Author Archives: Lori R.
“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!
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.
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!
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.
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).
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.
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!
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.
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.