seems to me to fit more into Boyd and Ellison’s definition of a Social Networking Site).

Boyd and Ellison’s article provided me with some helpful history of social media, illuminating for me the evolution of social media before I jumped on board. This new background helped set the stage for Erik Qualman’s chapter in Socialnomics, “Social Media = Preventive Behavior.” While reading the section on companies using social media to provide customer service, I was thinking that I don’t often use social media to complain about a poor service experience, but then I recalled a funny (at least in hindsight) story from my sophomore year of college…

Following a multi-day blizzard at UMass Amherst, my car was parked in one of the student lots. No matter how much my friends and I shoveled, my car was simply stuck. We could not get it out of my spot, and the tires just spun. When, days later, we got sick of shoveling and waiting for the snow and ice to melt, we called AAA. The tow truck driver they sent was rude, condescending, and sexist. He essentially told me that I was just incapable of getting my car unstuck because I was a woman.

He got in the driver’s seat and placed his foot heavily on the gas pedal. Ultimately, he too failed to get it unstuck, and he had to hook it up to the tow truck and tow my car out of the icy spot. I was less than pleased with the customer service this man and his company provided. Apparently, at the time, I felt that the best way to express my frustration was in an angry Haiku poem containing some choice quotes from this tow truck driver which I posted on Facebook. I mentioned the company, although at the time they did not have a Facebook presence. Interestingly enough, 3 years later, they now have a Facebook page. While my post did not reach the company at that time, it did generate some supportive comments from the UMass community about how unacceptable his behavior was that at least made me feel better.

Thinking back to my social media interactions with organizations, I also remember a more pleasant customer service experience. Every Tuesday at lunchtime during college, the dining hall closest to my dorm served the most delicious toasted ravioli. My friends and I made it a point to get there early enough to ensure that we all got some. One day, the delicious toasted ravioli disappeared! Deciding it was a fluke, my friends and I returned the next Tuesday to find the toasted ravioli had been replaced with vegetable spring rolls.

As we sat at our table in disappointed disbelief, I posted on UMass Dining’s Facebook page asking what had happened to our favorite ravioli. They quickly responded that they were trying something healthier. I thought our favorite lunch was gone forever, but enough people commented on my post expressing thorough disappointment that UMass Dining decided to bring the toasted ravioli for good. This seems to me to be exactly what Qualman was talking about in good companies using negative social media feedback to solve problems and work toward customer satisfaction.

Ryter Incoming: Watch out Blogosphere!

I suppose I am rather like a returning visitor to the writing side of the Blogosphere. My first visit was in my junior year of college when I blogged intermittently for a writing class; I have not been back since. Throughout college, I was very involved with the UMass Amherst campus environmental sustainability initiative, and I used this blog as a forum to discuss current projects, initiatives, and progress made on sustainability issues affecting the campus community. This blog was also an outlet for me to bring up concerns and express frustration with some ongoing sustainability efforts; for example, that year, the campus made a significant financial investment in compostable cups, plates, straws, and napkins but did not make compost bins available to the community, thereby “shooting themselves in the foot,” so to speak. While my blog post did not result in the immediate appearance of compost bins, it did start a dialogue on the topic, at least among my readers.

Although writing intermittent blog posts in one undergraduate class is about the extent of my blogging experience, I have more experience following other people’s blogs. I follow technical writing blogs for my job- to keep me up to date on current trends in the field and help me learn best practices. I also follow a blog started by a few of my college friends to publicize feminist perspectives and women’s issues. My favorite blog to follow, though, is my friend Claire’s travel blog. She lived in Paris, France for a year, traveled all over Europe, has visited Cuba and Peru, and is currently working in Japan. Claire blogs about the experience of being an American abroad. She is a student of foreign cultures, and she poses a lot of questions about her identity as an American, and what that means, that challenge me to ask the same questions of myself. Through reading Claire’s blog, I almost feel as though I am experiencing what she is experiencing in her travels, which is hopefully a compliment to a travel blogger. Feel free to check out Claire’s blog for yourself: http://www.internationaleclaire.com/.

Generally, I enjoy reading other people’s blog posts more than I enjoy writing my own- probably because blogging does not come easy for me. Andrea Doucet’s article, “Scholarly Reflections on Blogging: Once a Tortoise, Never a Hare,” really resonated with me as I identify with her in that it is also difficult for me to step away from the comfort of the formal, impersonal, analytical, and thoroughly researched and reviewed writing in which I was trained in favor of a first person, less formal writing style in which I am allowed (even encouraged) to write about my thoughts and opinions- imagine that!

I hope that as I blog more frequently, it will begin to feel more natural to me. I found many of the tips offered in Belle Beth Cooper’s “16 Top Tips from Blogging Experts for Beginners” very insightful (especially keeping it short, writing for myself, and valuing existing readers), and I will definitely revisit these tips and incorporate them throughout the semester. Embedded in Tip 4, “Build your email list,” is the suggestion to experiment with different language in a call to action. The example cited is “subscribe by email” versus “get jobs by email.” As someone who always chooses words carefully, with painstaking attention to exactly what they mean, I find the replacement phrase rather misleading; subscribing to an email list of job postings does not mean the same thing as “getting jobs.” While I understand why that phrasing would generate more email subscriptions, I don’t think I would feel comfortable using it in my own blog.

I think the example I mentioned above offers a lesson relevant to blog reading: there is a huge amount of information and advice out there, and not all of it is applicable to or right for everyone. While we should absolutely read blogs, we should also remember to think critically about them. Blogs offer an opportunity for authors to freely put any thoughts and opinions out there for the world to read, but they are not necessarily factually correct, unbiased, or an authoritative source of information on a topic.

Happy blogging everyone!