Author Archives: Lori R.

Dos and Don’ts of Social Media in Healthcare Marketing

Three weeks ago, I was uncertain what I would write about for the final project. Fortuitously, my boss talked to me around the same time and asked me about taking on more responsibilities, including managing the company’s social media sites. Although we already have a Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn page set up, we post to them very rarely, and, until this semester, I would have had little clue as to what the best approach would be for capitalizing on social media. Well, I am happy to report that I have a much better idea now, especially after writing this final paper which I entitled “The Dos and Don’ts of Social Media in Healthcare Marketing.” I specifically looked at FacebookTwitter and YouTube as they are very popular and are increasingly being used within the healthcare sector.

In addition to being helpful to my job, I felt like this topic was very appropriate because social media is a perfect example of the move from traditional means of communication to digital methods, a primary theme in the English 745 course. In this specific case, social media is replacing traditional means of word-of-mouth marketing (i.e. face-to-face conversations with friends and family). Now, people talk about their medical conditions and recommendations on Facebook, blogs, and discussion boards. People are looking for medical advice and health updates on YouTube. They are following health-related events and news on Twitter. Social media is pervasive in healthcare communications, and organizations would best figure out how to jump on the social media bandwagon.

Like with many things, though, there is no one-size-fits-all approach. Social media will not achieve all marketing goals for the company. It has a specific use for specific audiences and should be used in conjunction with other marketing strategies.

One of social media’s specific uses is to create greater awareness and increase conversation and participation, things that are not easily measured by normal ROI methods, but valuable nonetheless. The way I see it, social media can be a terrific means for getting your name out there to become established as the expert in your field. The company I work for used to be known for this and has taken a backseat lately. Perhaps being visible on social media will help bring our brand back behind the driver’s seat. Or, at the very least, allow us to be the “driving” force behind a social media strategy, rather than letting it sit, collecting dust.

Driving Social Media Image source: http://www.entrepreneur.com/blog/224898

Driving Social Media
Image source: http://www.entrepreneur.com/blog/224898

 

In my research for this paper, I found an unbelievable amount of information so the most difficult part was narrowing down the resources. Fortunately, they all meshed well and I found many of the same themes, such as:

  • Determine how social media fits into your overall marketing strategy.
  • Decide which audience you are targeting and choose an appropriate social medium that this audience uses.
  • Share helpful, engaging and valuable information. Photos, links and videos can help make this content more interesting.
  • Regular, frequent posts are essential to stay relevant and keep your viewers coming back.
  • Use Facebook apps to make your site more robust and useful.
  • YouTube videos are more effective if they have an emotional element to them.
  • Use two or fewer hashtags per Tweet.

These are just some of the things that I learned while working on this paper. I’d like to share more, so I am going to end with posting some links in case you are looking for some help with developing a social media strategy.

The Healthcare Communicator’s Social Media Toolkit

http://www.cdc.gov/healthcommunication/ToolsTemplates/SocialMediaToolkit_BM.pdf

31 Twitter tips

http://www.forbes.com/sites/kenkrogue/2013/08/30/31-twitter-tips-how-to-use-twitter-tools-and-twitter-best-practices-for-business/

25 ways to get more social media followers

http://blog.hubspot.com/blog/tabid/6307/bid/7512/25-ways-to-get-more-social-media-followers-aspx

Thanks for a great semester! Good luck to you all!

 

 

Achieving digital utopia in the workplace

“Ideally, with improved staff spirits and strengthened commitment to the company, in the sanctity frame, employees who are treated as whole human beings will in turn consider the organization’s best interest along with their own, resulting in actions like taking better care of equipment, being frugal with company materials, and treating coworkers with respect” (Katz and Rhodes, 2010, p. 253).

What a utopic vision of the workplace! Truthfully, I think my company has nearly achieved this level of ethical standards with regards to digital technologies, but, for a long time, this was not the case. For several years, we employed outside sales reps who were from the age of old school sales where most client communications were done in-person and notes about the account were kept filed away somewhere in the rep’s home office filing cabinet. The problem with this is that the information is not easily accessible by other members of the sales staff who need it. To counteract this, my company integrated an online customer relationship management (CRM) software that could be accessed anywhere, as long as you had Internet access (and, more recently, available as a mobile phone app).  This CRM program is the one I’ve mentioned in an earlier blog – Salesforce.

Like I was saying, these reps were old school and they fought using Salesforce tooth and nail. Information was rarely entered, phone calls were not logged and there was no accountability. Bringing this back into an ethical framework, was it unethical of these employees to not record their sales activities via the company’s required digital system, or was it unethical of the company to expect these employees, with fewer technological skills, to conform?

At one point in our reading, Katz and Rhodes (2010) said, almost in a disbelieving, joking way, “Imagine hiring an employee who did not know how—or refused—to use email as part of the job!” (p. 245). Yep, that was our company up until a few years ago. All of these old school sales reps are gone now.  The staff we have now is very adept with technology and uses the CRM fully. For a long time, our sales process was very painful, but now it feels like a well-oiled machine.

I think these former employees had a fear of technology. It was something they didn’t understand, and they definitely were not digital natives. Even less so than many of us in this class! Could part of their fear have anything to do with privacy and trust? With Salesforce, whatever information you enter is visible to everyone else who uses the program. With written notes and files, you can pick and choose what you share with the rest of the team (which they did during our weekly sales department calls).

The topic of privacy is an interesting one, not only with regards to something like a CRM program, but also with email and Internet use in the workplace. Most companies have IT departments that closely monitor the email and Internet usage of its employees, which I think is fair. They want to ensure that these tools are used

1) as means to help the company, whether it’s for increasing sales, improving workflows, communicating with vendors and clients, crunching numbers, etc., and

2) in a way that appropriately (ethically) represents the company and preserves its reputation.

So, how much control should a company have over its employees’ technology use? At our company, we have quite a bit of free rein. It makes sense, though, as the majority of our employees work in sales and marketing and we need access to the Internet (including social media sites) to research and learn about clients and competitors. We use email just as much as we use the phone for reaching out to clients and prospects. Our CRM program is online. For the most part, I think the trust that our company places in us makes us want to be more responsible and we rarely have any issues with people abusing this right. According to Schofield and Joinson (2008), this trust comes from the company’s belief in our abilities, integrity and benevolence (p. 19). The company believes that we not only know how to use technology, but that we know how to use it appropriately.

“With great power comes great responsibility.” 
-Uncle Ben, Spiderman

I am grateful for this freedom and trust, especially when I hear about other companies. A coworker of mine was just telling me yesterday that a friend of hers works for a cabinet-making company where there is absolutely no allowance for using email or cell phones for personal reasons at work. In fact, copies of employee email transactions are printed into hard copy each day for review. And, if anyone is caught using their cell phones, it can be grounds for immediate dismissal. Yikes! Is this within the rights of the employer to monitor technology usage in the workplace, or does it transcend those rights and become an invasion of privacy? If someone needs to make a personal call because of a sick child, does the company have any right to interfere? This brings up another interesting question – if the technological device being used belongs to the company vs. the individual, who decides how it can be used?

I don’t necessarily have all the answers to these questions, but I think there might be a final project idea in there somewhere, so ask me again in a few weeks and I might have a few answers! Overall, though, the discussion of ethics is interesting and a rather nice way to put a bow on everything we’ve learned this semester. Now that we have a better understanding of how digital technologies have come about and changed the field of technical communications, how do we use these technologies in a way that is right and good and furthers our field for the better?

With that, I wish everyone the best of luck in pursuing these ideals. It has been a real pleasure getting to know all of you this semester, and, hopefully, our paths will cross again soon!

It always comes back to your audience

For the most part, writing for a digital audience requires the same considerations as writing for traditional audiences. You must first look at the rhetorical situation. To do this, technical communicators must ask themselves a series of questions, including this question:

Who is the target of my message?

As you know, your audience can be broad and varied, or very specific. The problem with the digital world is that the audience tends to be the former, which can make it very challenging to decide how to create your message. How do you write a universal message for a non-universal group of people?

Well, I hate to say it, but you have to generalize the audience members. You can’t feasibly create a message that will work for each and every individual out there, so you just have to try to identify the most common features so you can address MOST of them.

How do you identify these common attributes? One of the best ways is learning directly from the user. Blakeslee (2010) talked about interacting with readers in this week’s readings – what you might call a “collaborative” audience or user-centered design. Of course, this hinges on having the audience provide feedback in order to help improve technical communications. However, like in the case study from TaxSoft, what if you don’t have direct contact with the customers? Or, in my own personal experience, what if it’s like pulling teeth to get user feedback?

Audience Challenge #1 – No Contact

In the TaxSoft example, one of the employees interviewed said she had to get secondhand feedback from other departments or review call logs to see what customers were saying during conversations with their call center (p. 208). They did this because she (and her fellow technical writers) didn’t have a direct relationship with the customer. She commented that “writers are not subject-matter experts in our company, and, as such, it would not be appropriate to step into that relationship with our users” (Blakeslee, 2010, p. 209). I think this is very unfortunate. Perhaps this company needs their technical writers to start getting more involved with the customer?

The SecureNet case study, on the other hand, showcased employees who DID have relationships with their customers, going so far as to interview some of these audience members before starting a new project (p. 210).

Audience Challenge #2 – The Unengaged Audience

This is the audience that doesn’t provide feedback, or is very difficult to get feedback from. I have had this experience quite a bit in my place of work. A specific example is the online customer portal we launched earlier this year (that I’ve mentioned in previous blogs). We rolled it out in four groups. After each group was introduced to the site, I sought feedback from group members on the features of the site, if they were using it, what areas they liked best, etc. I probably sent out over 100 surveys and only had three or four returned to me. Those that were returned had little to no helpful feedback. What did I do wrong?

Well, it comes full circle because it has everything to do with the audience. My audience is not terribly tech savvy so many of them just weren’t using the site. Filling out a survey for a service they weren’t using didn’t make sense. For those that WERE using the site, they didn’t send us a survey back because they preferred to tell us in a more personal way. The most useful feedback we received was gathered during a phone conversation. Seems a bit old school, but, again, going back to the type of audience I have (not tech savvy), doing a telephone survey makes more sense.

Fortunately for me, my audience is typically quite specific. This can make it easier for us to create our message, although it’s not foolproof. But, this is actually one of the greatest things about digital technology! If we don’t get the message right the first time, we can change it anytime we want for little to no cost and for a modest amount of labor. With traditional communications (print), it can be time-consuming and costly to make changes. I just think about all those companies out there that still put together catalogs and how much time and resources that must cost them.

stack of catalogs

U-Line is a perfect example. They mail us a catalog once a month. Then, they send us a catalog with each order we place from them. Sometimes, we will get up to six or seven catalogs in a month! We think it’s a waste of paper and also prefer looking up products online anyway. Maybe this company needs to evaluate their audience a little better!

Image source: http://www.thriftyfun.com/tf/Organizing/Bills_and_Mail/Organizing-Catalogs.html

The genre of social media: Using LinkedIn as more than just an online resume

When you hear or read the word “genre,” you normally think of categories of literature or films – romance, science fiction, horror, drama, etc. Genre can be applied in a similar fashion to technical communications. In this setting, genre refers to a category of tools and resources used within the world of technical communications. For example, one genre might be paper-based communication tools such as letters, memos and reports. Another genre is digital-based tools such as emails, websites, and social media. We discussed in detail last week how information design and content management is changing from a paper genre to a digital genre.

This week, our readings put these changes into perspective when it comes to activity theory and human-computer interaction.  According to Longo (as originally stated by Kuutti), “Activity theory is a philosophical and cross-disciplinary framework for studying different forms of human practices as development processes, with both individual and social levels interlinked at the same time,” (p. 160). In this framework, “an activity contains a subject and object whose relationship is mediated by artifacts/tools to achieve an outcome” (p, 160). Refer to Figure 1 below which illustrates the basic structure of an activity.

Basic structure of an activity

Basic structure of an activity
Image source: Rott, L. (2013). Recreated from Kuutti, 1996.

To tie it all together, we looked at LinkedIn this week. LinkedIn is an example of a social media tool within the digital genre that shows us how the interaction between a person, materials and outcomes can occur through a computer-mediated interface.  In other words, LinkedIn is an online tool that is used to create a number of human interactions, using multiple tools, with various intended outcomes. These outcomes include:

1)      Staying connected to professional contacts

2)      Networking for future business opportunities

3)      Individual job searches

4)      Employer candidate searches

5)      Researching companies

Using the same chart as before, I filled in the specific areas (tool, subject, object, etc.) in reference specifically to LinkedIn and how interactions occur on this site. See Figure 2.

Image source: Rott, L. (2013). Adapted from Kuutti, 1996.

Basic structure of an activity – LinkedIn example
Image source: Rott, L. (2013). Adapted from Kuutti, 1996.

All of this makes me realize that the interactions and purpose behind social media is much more complex and intricate than I originally thought. When I first signed up for a LinkedIn account (it was just last year – yeah, I was a late adopter), I thought it would just be a nice way to reconnect with a number of past colleagues and perhaps connect with a few clients. And that it could act as an online resume. I really didn’t understand what all it had to offer until just recently. What happened recently? Well, first, I read the Maggiani and Marshall article a few weeks earlier than scheduled. Second, I received an email from LinkedIn (referenced in Figure 2 and embedded below) on ways to improve your profile.

 

Some of the things that I personally plan on incorporating into my profile are:

  • Posting regular updates on the industry I work in and concepts I am learning about in graduate school
  • Sharing information regarding events or conferences I attend, or even relevant books/research I’ve read or documentaries I’ve watched
  • Adding a list of specific coursework I have taken – the name of a degree can be a bit ambiguous so why not spell it out for a prospective employer?
  • Asking for references!

This last point is a heads up (warning?) to Professor Pignetti.  I may be asking you to write me a reference very soon for my LinkedIn page!

Enterprise IT: From paper trail to online footprint

This week’s readings discussed at length content management and information design. With the rapid changes and growth in the use of digital technologies, both of these areas have changed drastically. These changes include:

  • How we store information (paper vs electronic)
  • How we design information (memo vs email vs social media messages)
  • How we collect information ( paper surveys or comment cards vs tracking IP addresses)
  • How we interact with users of the information (one-way transaction vs synchronous engagement)

Going back to my internship during college in the early 2000s, I realize now that I was involved with an early form of capturing data electronically. I worked for a global heater company that had endless numbers of user manuals for all its brands of heaters, even some they no longer made, but still serviced. One of my first projects as an intern was to scan the manuals into PDF form and save them to a folder on the shared server. It was tedious work, but, looking back, I can see how beneficial it was for them to have me do this. At the very least, they wouldn’t lose those user manuals if the building started on fire!

Today, I work for a company that operates a specialty retail pharmacy that is required to keep paper records for seven years. Despite the 10+ years that have gone by, it feels like a step backwards in the world of enterprise IT. However, with all the changes in healthcare (most notably EMR/EHR implementation at hospitals and clinics), I wonder how long it will be until other healthcare facilities (like a pharmacy or nursing home) will be required to go digital with their records as well.

It’s not just the pharmacy that can be dubbed a tree killer at our company. Our #1 marketing activity to bring in new business is direct mailings. Most recently was a postcard mailing to over 1000 allergists on the East Coast. The postcard was to advertise a webinar so the information delivery will be online and paperless, but any follow-ups to those that participate will very likely involve mailing paper documents, including a 100+ page manual that outlines the specific allergy modality that we promote. Is this a waste of paper? I think you have to weigh the pros and cons. This manual is not something that we mass distribute; it only gets sent to those truly interested in our services. If we were to allow access to it online, would we be able to prevent its dissemination to those we don’t want to have it, like competitors?

I am happy to report that our company has made at least a few efforts to reduce the amount of paper we use – the customer portal that I mentioned in last week’s post is one of them. One of our goals for implementing this website was to give clients access to a number of the patient education materials that we normally print and mail to them. We actually just had to review which ones we needed to reprint as our inventory was getting low on a number of them. We ended up deciding not to reprint a number of them. We want customers to get them online instead.

portal image

Customer portal
Rott, L. (2013). Snipped from portal website.

This online portal acts as more than just a way to reduce paper cost – it also acts as a type of content management system as it gives us a place to organize,  store and communally update a large amount of information for clients, but it also allows us to track usage and activities on the admin side, which I think this week’s readings showed us is just as important as the storage and organization of the content. From Moore (2011), one step he recommended for B2B enterprises (like the one I work for), is to “mine community content to extract insights to enhance the business” (p. 7). With our portal site, I can see when users log in and track what areas they are visiting most often. This can be helpful for updates to the site because we can see what people use and like. It’s not as sophisticated as how Google tracks our online footprint, but it works for us.

Speaking of content management, I also work with an online customer relationship management system called Salesforce CRM, which some of you may be familiar with. Salesforce is a fully customizable, on-demand program that I have been able to mold into what the company needs to track sales and customer growth. It truly embodies the definition of content management. It gives us a turnkey solution for “handling information, including how it is created, stored, retrieved, formatted, and styled for delivery” (Hart-Davidson, 2010, p. 130).

Salesforce CRM Rott, L. (2012). Created with SnagIt.

Salesforce CRM
Rott, L. (2012). Created with SnagIt.

From a generic framework, I added custom fields, inserted formulas and stages to predict closes on new sales, built new pages and sections, and created reports. We now use Salesforce to not only record all basic account information, but also as a reminder system to stay on top of daily, weekly and monthly activities. It also helps us monitor marketing campaigns and the progress of specific growth strategies. Additionally, it has document storage capabilities and allows us to build email and letter templates to create a uniform method of communication delivery. Finally, we have been able to build both basic and in-depth reports to help with sales analysis and communications. For example, we can run reports to see how many leads are in the sales pipeline, or create mailing lists to customers that have signed up to receive our quarterly e-newsletters.

Essentially, this program allows us to mine data on current and prospective customers, stay on top of our communications to these audiences, and plan future communications, whether it is a mailing, email blast or marketing push. It is the backbone of the account management, sales and marketing departments.

Like one of the CIOs said in the Moore (2011) article, “We are grappling with this” (p. 6). In some areas, my company has transitioned into the new era of enterprise IT quite well, but, in others, we are still figuring it out. I long for the company to be more technologically adept, but, in the grand scheme of things, I think we’ve made a lot of great strides, especially considering the small size of the corporation. It also made me feel better to read how many companies are struggling with this transition, so we are not alone. Overall, I think that as long as we keep trying to move in the right direction, we’ll be okay.

Rhetoric of Technology and Social Media – Don’t Miss the Boat!

Although “rhetoric of technology” is considered a newer term and area of study, it has taken the world by storm via social media and has become a powerful marketing tool (Clark, 2010, p. 89). I would dare say this term is synonymous with Qualman’s (2009) terms of “socialommerce” (p. 89) or “world of mouth marketing” (p. 99).

To support the rhetoric of technology, we read several examples this week on how technology and social media have influenced consumer opinions and decisions. Some companies jumped on the bandwagon:

ESPN Fantasy Football Today

TripAdvisor Cities I’ve Visited

And some missed the boat:

NBC coverage of 2008 Olympics

Coca-Cola venture into Second Life

Ultimately, I think we can group the ways that social media influences consumers into three categories:

1)      Recommendations from strangers. For example, let’s say I’m in the market to buy a tablet. I own a Samsung smartphone which I like very much, so I’d like to see what tablets Samsung might offer. Instead of going to Samsung’s corporate website (which is going to be obviously biased), I decide to look for reviews online. Sites like angieslist.com require payment to read reviews, so I go to Facebook and find a fan page for Samsung’s Note. However, it’s a “fan” page, so most of the comments are probably skewed. I need to know if there are any issues with this product so I can weigh the pros and cons. So, then I look for…

2)      Corporate social media sites. I go directly to Samsung’s Facebook page to see what regular consumers, not necessarily fans, say about Samsung products. Of course, this could also be edited to only reflect positive comments, so I move on to a more trusted source…

3)      Referrals from friends and family. I see that several of my Facebook fans mentioned buying a Samsung Note recently, so I send them a message to see what they think.

Samsung Note fan page

Samsung Note Fan Page
Rott, L. (2013). Snipped from https://www.facebook.com/pages/Samsung-Galaxy-Note3/660984673914124

These readings have caused me to reflect on the company I work for and our use of social media. Sure, we have a Facebook page, LinkedIn page and Twitter handle, but it doesn’t feel like we’re creating a sense of community. Our Facebook page has only three “likes” and they are all employees of the company. We have not heavily promoted these sites and rarely post to them. It seems that our social media boat is half sunk! How do we drive more traffic to these sites and who do we target?

One of our primary audiences that we market to is physicians. I have the exact worry that Qualman describes at the end of chapter seven: “They don’t want to aggregate their hard-earned customers in a public forum because they’re afraid the competition will come in and pick them off” (p. 184). Qualman insists that if a company is worried about this, then there are bigger problems within the company. I disagree. Our company offers a solid product and even better service (yes, I may be a little biased, but let’s put that aside, shall we?). Despite this, our competition is offering what you would call “it’s too good to be true” sort of product and service, bordering on the edge of illegal (at the least, unethical), but because our type of service is still so NEW, many physicians do not realize this. On top of this, we have actually had competitors cull our website for clients as we used to list them for patients (“Find a Physician”). I don’t believe we actually lost any clients this way, but it makes you more careful as to what you put out on the web. We changed our site so now you have to submit a request to get a list of doctors in your area that provide this specialized therapy.

Revised Find a Physician page Rott, L. (2013). Snipped from employer's website.

Revised Find a Physician page
Rott, L. (2013). Snipped from employer’s website.

 

So, what are our options to keep our social marketing plan afloat? Perhaps the mainstream sites will not work for our customers. However, I think we could create an online community through a secure site that we already use with our clients – our customer “portal” where they can log in, access patient educational materials, marketing tools, clinical resources, a calendar of events, etc. We have an area where people can submit and view clinical Q&A. This is mainly a one-to-one communication where they submit questions to us and we respond directly to them. If appropriate, we might post the question and answer for all to see, but not show who submitted it. What if we turned it into an open forum where our clients could talk to each other? I think this would encourage our clients to use the site more and also create a greater sense of loyalty, brand and “family.”

We are supposed to have a meeting soon to discuss upgrades to our portal site…perhaps I will bring this up!

Cell phones: Freedom of speech or public nuisance?

It was great to read about the use of cell phone technology this week. This was an area where I feel like I was behind in adopting. My husband had a cell phone for about five years (granted it was a very basic Nokia with a 30-minute-a-month plan but a cell phone nonetheless) before I finally got one as well. I think I resisted because I saw people with cell phones who were so dependent on them, even addicted in a way. And it affected their social skills. I remember one time while I was in college at UW-L, I drove “home” for the weekend. I went out with some friends from high school that I hadn’t seen in a long time. One friend in particular, while we sat having drinks, sat her phone on the bar and kept checking it and texting people. She was texting people who she saw on a regular basis – she hadn’t seen me in two months! I did not want to turn into that person.

Baron (2008) talks about this in her articles – cell phone etiquette (specifically in Japan but I think it can be applied to other cultures as well). Japan has created a culture where cell phone use is extremely high, yet manners and etiquette are still strongly in place. Cell phone use is strongly discouraged in public places. Are we, as Americans, just further behind in the evolution of cell phone technology use, or is our culture just “louder” and less concerned with offending others?

Although the Japanese have kept sacred the appropriate use of cell phones in public, they seem to be experiencing other negative effects from increased technology use. Caplan (2005) discusses this with respect to compulsive Internet use and decreased social skills.  This is what I felt like I was experiencing with my friend that I hadn’t seen in two months! From Caplan’s study, it seems like a vicious sequence of events:

Caplan 3

Photo source: Rott, L. (2013). Graph created in MS Word.

Despite my resistance, I ended up enjoying my cell phone – and, what joy I found with smartphones! I feel like I am much better connected and informed now. I also feel the sense of freedom Ishii (2006) describes in “Implications of Mobility: The Uses of Personal Communication Media in Everyday Life” on pages 347 & 348. I am not tied to a landline phone, I can make calls or send emails from just about anywhere, and I am able to look up just about anything I need to, whenever I need to. For instance, if my husband and I go to dinner and we’re thinking about going to a movie afterwards, I can pull up my Flixster app and we can decide before dessert arrives whether or not to go. (And, yes, I almost always order dessert as I have the BIGGEST sweet tooth. Tiramisu is my favorite.) My phone is not so much a phone (combined, my husband and I use fewer than 200 minutes a month for voice calls), but a mini mobile computer.

I have also felt the loss of freedom Ishii describes. Shortly after I got my first smartphone (the Motorola Droid), I had to travel to Chicago for a conference for work. I had traveled for work before, but it was previously as more of a sales support person and I usually attended the conference with a sales manager or sales director who took care of corresponding with the home office and customers while we were away. However, I had recently been promoted to an account manager and was traveling with someone who was very new to the company so I had more responsibility – in my job function and as a mentor to the other employee. So, I needed to stay in the loop while out of town and set up my phone to access my work email.

This worked great during the conference. I was able to respond to client emails and take care of issues that otherwise may have had to wait until I returned in five days. I know this is very common practice now, but, at the time, this was revolutionary for me.

I kept the work email “hooked up” after the conference ended. That lasted about a month before I said enough was enough. I’d be sitting at home with my husband and I’d hear that tell-tale chime on my phone that differentiated a work email from my personal email. I felt compelled to check it. Finally, I decided I needed to leave work at work. Besides, my company wasn’t paying for my cell phone or data package. Was it really necessary to be THAT accessible?

Now that I’m using social media more lately and connecting with my clients in more online venues, I may be starting to change my mind about accessibility. Maybe.

* * *

P.S. An update for anyone who is wondering about my situation with my cable/Internet provider…so, I posted a complaint on their FB page and had a response in 24 hours. Upon the social media manager’s recommendation, I emailed a formal complaint. Communicating just via email over a period of about six days, I had all of my programming fixed (I was missing 20 channels) without having to upgrade for extra cost, my discounts are still in place and I also had an error on my bill corrected. I did not have to sit on the phone for an hour (which I’ve done before) or talk to a variety of customer service reps (they have different ones for different services and none of them talk to each other very well). Victory! I went back to the company’s FB page and made sure to put a very positive comment out there for them. The power of social media!

How does it feel to be a Jack of all trades?

Evolution. Paradigm shift. Keeping up. Catching up. Transformation.

These are the key themes that jumped out at me from this week’s readings. What do they all mean for us as technical communication professionals? They mean that we are adaptable. Or, we try to be, anyway! I know many of us have expressed that we feel we are “sufficient” with newer technologies, like social media, but not experts. I know I definitely have felt like I can barely keep up. Every day there’s a new app or new website to check out, and a billion new Facebook posts and Tweets to read. After the readings this week, though, I am starting to feel a little better because I think our profession has gone through a huge change, especially in the last decade or so. And, as a result, it is one of the most diverse, multi-disciplined professions out there.  Before I explain further what I mean, let me tell a little story to help set the stage…

When I was a senior in high school, I was all set to graduate mid-year. I had all of my required credits and I was ready to get out of the small town I had called home for 18 years and move onto bigger and better things. My high school guidance counselor convinced me to enroll in a couple of classes at the local two-year college so that I would technically still be in high school but would be able to get away a few afternoons a week by going to classes at the college. I ended up taking a Visual Basic programming class. Very challenging, but also very rewarding. In fact, after I graduated high school, I fully intended to go into something technology-related. Upon enrolling at UW-La Crosse, I was a computer science major. Well, that lasted all of two minutes when I realized how much calculus and math I would have to take. Yuck.

So, I ended up majoring in communication studies as I felt like I was “good with people” and had decent writing and speaking skills. At the time, I thought it was at the opposite end of the spectrum from computer science. What I didn’t realize, until just recently, is that a communications degree actually calls upon multiple disciplines, including technology, so it was the best of both worlds. And this continues to be the case many years later, more than ever. Like we read in Chapter 1 from Spilka (2010), traditional job titles of “writers” or “editors” have evolved into “software engineers” because the advent of technology required that the disciplines meld together (p. 24, Table 1.1).

This blending of disciplines – communications, writing, editing, designing, technology, and content management – has meant that we have to be a Jack of all trades. We’ve had to take on more responsibilities, learn new methodologies and technologies, consider new audiences and even reinvent our craft at times. Here are the principal areas where I think we’ve had to adapt and grow:

  • We’ve had to become better communicators and relationship managers.
    • Due to fewer face-to-face interactions, we have had to learn different ways to communicate and forge relationships. For example, my clients are scattered throughout the entire country. I do not make in-person visits, so all of my interactions are via phone, email or webinars. Despite this, I have developed some incredible, loyal relationships because I’ve learned how to use these different communication mediums to my advantage.
    • The next generation relies more heavily on technology, many forms of which we are not as familiar with. This forces us to go outside our comfort zone in order to learn ways to reach this different type of audience.
  • We’ve had to expand our toolboxes.
    • First, we’ve had to learn new devices and various options AMONG those devices – computers (PC vs. Mac) and then laptops; cell phones and then smartphones (Droid vs. Apple); there have also been pagers, tablets, digital cameras, MP3 players, and other electronic devices.
    • Second, there are so many different types of software and programs we’ve had to learn – PowerPoint, Publisher, Flash, WordPress, PhotoShop, Dreamweaver, etc.
    • Third, there’s the Internet and all of the online capabilities – search engines, social media, social networking, discussion boards, blogs, wikis.
    • Last, there are so many different options available for crafting our technical communications. I’m referring to fonts, graphics & images, design layouts, software options, videos, color schemes, hyperlinks, content & language. Because of this…
  • We’ve had to become better writers/designers/communicators.
    • In addition to understanding all of the tools available to us for creating our work, we have to be aware of all the new routes available for delivering our messages. We have to be aware of them and know which ones to use, and when to use them. There are traditional forms like print documents, but now there’s also texting, email, Facebook, Twitter, Skype, YouTube and blogs. As described by Baron (2008), do we use asynchronous or synchronous routes of communication? (p. 14). Meaning, do we need them to see the information immediately, in real time, or can it wait until they open the message? Also, are we communicating one-on-one, or do we need to send a message to a large audience.
  • Finally, we’ve had to become better information gatherers.
    • With so many resources available – blogs, wikis, traditional websites and news sources – we have to be selective and know how to recognize credible sources.

There was a question raised at a 2007 technical writing conference: “What if technical communication were to merge into other disciplines and lose its identity as a field?” (Spilka, 2010, p. 5).

I think, we, as technical communicators, only make ourselves more valuable by being multi-disciplined. Being well-versed and knowledgeable in many areas – having a broad digital literacy – gives us more opportunities to work in different fields. Being too specialized makes you obsolete!

toolbox and toolsPhoto source: Rott, L. (2013). Toolbox image created in SnagIt.

Social networking: The missing link?

I grew up somewhere between two eras, part Gen X, part Gen Y. I was introduced to computers at a fairly young age but they weren’t commonplace until my teens. Once they were a part of everyday life, I embraced technology and have enjoyed being a part of several key technology-related projects throughout my college years and into my professional life.

One area where I’m lacking in tech-know-how is social networking and social media. Sure, I peruse Facebook everyday on my Galaxy 3 and I have a LinkedIn profile that I try to update often. I watch YouTube videos and even try tweeting from time-to-time (@lrott99). I feel like I haven’t truly tapped into the power that these sites hold, though. My struggle has mainly been finding the time, but a lot of it has to do with lack of understanding on how these sites can be more than just fun time-wasters.

This is exactly what Qualman talks about in our text. He says that “wasting time on Facebook and social media actually makes you more productive” (p. 4). From a business perspective, I have started to understand this much better over the past year and this class is helping me think about it even further. It goes beyond just posting news links and updates to a corporate Facebook page or Twitter feed to keep your buyers up-to-date. It can be truly proactive. The story in the Molisani article this week about Comcast’s Frank Eliason is a perfect example. This guy took the initiative by reaching out to customers that were complaining about Comcast on Twitter and offered his assistance. Now, that’s customer service!

Unfortunately, I think the company I work for is not anywhere near this sort of level. Not because we lack the knowledge of how to monitor social networking sites, but for the following reasons:

• Our company is still relatively small. Fewer customers means lower probability of negative experiences to be shared on the web.

• A large portion of our customers are not Internet savvy. I would estimate that less than 10% have LinkedIn accounts and only a handful probably use Twitter. A large number of them still don’t even have their own company websites. A few don’t even use email so when I need to contact them, it’s always has to be via telephone which slows down the communication process because I usually just get voicemail.

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Photo source: http://www.visualphotos.com/photo/2×3062668/telephone_covered_in_cobweb_IS758-049.jpg

If my clients are even further behind than I am, how can I make social networking and media work for me? I know it could be a useful tool, but figuring out how is still in the works.

Blog Evolution

The first blog I ever read was written by an old high school classmate of mine. She linked to it from her Facebook page and I thought, oh, Andrea’s writing a blog! That’s great! This might be something I want to do one day, so let’s see how hers looks.

Essentially, she wrote about her life as a stay-at-home mom. She shared stories a few times a month that talked about the frustrations and joys of raising a family. This may sound harsh, but I don’t think I even finished reading the first paragraph of the most recent post. Although I like this person very much, I really was not interested in reading about her trip to the grocery store with the kids or her husband’s issues with his boss. And it wasn’t that I didn’t care what she was up to, but to come back to a site repeatedly just to read about one person’s life does not appeal to me. I can get all that information in one place, for many people, on Facebook, and in much fewer words. Based on this first experience, I believed blogs were just cyber diaries and decided it wasn’t something I wanted to spend time on, including writing my own. No one cares (except maybe my mom or husband) what I think or do each day. Sorry, Andrea! Keep on blogging, but I’ll pass for now.

My blog picSource: Rott, L. (2013).  Blah blah blah blog image created in MS Word.

I began to appreciate blogs when I started reading one written by a local physician who is partial owner of the allergy company that I work for. His blogs were not only informative and scientific, but interesting, humorous and easy to read. They detailed different patient cases and clinical experiences he’s had over the past 30+ years of practicing medicine. The site is a bit of a ranting site, but I still find it enjoyable to read. I invite you to take a peek if you have a moment: www.renaissanceallergist.com. So, why did I decide this blog was worth reading? It’s relevant to my life and I get something out it: information that helps me with my work.

Another blog that I began reading was www.allergymoms.com. Written by a woman with kids that have bad food allergies, it’s more than just a daily diary of her life and dealing with her kids’ diseases. She interviews experts in the field on the latest and greatest allergy treatments, posts links to recent news in the allergy world as well as links to other websites and resources on managing allergies, shares recipes, products, etc. Like the doctor’s blog, this blog relevant to what I do for a living, but it’s also educational and helpful to others.

I also read blogs from time to time on http://www.huffingtonpost.com.

That pretty much summarizes my experience with reading blogs, but I can now add to my resume that I have experience WRITING a blog, courtesy of last semester with Dr. Pignetti. Like with the current class, we were required in ENGL 720 to blog each week to share our perspectives on the readings. I found the communal blog to be extremely beneficial as it encouraged conversation and provided a unique situation to learn from fellow classmates. This is similar to what Du and Wagner (2007) discuss in this week’s reading. They talked about blogs as “online learning logs” (p. 2.). Blogging, or even just posting regularly to D2L like with some of my other classes, is a form of collaborative constructivism, also described by Du and Wagner. With collaborative constructivism, “learning emerges through shared understandings of more than one learner and the construction of understanding builds upon interaction with others” (p. 6).

My husband also had the opportunity to blog for an English class he had two years ago. Although the purpose was primarily to improve writing skills through the use of a modern medium (to make it more fun and relevant), he found there was a good deal of communal learning taking place. Everyone would provide constructive feedback on grammar, spelling and writing structure which was great because it was a writing-focused class.

From cyber diaries to communal learning…quite the paradigm shift! I am glad to embrace it, however, and I look forward to expanding my views even further this semester.