Category Archives: Blogs

So Long, Farewell!

Hello, fellow communicators!

For my final paper, I covered various best practices for content management. My abstract is as follows:

Content management is a sophisticated process comprised of various components. Such components include writing/editing, image implementation, page analytics, user feedback, and information sharing (Rdymek). Accordingly, an organized system must be implemented for creating and maintaining content through consistent action. This type of system is referred to as a content management strategy.

Within an organization, ideally, content management is handled by a multi-person team. However, for the purposes of this paper, we will explore content management as handled by an individual content manager.

It has been an absolute pleasure working with and getting to know each and every one of you throughout this semester. I truly enjoyed this course, through which I’ve gained and developed knowledge and skills that will suit me throughout my career in communications.

Please feel free to stay in touch via social media:

Facebook: facebook.com/delwij74

Twitter: @TheBarrelMan

LinkedIn: linkedin.com/in/jeffreyjdelwiche

Google+: plus.google.com/+JeffreyJDelwiche

Email: jdelwiche12@alumni.uwosh.edu

Please note that I am always happy to write LinkedIn recommendations for my fellow classmates. For those unfamiliar with the process, a LinkedIn recommendation can be displayed on your LinkedIn page for current/prospective employers to see. Please let me know if you would like me to write a LinkedIn recommendation for you.

Best fishes!

Best Fishes

Sincerely,

Jeffrey J. Delwiche

So you say you want feedback?

Greeting, everyone! It’s weird how quickly this fall has flown by, and we’re looking at the holidays in a little over a week.

For my final paper, I chose to research more about the Millennial student, the digital native, and the types of feedback that they respond best to. I teach communication skills courses, and Turkle’s 2011 book Alone Together made me further analyze the students in my classroom and the way to best connect with them and help them learn. My abstract is as follows:

Today’s college students may enter the classroom physically or virtually. Because of emerging technologies, these digital natives, who are often Millennials, bring different communication habits and expectations to the classroom. For those who teach communication skills to college students to prepare them for the workplace and the world at large, it is critical to first understand these tech-savvy students and to give them feedback that will help them learn and improve. Because the modern-day classroom now involves various delivery methods, including video lectures, audio feedback, discussions, and phone conferences, to name a few, today’s educator must adapt different communication approaches best suited to those methods. This paper will attempt to answer the following questions: 1) What are the major changes in communication strategies and preferences for today’s college student (more precisely, today’s technical college student), and 2) How can communications educators provide better feedback to these students to help students improve their communication skills?

I love how research makes you question your own assertions and preferences. Before this research, I was admittedly in the curmudgeonly mindset that “Millennials these days need too much coddling.” Some research supports this, but with a better understanding of WHY they need more feedback, it feels less needy, and honestly, more reasonable.

Oprah

Courtesy of MakeaMeme.org

I came to better understand who the digital native-Millennial student is, why and how she operates the way she does, and what types of feedback she responds to best. I was able to remind myself that just because I was taught to do something one way doesn’t mean it’s the right way or the best way. So, I’ll be taking some of the research findings I learned through this final paper and employing them in my six classes this coming spring. My students will be getting more audio feedback, more specific feedback, more actionable goals, and more timely feedback. I’m not sure yet how I’m going to juggle all of that with six courses, four of which are writing intensive, but I did learn that audio feedback has some advantages for instructors, too, in that it takes less time and makes them feel more engaged with their classes and students, too.

ElffFeedback

Memegen.com

Overall, the research process reinforced the need to stay up to date on pedagogy, to keep learning and trying and growing. It’s something I try to instill in my students, and now I can speak from more recent, relevant experience with them about it.

Thank you all for your kind comments, suggestions, and posts this fall term. I hope you all have a fantastic holiday season and enjoy some much-deserved time away from studies and work.

 

Five Steps for Fighting Hate Speech on Social Media

For my final paper in ENGL 745: Communication Strategies for Emerging Media, I chose the topic of hate speech on social media. While learning about social media in this course, I was reminded of its impact and importance every time our country endured another mass shooting and a social media connection was revealed. I decided to research the relationship between online hate speech and real-world violence, and I was surprised by what I found.

In their policies that govern content, social media networks such as Facebook and Twitter acknowledge that hate speech can lead to violence. The first sentence of Facebook’s hate speech policy reads, “We do not allow hate speech on Facebook because it creates an environment of intimidation and exclusion and in some cases may promote real-world violence.” Twitter announced it is updating its “Hateful Conduct Policy” to prohibit content that dehumanizes members of an identifiable group because it can “lead to offline harm.”

Social Media Hate Speech and Violence Feedback Loop

I was glad to see they recognize the problem, but their efforts to combat hate speech seem too little too late. In my final paper, I wrote about the recent shootings involving gunmen who spewed hate speech on social media. I also learned how research is looking at the feedback loop of social media hate speech and violence that is amplified by algorithms and filters that create echo chambers and spread hate speech in a viral way to those outside a self-segregated group. The study that I found most interesting was by Petter Törnberg from the University of Amsterdam.

Triple Parentheses Hate Speech App

In my research, I also learned about the Google Chrome plugin called the Coincidence Detector that was removed from the Chrome store by Google in 2016 due to hate speech. The app would find people with names thought to be Jewish and tag them by surrounding their last names with triple parentheses. The triple parentheses would then help users find people to harass online, especially Twitter.

The Coincidence Detector app was especially frightening to me since I grew up in Alabama with the name Goldblatt and a Jewish grandfather. I went to an elementary school that was predominantly Jewish in Birmingham, Alabama in the 1970s, and I remember having to evacuate a couple of times every school year due to bomb threats. I never understood it at the time, but now I realize why that happened.

Five Steps to Limit Hate Speech on Social Media

Hate is alive and well today in the United States, around the world, and online. Technology companies and governments have an obligation to make sure social media networks are not used to spread hate. In my final paper, I recommended five steps to limit hate speech on social media:

  1. A broad definition of hate speech such as the one suggested by Change the Terms should be used. The policy should be presented to users on a regular basis in a form that is easy to understand such as in a question format as suggested by Flynn (2012).
  2. Hate speech should be taken down immediately. Violators should be warned or banned, and technology companies should face steep fines if they do not act quickly.
  3. Accounts posting objectionable content should not be amplified by algorithms. If posts are deemed objectionable, but not hate speech, they should be quarantined making them searchable but not deleted nor promoted to others.
  4. Technology companies should consider working together to ban repeat offenders on multiple platforms but allow for an appeals process and provide transparency in tracking and enforcement.
  5. Companies that have billions of users should have more than 10,000 content reviewers. Governments should consider requiring social media networks to have a minimum threshold of workers doing content reviewing that is in proportion to the number of users they have within a given jurisdiction.

Communication Strategies for Emerging Media has been one of the best courses I have taken in the Master of Science in Technical and Professional Communication program at the University of Wisconsin-Stout. Thank you Dr. Pignetti for an exceptional learning opportunity, and thank you to my fellow classmates for your contributions to the course and your responses to my blog posts as well as discussion posts. I hope you all have a happy holiday season.

Social Norms in the Digital Wonderland

We have so many discussions surrounding how our communication and empathy have been altered by digital culture and community.  We’re still trying to define it and understand our own behaviors in this rapidly evolving hot digital world.  But it isn’t tangible and there aren’t unspoken, yet understood social norms to guide us through it.  So, maybe it is a digital wonderland where everything we once knew is now quite possibly, the opposite.  Do social norms exist once we are interacting in a digital community?  How could we possibly uphold them, if they were even defined, when there is no physical context in which to shame someone for not conforming?

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Mad Hatter Tea Party from Alice in Wonderland 

Photo source: Getty Images

Barry Thatcher, in Digital Literacy for Technical Communication (2010, p. 175), discusses three human threshold values that identify what humans usually negotiate within cultures.  Although there are more, these three tend to cause the most dilemmas in cross-cultural contexts and are the most connected to different uses of digital media.  The author asserts that cultures vary in the way that they handle these dilemmas, there usually is a yin/yang balance but also tension in which side is predominate… And that is what defines each cultures’ unique cultural integrity.

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Photo source: Getty Images

The first is shared across all cultures.  It is the dilemma of the “I” relating to others or to a group.  We are familiar with the American preference for individualism.  However, on the other side of that is collectivism.  This is when individuals see themselves as highly dependent within a social construct or community.  This is a cultural view holding social or family groups at higher importance than the individual, the “I”.  Collective communication patterns emphasize interpersonal relationships, social hierarchy, social leveraging, group identities, close personal space, and writer-friendly writing patterns. (Spilka, Ed., 2010, p. 176)  Can’t we see our digital interactions as both “I” and “We” driven?  Of course, but does it have the same construct as our traditional physical interaction?  It doesn’t seem so.  The rules seem to flip-flop a bit.

 

The second commonality is that all cultures make and enforce rules, but the reason they are created and the flexibility of their enforcement varies.  The universalist cultural approach is to establish the rules defining what is right to all individuals, regardless of social standing.  The communication patterns associated with universalist protocols include strategies of fairness, justice and equality.  However, the other approach is the particularist culture.  This approach is such that the rules and decisions are applied depending upon relations and context.  Thus there are specific sets of rules for each social relationship.  While both cultural types exist within physical construct such as the universalist culture being more applicable to countries such as the U.S., Western European countries, and Canada and the particularist culture more applicable to Latin America or Asian countries, how do these cultural communication types change when we interact online?  (Spilka, 2010, p. 177) Are Americans so universally standard in their digital world interactions or do they become more particularist, becoming more involved with individuals because of the anonymity our digital world offers us?  Could this be why people develop such strong digital relationships with people whom they’ve never met face-to-face?

 

Lastly, all cultures negotiate public/private sense of space.  This is the idea that human interaction is a degree of involvement across different spheres of life, and this usually involves some sort of divide and trust factor. (Spilka, 2010, p. 177). There are two different approaches to this, according to researchers.  Those are: diffuse or specific cultures.  A diffuse culture is usually collective; involving friends, coworkers, and other social acquaintances.  These are relationships that tend to involve aspects of your personal life, at times overlapping sections.  On the other hand, diffuse cultures can be those of high conflict, mistrust, and competition.  Quite the opposite, specific cultures are those of high public trust and ease that allow for relationships to exist within their own spheres with little crossover with others.  It favors more collaboration because the competitive piece is not relevant.  At what points do we interact collaboratively within our digital world and, then when do we behave more as in a diffuse culture.  I see the social media aspect of our digital world to be much more diffuse.  In one respect we are interacting as friends, but then also competing at who has the best life (from a digital perspective, at least).

 

All the aspects of communication and culture that are difficult enough to navigate in the traditional sense, seem to be at times upside down in the digital wonderland.

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Photo source: Getty Images

The Challenges of Addressing Digital Audiences

Effectively addressing digital audiences is a critical function of being a technical writer. However, our authors this week demonstrate how difficult this task can be. Not only are audiences fragmented in a digital space (as Bernadette Longo points out in chapter 6), but there are many cultural practices and barriers that prevent us from communicating to everyone adequately (as Barry Thatcher shows in chapter 7).

Besides fragmentation and cultural barriers, I would argue that algorithms also create challenges for technical writers to adequately construct, address, and engage with digital audiences.  

Constructing Audiences

There are many algorithms that can make it challenging to form a digital audience. For example, Google’s algorithms can make it challenging for users to find your content. In order to rank on the first page, you have to follow rules and tackle specific key terms. I’ve learned that in order to get my articles to rank, they need to be over 1,000 words, mention the keyword more than once, link to multiple websites, have the article be linked on other websites, be published on a Google trusted site, be shared by others, have numerous pictures, and the list goes on.

Search results for best IoT platform

If you follow these rules and algorithms, it can be quite easy to rank and gives users a means to find your content. However, these rules don’t make it easy to address audiences effectively. I have found myself spending so much time trying to meet the requirements (such as saying the keyword more than 50 times), that I wonder if I’m actually creating helpful content for users. The search results are also so competitive and manipulated that you have to write sensational headlines and more just to get noticed. I’m not saying it’s impossible to write SEO (search engine optimization) content and not have it be helpful, but it certainly presents a challenge to content writers to construct and address digital audiences effectively.

Addressing Audiences

Tom Johnson, a well-known technical writer, states that writing good documentation can be challenging because it can feel like your writing to the “absent user”. That’s because documentation platforms provides little or no measurable means to track how users engage with your content. Of course, as Tom Johnson points out, there are numerous tools that can be used to gather knowledge and feedback of how users are engaging with your documentation — surveys, web analytics, plugins, etc.

Google Analytics — An example of web analytic platform. Source: freeCodecamp

Even though we have these tools, I believe Tom Johnson makes a good point that digital spaces (like documentation) don’t inherently give us many tools to understand how users engage with our content. I find this same challenge when writing a corporate blog. I know users are visiting my content due to web analytics and other marketing tools, but it can be difficult to know if the content is addressing their actual needs. In a digital space, the best means to get feedback from users is from surveys, but even this can be challenging because users are usually flooded with so many different forms of digital communication. And when users do take surveys, they can provide general, or extremely non-specific feedback.

No matter how you cut, the web (by design) does not give technical users many helpful ways to address their audiences. They must go out of their way to interact with end users and get feedback. I believe this is why technical writers have to train themselves to become more customer and UX-driven. Without these practices, technical communicators cannot be effective at their job.

Engaging Audiences

Algorithms can also make it challenging for digital creators to create engaging content. For example, have you ever searched a simple question on YouTube and can only find 15 minute long videos that take forever to answer the question you searched? That’s because YouTube’s algorithm favors longer videos, which forces creators to prolong their videos to meet these arbitrary requirements. That means creators could be spending more time trying to extend their video length, rather than creating  quality content that actually helps users with problems.

What to do?

While specific rules and algorithms can limit technical writers, they can be easily overcome. In the end, it’s the job of the technical writer to be aware of these rules and continue to find ways to communicate effectively despite them. It’s the reason why we are hired. We’re expected to not just know how to address audiences effectively, but know the algorithms that effect us from being able to communicate adequately.

Digitization Here, There, and Everywhere

I enjoyed this week’s readings, which challenged me to analyze several components of digital communication from various angles. Though all four chapters were thought-provoking, I think I was most intrigued by Chapter Eight, titled “Addressing Audiences in a Digital Age”.

Reaching the Masses through Technology

It goes without saying that, in modern society, we rely heavily on technology while actively using it to communicate with audience segments of various sizes and demographics. In fact, there really isn’t a way to efficiently contact the masses in bulk without the help of technology. After all, even spammy snail-mail would require technology for mass printing.

Marketing Land

Image courtesy of Marketing Land

Technology aside, a general communication approach and style is contingent on several variables, including but not limited to:

  • Subject(s) – Sender(s) AND receiver(s) of message
  • Situation – What is the intended message and its purpose?
  • Setting – Where are we and what is our method of communication?

We communicate uniquely specific to these (and other) variables. Simply put, we cannot communicate with everyone via the same methods. Instead, we must be cognizant of or subject(s), situation, and setting while applying the appropriate communication approach.

This same mentality most certainly applies within our techno-ciety as well. Though it would be perfectly convenient to use the same digital platform(s) to communicate with people from all walks of life, this simply isn’t possible. Thankfully, there is no shortage of platform options.

It Starts with Social Media

Inner Ear

Image courtesy of Inner Ear

Social media, in its ever-growing nature, allows for efficient, effective communication with the masses. Accordingly, it continues to be the primary means of digital communication in our tech-niverse. However, with countless social media platforms available, it is important to devise a game plan (content strategy, if you will) to determine the appropriate platform(s) for each type of audience.

In devising a content strategy, I believe this is best achieved through market research. Sure, these days, a search engine would produce endless results on such a topic. However, instead of trying to create a “perfect” content strategy (spoiler alert: not possible), use your research as a general guide to determine what has and hasn’t been successful in the past for other technical communicators relying on social media.

Measuring Your Success

You’ve now invested time, effort, and (quite possibly) money in your social media campaigns. Therefore, you owe it to yourself to make sure your communication efforts are effectively reaching your intended audience(s). Accordingly, you should closely monitor your communication process along way.

The Media Online

Image courtesy of The Media Online

Throughout your technical communication journey, it is important to track audience engagement. Such tracking acts as the proverbial ‘pulse’ on your content strategy. Most commonly, engagement can be monitored through page follows/likes, direct messages, posts, comments, shares, and other such notifiers. Also, there are many available ‘extension’ platforms (several of which are free) that dig down deep into page analytics as specific as link-clicks and page views.

What’s in a Blog?

Have you ever noticed what makes you continue to read a blog or bounce after the first few moments?  Is it the blogger’s words?  Too many, too little, too boring, too complicated, or completely irrelevant to your search?  Or could it be the layout?  Overly cluttered or not broken up with images?  The appeal of a blog is unique to each individual.  So, how can a blogger create a product appealing enough to gain traction?

Paper on vintage typewriter with words blog typed on paper

Photo source: Getty Images

Throughout the Communication Strategies for Emerging Media course, we learn how to create relevant and appealing blogs that embody the ideal structure and flow for effectiveness. Blogging, like all forms of technical communication, has its own style and character.  What’s done on Twitter or Instagram, doesn’t have the same appeal or value in a professional blog. I’ve learned through this course and then analyzing my own interaction with blogs, that the simpler is better.  I’m much more likely to read something all the way through if it is concise and not overly wordy.

 

Digital Literacy for Technical Communication (Spilka, Ed., 2010) offers good technical writing practices that apply well to blogging platforms.  Granularity is a term used in technical writing that explains effective digital spaces should have a balance of text-based information chunks and multimedia applications.  However, depending upon the audience, the way that is done is not always the same.  We must understand our audience and the message we are trying to deliver. Granularity furthermore, has three levels of magnification to consider: microscopic (close perspective), mesoscopic (middle perspective), and macroscopic (far perspective). The microscopic perspective involves aspects such as text size, font, paragraph placement and length, and white space.  While mesoscopic and macroscopic perspectives consider broader matters such as, multiple document delivery over various lengths of time. (p. 111)

 

Mapping or blog arrangement are also very important to audience appeal.  An overly cluttered blog without a clear content menu leads to audience uncertainty or distrust.  Organization is a strategy that can build blog appeal and reputation.  The content itself should be clean and well arranged.  However, a blogger should also consider ads or the minimization of, also in the mapping schema.  No one likes to try to read a blog with ads blinking all around the content.

Simple web flowchart or sitemap with space for your content or copy.

Photo Source: Getty Images

Ambience is a critical factor in all works of art and design, including digital communication.  Ambient design allows the audience to to understand the purpose and content of a blog.  The design should be created in a way that this perspective can be gained by only a quick glance.  This allows ease of use and guides the audience through the blog interaction. (p. 120-121)  Furthermore, this overall design strategy establishes trust and audience comfort, which are crucial in a popular blog.  Images are important in creating the intended ambience.  To choose the correct supporting images, it is important to have a well defined blog purpose and to understand your desired audience well. Aesthetics are also very important to creating an appealing blog site.

IMG_0042

This is a photograph of mine, with some filter experimentation.  It creates a unique feel that could be appealing in certain blogs involving photography, art, or even cats.

 

Folksonomy is also known as social tagging, social indexing, tagging, etc.  It is a method by which content can be created and managed, via tags, to categorize the content.  (p. 118) This method of tagging and categorizing content is done all over social media, the Web, and in blogging.  As we write our blogs, we choose the categories/tags we want connected to our content so that it appears in relevant user searches.  Aside from administrative blog tools, we can also accomplish this via hashtags which are trackable throughout social media (if our blogs are shared to those platforms) and the Web.

 

As technical and digital communication advances, we also make changes to improve the functionality and appeal of our blogs.  While blogs are still very relevant, vlogs are quickly gaining attention.  With that in mind, it will be interesting to see  how the technical communicator roles develop should consumption of media become more video based.  The technical writing practices could shift into video production.  One could argue that they already have…

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Photo Source: Getty Images

Content Management: Simply Complicated

I enjoyed this week’s assigned readings from Rachel Spilka’s “Digital Literacy for Technical Communication”, which I found to be quite thought-provoking. However, between the three chapters, I was most intrigued by Chapter 5, William Hart-Davidson’s “Content Management: Beyond Single-Sourcing”.

Hart-Davidson defines “content management” as “a set of practices for handling information, including how it is created, stored, retrieved, formatted, and styled for delivery” (p. 130). While this basic definition accurately summarizes my general understanding of content management, I appreciate how Hart-Davidson thoroughly explores the process while detailing its evolution.

Content Management 2

Image courtesy of Das Tor News

As Hart-Davidson explains, a Content Manager has many responsibilities, making him/her an integral cog within an organization. However, before a Content Manager can take on such responsibilities, a content strategy must first be devised and implemented, preferably by the Content Manager AND his/her colleagues. If this crucial first step is skipped, the content will not maintain consistency with regard to format/style, organization, or placement. Sure, the organization’s decision-makers may provide free rein to the Content Manager, allowing him/her to make executive decisions with regard to content. However, I have firsthand professional experience that suggests this could greatly backfire.

Just over two years ago, I was hired as a Content Editor for a reputable pipe & supply company on the south side of Chicago. Though a Content Editor is not the same as a Content Manager, the former belongs under the proverbial umbrella of the latter, with the two sharing several of the same responsibilities. In my role as Content Editor, I was responsible for creating and maintaining product descriptions/navigation for this company’s new eCommerce website. However, having not previously worked in the supply chain industry, I blindly stumbled into this role without a clear blueprint in place.

Regardless, having received minimal direction, I did the best I could in this role, having surprised myself and others with how well things turned out. However, despite some positive feedback from my colleagues, there were several others who were displeased with my product layout. Accordingly, this layout was reworked several times over by me and others as we aimed to create something that everyone would be satisfied with. Unfortunately (but perhaps not surprisingly), this did not happen.

I have to imagine that no work-related project will ever appease all employees within an organization, regardless of how much time and effort goes into it. However, I firmly believe that, had my colleagues and I worked to establish a blueprint that (most of us) agreed on, this product layout would have required far fewer redos thereafter. In other words, had we actually executed the first step, the subsequent steps would have been far smoother.

Content Management 1

Image courtesy of GetRedtie

In summation of Chapter 5, my general takeaway is that the larger an organization is, the greater the amount of pressure on the organization’s Content Manager. While this may seem like common sense, I do think such an individual’s performance could “make or break” an organization’s, productivity, workflow, results, and bottom line.

Technological Adaptation & Appreciation

As Rachel Spilka explores in Digital Literacy for Technical Communication, technology is all around us, even when we’re not consciously aware of it. It goes without saying that we live in a technologically dominant world. Therefore, in this endless digital cloud that is modern society, it is our responsibility to accept technology as a dominant, driving force that is here to stay. As advanced and impressive as technology currently is, in accordance with history and current trends, technology is sure to continue its growth at an increasingly rapid pace.

In an interesting foreword within this same literature, JoAnn T. Hackos provides a brief exploration of this ongoing technological journey. Along the way, we must remain fluid and flexible in adapting to technological changes, for better or for worse. Also, it is in our best interest to appreciate technology for its various benefits in helping to improve our lives.

 

Technological Adaptation

Technological Adaptation

Image courtesy of Technology & Leadership blog

In accordance with the inevitable, rapidly growing phenomenon that is technology, it is imperative that we adapt and adjust along the way. This is especially important in work settings, with nearly all companies implementing some form(s) of technology ranging from basic to advanced. Furthermore, such companies rely heavily on said technology in ensuring smooth workflow and sustained success.

On the flipside, technological glitches and defects can temporarily (or even permanently) impede a company’s workflow processes. For example, I think we’ve all been to a fast-food restaurant that, at that very moment, experiences technical issues with its electronic payment processors. Most commonly, it seems that credit/debit card readers become exhausted and require resting periods during business hours. As a result, during those times, businesses are unable to process credit/debit card payments, instead accepting cash payments only. These types of glitches interrupt business workflow while preventing revenue, as would-be customers turn around and leave. After all, these days, the vast majority of consumers relying solely on electronic payments, often even via mobile device (ex: Apple Pay). In fact, partially as a safety precaution, it seems fewer and fewer people carry cash with them at all anymore.

In work settings, we cannot strictly reap technological benefits while unrealistically expecting glitches to never occur. Instead, just as we must adapt to technological enhancements intended to improve workflow, we must accept inevitable setbacks as they occur, ideally while refraining from becoming agitated or hostile. In fact, it is wise for all of us to practice and perfect a “Technological Difficulties Spiel” to use when addressing colleagues and/or clients while working through such glitches.

 

Technological Appreciation

Technological Appreciation

Image courtesy of Smartereum

It’s safe to say we’re all guilty of occasionally (or often) taking technology for granted, regardless of which generations we come from. Through its ups and downs, I strongly feel that we should appreciate technology as a whole. After all, it does help to make our lives easier through automation of otherwise mundane, time-consuming processes. Such automation helps to ensure efficiency and accuracy with these types of processes.

To put it in perspective, when you’re using technology to complete a task, try to imagine how that very task would have been completed prior to the initial implementation of technology. To take it a step further, imagine how that same task would have been completed during technological infancy, before significant advancements had been made. Perhaps some of us bloggers are “seasoned” enough to remember how such tasks were manually completed pre-technology. However, there’s a younger generation of users that were born into tech-society and have been surrounded by it ever since. Technology is all they know, so they would struggle to consider life from a pre-technological perspective.

Regardless of which generations we come from, or what we de/don’t remember about past technology (or lack thereof), it is important for all of us to maintain an appreciation of technology, its past achievements, ongoing progress, and future enhancements, the latter of which are sure to amaze.

Aging Gracefully in Tech Comm

MiddleAge

Happy middle-aged people, courtesy of Daily Express

This past year, I turned 42, and I’ve had to start admitting that I’m now “middle aged.” Gasp. Forty was harder than I thought it would be, and I’m trying to age gracefully, but I hear poet Dylan Thomas’s ghost whispering to me, “Do no go gentle into that good night!” I get the same feeling every time I read about the evolution of the technical communication field. Practitioners and textbook authors seem positively anxious about what’s happening in the field, and I would argue unnecessarily so. Each field goes through growing pains, and as a former technical writer and a teacher of writing, I’m less concerned about what we call it and more concerned about what we do and how we continue to evolve gracefully within the profession.

When entrenched in any field of study or interest, it’s important to understand its history. The historical timeline that R. Spilka (2010) chronicles in Digital Literacy for Technical Communication covers some obvious changes that have occurred in the last several decades. Changing social norms, technologies, and business practices have had the largest impacts: more women are writers, more work is online, all technical communication work is done using technology, and as a result the skill set that technical communicators need has expanded. This is true of most professions. My mom taught in a two-room schoolhouse. She didn’t use a learning management system (LMS) to display course content or let students and parents review grades online. As a twenty-first century instructor, I use an LMS daily, most of my classes have computers, and we’re offering many more online courses. The profession changes, and so do we as practitioners.

When I graduated in 1999 and shortly after was hired to be a technical writer for an internet-based start-up company, I wished that my undergraduate degree had prepared me more for the technical aspect of the field. I had used Word to write essays, but that was about it. I had to teach myself some HTML, graphics, and the new-at-the-time RoboHelp program. Spilka notes that when the internet bubble burst a few years later, more employers were looking for the technical communicators who had those technical skills (p. 37). Teaching myself those skills was good for me. It made me more motivated and confident, but it would’ve been easier to transition quickly into the field with more computer software and technical skills.

At my first writing job, I was a lone technical writer in a group of computer software engineers. As I moved on to my next writing job, I would start to mimic some of the changes that emerged from Phase 3 to Phase 4, according to Spilka. In the early ‘00s as the Internet became part of our workplaces and households, my work broadened to include website copy, marketing brochures, both print and online, and working within a team of writers for multiple clients. By this time, the Internet and the websites on it had a less rinky-dink and a more professional appearance. Internally, we developed standards guides that we distributed throughout the company and expected everyone to adhere to. Rather than just seen as “translators,” we were included in design and

Google

Early Google landing screen, courtesy of Telegraph

marketing meetings. Quite honestly, I liked it better that way.

Spilka caps off the second chapter of Digital Literacy by writing, “technical communicators’ work is undergoing significant changes at a rapid pace” (p. 75). He later admits that all industries are.

No longer is it enough to just be a writer. Technical communicators (aka symbolic analysts) must be Jacks and Jills of all skills and must keep those skills up-to-date with the changing needs of the market–as must most employees in this information age. The largest take-away from these two first chapters is the need for technical communicators to keep demonstrating their value, and that means their dollar value. With the threat of downsizing and globalization, the author posits that technical communicators must muscle their way to mission alignment and administrative recognition. It seems like this shouldn’t be necessary, but I suppose it is. 

Spilka ends Chapter 2 with “While the period ahead may be at times unsettling for practitioners and educators alike in the technical communication profession, it also promises the kinds of challenges and rewards as such periods always yield” (78). That’s right, Dylan Thomas! We won’t go gently, but go we must.

Dylan Thomas

Seductive Dylan Thomas, courtesy of Literary Hub

 

 

 

P.S. Googling images of middle-aged people is an exercise in humility itself. It results in a lot of Truman Show-esque couples in weirdly smiling embraces.

 

 

 

Change is Good!

This week’s reading was very nostalgic for me!  During the last semester of my senior year of college, I began an internship with a software company where my role was to work with RoboHELP to develop online help for their medical software.  In May of 2001, I graduated with my Bachelor of Arts in English with a focus in Technical Communications and went to work within the next three months as a Technical Writer at a small water heater manufacturer in Tennessee.  I was quickly trained on using Freehand10 to create and edit their use and care guides and installation manuals.   During this same time-frame, I had a local bank contact me and offer a freelance project to re-write all of their training guides.

'Day old Bread, 50 off' & 'Day old software, 75 off.'

Image Source: cartoonstock.com

I remember recommending Macromedia Freehand10 and they actually purchased the software and I did the work transferring all of their documents in the new program.  I cringe a little now when I think of that.  I was new to the field, and I had no idea how much software would change over the next decade.  In my defense, Freehand10 was a great program for layout and design work when compared to their previous software choice, Microsoft Word. It made page layout so much easier by having each part in an easily movable “box” – text boxes, photo boxes, etc.  It eliminated that (still present) issue with MS Word where everything adjusts itself to the next page the second you close and re-open or print the document.  In “Digtal Literacy for Technical Communication,” Chapter 1 writer Saul Carliner says that, RoboHELP was… “later sold to Macromedia which was sold, in turn, to Adobe” (Spilka p. 37)  Today, Macromedia Freehand10 is a thing of the past – and had been replaced by Adobe inDesign – at least at the water heater company where I first learned the ropes of Freehand10.

Failure to Evolve with Changing Technology

In 2003, I put my career on hold to stay home with, and later home school, my two sons.  The oldest graduated in 2017 and the youngest will follow in 2022.  As I begin to consider re-entering the work force in my field, my biggest worry has been whether or not I will be able to learn the new technology.  Last year, when my oldest graduated from our home school, we participated in a co-op style graduation ceremony with a local home school group.  Because of my background as a tech writer, I was asked to create the graduation programs using inDesign and get them sent off to the printer.  I was able to get a copy of inDesign and I set to work – only to realize (very quickly) that my learning curve was going to take a bit longer than the time I actually had to reach the deadline on these programs.  I had to ask a friend who works in the field to do the layout for me and then I was able to plug in the photos and information.  It was disappointing to me and added fuel to my fears of whether I am going to be able to survive in this field given how much the technology has changed over the last 15 years.  Initially, I chose to work toward my masters degree in hopes that I would somehow get back up to speed with regard to technology as well as everything else.  Unfortunately, that has not been the experience thus far.  “Digital Literacy…” Chapter 2 author, R. Stanley Dicks says,

For academic programs in technical communication, a primary issue is the extent of training they need to provide.   Most academic programs have limited resources to purchase costly publishing software; especially prohibitive financially is complex enterprise software like content management systems.  More significantly, the purpose of an academic degree is to serve the student for decades after graduation by providing durable skills and knowledge.  Technology skills and knowledge are perishable, often outdated within five years.  On the other hand, employers expect students to develop skills with publishing technology as part of the education process, so avoiding technology altogether in the academic curriculum is not an option.  Each program has to find its own balance (Spilka p. 47).

Distance education has made it even more difficult for students (like me) to learn technology skills as part of the education process as it is impossible for me to utilize any of the software that may be available on the UW Stout campus because I am in Tennessee.  Likewise, it would be quite costly to purchase a personal copy of each software that I may want to learn, and, as I found out quickly when trying to work on the graduation invitations, difficult to teach myself these new programs.  I hope that employers will take this into account as I return to the work force and allow for the training I will need to get technologically up to speed.  The good news is that I have stayed current on using technology when it comes to e-mail and social media, and I do tend to learn new programs easily when I have the time to “poke around” with it.

A Whole New Way to Work

In his section on “Distributed Work,” R. Stanley Dicks says that, “Improved communication technologies mean that workers can collaborate without being co-located (i.e. without being in the same physical space, such as an office” (Spilka p. 73).

remote2

Image Source: teambonding.com

In the early 2000’s, when I was working in the technical communications field, the idea of “working from home” was not quite yet available.  Although my company had considered this and was beginning to consider the idea, technology had not yet advanced to the point where my they felt comfortable allowing it just yet.  Now, my husband works for this same company as an Engineer Manager and he often holds meetings with company executives across the globe.  He went into work at 6AM last week so he could have a teleconference with the folks in Japan!  Had this been an option to me, I may have never had to put my career on hold to raise my kids; perhaps professional parents in 2018 can now have the opportunity to simultaneously do both!

 

Being Your Authentic Self…Online?

This week, I read Constructing and enforcing “authentic” identity online: Facebook, real names, and non-normative identities, as written by Oliver L. Haimson, Anna Lauren Hoffmann. I found this piece to be quite interesting and informative, offering Facebook insight I hadn’t previously given much thought to. This article explores the contradictory balance of authentic y and discretion. The general expectation is that Facebook user accounts should display the exact, full names of their respective users. However, many users view this expectation as irrational and unjust, due to the negative consequences that have resulted.

Throughout Facebook’s 14-year history, this aforementioned authenticity has backfired for many users who did not exercise discretion with their posts. Sure, we could easily make the ‘devil’s advocate’ argument that there must be accountability with the users, who should ensure that they aren’t posting content that could be offensive and potentially damaging. However, those same users could argue that, if Facebook wants users’ accounts to reflect their authentic selves in display name, shouldn’t their accounts also reflect their authentic selves with regard to personality, interests, and viewpoints? Furthermore, isn’t it hypocritical, contradictory, and disingenuous for Facebook users to not post directly from their respective minds and hearts?

Regardless, in our technological society, we have made significant progress since the term ‘2.0’ was coined more than ten years ago. By ‘progress’, I mean we no longer imply that platforms have an original, ‘boring’ version followed by an improved, ‘fun’ version. Instead, we are trending away from a black-and-white view of technology as bad and good. As a result, we are trending towards a more open-minded approach to software development and implementation. For example, these days, a development team is unlikely to ask such questions:

  • What types of functionality and navigation could we seamlessly build into this software?
  • What’s the coolest layout for this type of software?
  • What’s the fastest method for implementing this software?

Instead, a development team is more likely to ask the following types of questions:

  • What types of functionality and navigation would most likely be preferred by this software’s user base?
  • What type of layout would be most helpful for users of this software?
  • If we begin developing our sprint enhancement list next week, what is a potential timetable for pushing this enhanced software into a beta environment for testing?

Technology continues to evolve across the globe, making the term ‘2.0’ obsolete and archaic. Instead, every day, developers are gathering user feedback to continuously fix bugs, implement enhancements, and improve the user experience. Software can no longer simply be ‘fixed’, as the process is ongoing.

 

References:

Web 2.0 and Online Identity Formation

Our readings this week got me thinking about identity-formation, of all things. In “DIY videos on YouTube: Identity and possibility in the age of algorithms” Wolf describes how watching DIY videos can play a role in identity-formation – they can help us asses if we are capable or confident enough to do a task on our own. However, DIY videos aren’t the only activity that can influence our identity; there are many online activities like video games and social media that can also influence our identity.

“You Play World of Warcraft? You’re Hired!”

World of Warcraft – A raid group taking down Vaelastrasz the Corrupt in Blackwing Lair Source: MMO Examiner

In chapter four, Rheingold discusses how World of Warcraft (WoW) can influence our identity and can be seen as a good job training simulator. He says this because players must complete tasks collaboratively with other players if they truly want to engage with the game’s content. I’ve had similar thoughts about WoW because I played this game a lot growing up.

When I played the game, I use to raid hardcore (as they would say). My alliance guild (25+ people) would raid four nights a week and complete high-level dungeons to obtain the best gear and loot. In some cases, we were the first on our server to kill a new raid boss, which comes with its own bragging rights and rewards. These accomplishments don’t carry much merit in the real-world, but completing these collaborative tasks gave me a lot of skills that can be carried over to a work environment.

If I’ve ever felt like I couldn’t do something, I’ve caught myself thinking – “If I’m capable of organizing a raid to kill Yogg-Saron on heroic mode with no guardians, then why can’t I do this job interview or [fill-in-the-name] task?” This might sound silly, but playing World of Warcraft has given me confidence that I can accomplish great tasks and goals in my own life.

I’ve seen how WoW has affected my friends’ lives too. For instance – my guildmate created a bot in the game that would collect valuable materials for him (without him having to be at his computer). Creating this bot required that he learned coding, programming, and many other skills because it required modifying the game. He was eventually banned because creating bots is cheating, but the video game allowed him to refine his engineering skills. He is now a software engineer at a software company in Silicon Valley, which is a very fitting role for him.

I’ve also seen how WoW can destroy lives. There is a stigma that playing online video games means you have no life and are worthless. I’ve seen many of my guildmates get caught up in this lie and often view themselves as worthless and feel they can’t accomplish anything in the real world. To me, it’s incredibly interesting how one game can influence our identity and personality so much.

Lurkers are destroying online collaboration participation. Really?

The value of lurkers, commenters, and creators Source: Lurkers Anonymous

Rheingold discusses how the web has been primarily formed through collaborative efforts of many users. Kusher repeats this sentiment in “Read only: The persistence of lurking in Web 2.0,” where he explores how lurkers pose a threat to this collaboration and participation. At the end of the article, he states: “[lurkers] are the remainder of human activity that fails to conform – deliberately or otherwise – to the capitalist logics that drive Web 2.0.”

I agree and understand his argument, but I don’t agree with the tone that pervades the article and seems to negatively blame lurkers for destroying online participation. I rarely participate in social media activities and discussions, but I would not call my lack of participation as deliberate; I often just don’t feel any desire to comment or be part of the discussion.

However, I feel there are often good reasons to not participate online. I feel companies and social media platforms have ruined participation because they use information you provide (through a simple like or watching a video) as a means to target and influence your behavior through ads. Any information you put online also stays online, permanently – why would I want anyone to be able to pull my information up so easily?

At the same time, I often worry this passive majority isn’t participating where it truly counts. They may not share articles that expose corruption in the real world. They are not vocal when they need to be (like during elections and other highly political times). And social media platforms are doing a good job of making false participation – such as liking a video –  seem more significant than it actually is. We cannot confuse easy participation as real participation.

Where we have been, and where we are going with Web 2.0

Our senators seem to be the only users who don’t understand how Web 2.0 works.

I feel the majority of these articles summarize the main benefits and problems of Web 2.0 accurately. The main difference between when Web 2.0 was coined, and now, is a majority of users know what Web 2.0 is (except our senators, apparently). Your average user understands the danger of the web – we don’t click on random ads, we understand that there are bots trying to talk to us, and we know how our behavior on the Internet is used by others. However – as Reingold points out in chapter 6 – your average user does not know how to use the web mindfully (such as knowing how to use privacy settings and more). Going forward, privacy is going to be more of an issue than before.

I feel web regulation will also be a huge factor going forward. We can see this happening currently, with big tech companies having to testify in front of congress and more. Just the other day, I saw an article explaining that there will be a new California law that states chatbots must disclose that they are bots before continuing a conversation. I feel this is important because even though we are aware that there are bots on the Internet. It is becoming increasingly difficult to know when a bot is speaking to us, especially when it comes to sharing news articles.

I personally don’t know how far these regulations will go. I believe some regulation is necessary, but I also worry about those who will take advantage of the current fear in the political climate and make unnecessary regulations to control the Internet for certain parties.

DIY, with Help from the ‘Bots

Allergens_GOT

Stark wisdom, courtesy of imgflip.com

After this past seven weeks of reading, I’ve come to a “if you can’t beat them, join them” mentality about my involvement in the digital world. Reading Rheingold’s book Net Smart urged me to start using my social media platforms in a more interactive way, including creating my first Twitter account. To put this new digital immersion to the test, I thought I’d try to elicit some advice from Facebook friends by asking for allergy remedies. Pollen counts were high in Wisconsin this past week, and I was suffering, so I took to Facebook for advice. Because I so seldom post, I wasn’t expecting much of a response, but I had about 10 people comment. The jokesters in my life recommended scotch or gin with a dose of “wait it out”, but several other friends offered real advice and remedies. One such recommendation was the use of essential oils. Intrigued by that option, I decided to delve further by Googling “how to use essential oils for allergies.” This led to several DIY videos and articles.

Small-World Network, Old-World Coffee Klatch

By calling out for this allergy help, I was doing what Rheingold called collaboration and cooperation, “humans solv{ing} problems collaboratively” (p. 149) wherein “virtual communities are technologies of cooperation” (p. 151). I directly asked for help in an effort to learn something, knowing that small talk like this builds trust in this virtual community. I used my “small-world network” where network implies a “sparsely knit/loosely bound” community to seek advice. Twenty years ago, I might have asked two or three friends (aka coffee klatch) the same question face to face.

CoffeeKlatch

Coffee Klatch, courtesy of Hubpages

By asking my network, I received answers from Duluth and Houston, from men and women, from young and middle aged. I diversified my answer, and at the same time, I broadcast that answer to other people in my network or “personal learning network” (Rheigold, p. 229).

Using Rheingold’s analogy of “gardening” in the online community, I thanked all the contributors, responded directly to a few, and ignored the ones that were off-topic (p. 166). When someone in my network poses a similar question in the future, I will use my “social capital” and look for ways that I can contribute to the discussion (Rheingold, p. 212).

I know it when I see it, but who showed it to me?

Decades ago, the idea of obscenity or pornography was defined by a federal judge as broadly as “you know it when you see it.” As Christine T. Wolf writes in her June 2016 article “DIY Videos on YouTube: Identity and possibility in the age of algorithms,” online credibility is often judged this way by viewers, including me. My common sense credibility detection involves:

  1. How many views has the video gotten?
  2. How many subscribers does the video producer have?
  3. How is the video titled and tagged?
  4. How is the video shot (professionally/amateurishly)?
  5. How credible do I perceive the speaker to be? Does the speaker tell me?

Like the participants in Wolf’s study, I employed CRAP detection, but I didn’t give much thought to how or why specific videos appeared in my feed. She notes,

The particular mechanics of the platform — the how and why of what videos are presented to them — sink into the background. Given the central role media like these videos play in constructing notions of self, ability, and confidence, the seeming invisibility of the platform — particularly the algorithmic sorting that provides a heavily customized experience — raises concerns over the potential power algorithms wield in shaping social realities” (Wolf).

My “how to use essential oils for allergies” search resulted in videos by yogis, doctors (of natural medicine), beauty gurus, mommy vloggers, and people selling essential oils. I have a YouTube account, a Facebook account, and a Google account. Of course, my reading/watching habits are being shared across platforms. I would like to test what my search results would yield when I am logged out of all those accounts, on a public computer or friend’s computer.  I strongly suspect the results would differ.

Act, or Be Acted On

My biggest take-away from this week’s readings are the need to stay ever vigilant, skeptical, and curious. Rheingold’s closing remarks caution readers, “If you aren’t an actor in a democracy, you are the acted on” (p. 242). That applies to voting, consuming, and prosuming. I can use his advice to realize that even my search results are curated by invisible forces that I should consistently question. However, I’m also heartened by the notion that Web 2.0 is dismantling some of the hierarchies of knowledge that have been in place (Wolf). With YouTube, I can DIY just about anything I wish to. And it is building confidence. My husband and I have replaced a sink, fixed a toilet, and restarted a flaky water heater, tasks we probably wouldn’t have even attempted in the age before YouTube. That’s empowering. The next time a household DIY comes up, we just need to ask a few more questions as we evaluate the videos we’re watching. If nothing else, I might start doing a few out-of-the-norm-for-Amery searches to see if I can throw off the prediction-bots. 

Blogging: Balancing Accuracy and Authenticity

As bloggers, we aspire to create content that reaches the masses. We hope to craft a message that appeals to a specific persona. Over time, we expect to build an audience in the form of a loyal following. However, to do so, we must first establish credibility and trust among those viewing our posts.

Informative Blog

Image courtesy of LEENTech Network Solutions

To establish and maintain credibility among our viewers, we must appeal to our intellectual side while creating content that is factual, accurate, and helpful. Such content should be supported with quality sources, such as books/textbooks. A truly credible blog post likely wouldn’t cite other blogs as sources. However, this becomes a catch-22, since we’d rather not cite other blogs for our blog posts, yet we hope our blog will gain enough credibility to be cited by others.

Compu-Heart

Image courtesy of Iconfinder

To establish and maintain trust, we must appeal to our emotional side while creating a blogger persona that our audience can truly identify with. Our closest followers would feel like they know us personally, as if we go way back. Those who can identify with us will feel compelled to read our content regularly, in hopes of obtaining advice that would truly speak to them, thanks to the similar nature of the two sides. In other words, such a success story might feature an audience member saying “I can’t wait to read Jeff’s blog post this week. I really get that guy, as he and I are quite similar. He offers frequent advice very specific to my current life situation, which I obviously appreciate.” Perhaps this success story sounds a bit too fairytale-ish, but it should serve as a general aim for bloggers looking to identify with an audience while the former gains trust from the latter.

To simultaneously sustain credibility and trust among our audience, we must find and actively implement a balance of information and emotion within each blog post.  To borrow a cliché, we must find a “happy medium” for our content. In a perfect blogging world, a blog would be informative while sounding like it was written by a human being instead of a robot.  Easy enough, right?

Technically Speaking On Technical Writing

To be honest, I found this week’s readings to be rather troubling and discouraging. Granted, it’s possible that I’m overthinking the content, which may have quickly taken my brain to a place of angst and frustration. However, as I digest and reflect, my general takeaway is that social media is slowly but surely pushing the technical writing profession towards irrelevancy.

Technical Writing

Image courtesy of Campus Commerce

This notion rings similarly to that of blogging ultimately replacing journalism, a topic we covered previously. However, that topic was hardly troubling to me for two reasons. For starters, though I appreciate and enjoy quality journalism, it’s not a field I specifically aspire to enter. Second, I feel like this ‘blogs are the new beat’ trend has been progressing for several years now, so it’s something I’ve come to terms with. Though often unqualified to create and publicly share written content, bloggers do have a voice, as projected through the web.

Robot Journalist

Image courtesy of Springer Link

However, as one who aspires to build a career in technical writing, I am heavily disheartened by the thought of social media overshadowing and/or replacing technical writing. With the latter requiring a combination of intense focus, natural skill, and endless practice, it seems unfair for any unqualified yet self-proclaimed ‘social media specialist’ to take over and hog the spotlight.

While a ‘quantity over quality’ approach is seemingly becoming the status quo of web content, I’m also seeing a ‘speed over quality’ approach, which may be more frightening than the former. Traditional journalism emphasizes that it is far more important to publish accurate, credible content than it is to be the first to break a story. However, social media seems to contradict this age-old approach, with users racing each other to post something even remotely coherent and believable. This is partially because posted content can be edited a later time. However, this approach is rather transparent, with users largely taking into account their own egos, as opposed to the best interest of their audience.

Save Technical Writing

Image courtesy of OwlGuru.com

Will technical writing ultimately be negatively impacted by social media, just as journalism has been impacted by blogging? Say it isn’t so, fellow communicators!

Ambient Awareness: A Replacement for Social Connectedness?

Ambient Awareness is a social science term Clive Thompson used in his article, Brave New World of Digital Intimacy, to explain the new constant online environment we communicate and interact in.  This enables us to maintain weaker social connections in an incessantly overwhelming digital environment.  Facebook was the frontrunner in this form of digital interaction but it has developed to now include microblogging, Twitter, Instagram, etc.  Ambient awareness also considers the narcissistic.  tendencies for people to think that every single little thought or occurrence in every moment of their life necessitates a social media post of microblog. This awareness and behavior weakens social ties and further creates an ego-centric mainframe where the social media user is not so concerned with what is going on in other’s lives but rather the importance of their personal posts.  Are loose connections or acquaintances preferred over the deeper connection of the past?

Embed from Getty Images

Wikipedia further defines ambient awareness as an awareness propagated from relatively constant contact with one’s friends and colleagues via social media platforms. Wikipedia Ambient Awareness 

It would seem that the constant connection created a deeper disconnect or even devalued the meaning in social interaction.  It’s as if we don’t even
“see” each other as human beings but rather view these interactions as transactional.

Anthropologist Robin Dunbar believes that evolutionary structure of social networks limits us to 150 meaningful relationships at a time, despite the rise in social media.  In the following TED Talk, “Why the Internet Won’t Get You Anymore Friends”, Robin Dunbar argues why social media doesn’t give us the expanded social connectedness that it promises.  He makes you question the quality of communication done on social media platforms.  Loose connections are the substance in social media communication.

 

 

So, how ambient awareness and the brain’s inability to have larger numbers of truly meaningful relationships effecting our workplace collaboration?  Clive Thompson goes on to further discuss in his New York Times article that ambient awareness allows us to maintain weaker social connections that actually create more common ground in workplace collaboration because the ongoing updates build the social context for collaboration.  B.J. McNely, in the October 2001 publication, Informational communication, sustainability, and the public writing work or organizations from Proceedings of the IEEE International Professional Communication Conference (1-7), further explains that social media practices such as micro-blogging, as discussed in this post, are not seen as formal work, but rather the informal communication that happens alongside the work.  In this context, ambient awareness seems complimentary to the workplace by creating an informal way to collaborate that still builds trust and understanding.

 

While loose connections are viewed to be harmful to our social interaction, they do in fact have value in certain situations.

 

 

 

Creating Agile Communicators: Teaching Writing with ICTs

This week we read several scholarly articles on the technical communication field, where it’s going, how it’s defined, and how it uses social media. As a writing instructor, my major take-aways from the readings by Ferro, Longo, Blythe et al, and Pigg include:

  • The need for more collaborative writing
  • The need to understand the importance of emergent technologies
  • The need to understand how writing will change because of those technologies
  • The “need for social and communicative agility” (Ferro, p. 19)

Ferro asks, “how do we teach students to write in forms that do not exist?” (p. 20), while Longo argues that “teachers must understand their roles as mediators and integrators of ICTs [information and communication technologies]” (p. 23). While I don’t specifically teach technical communication, this question and assertion can guide what I do in the classroom to ensure that my students are prepared to communicate well in the 21st century.

We can start by using the  ICTs that students use in their personal lives. As a department, we’ve recently struggled with how to address the issues of “fake news” and the broadening complexity of information literacy.

lib-info-lit-chart

Information Literacy, courtesy of Otis.edu

Now that ICTs allow us to tailor our news feeds to show only what we want to see, how do we promote a more comprehensive analysis of news and information? As teachers, we tend to shun the use of social media in our classrooms, but perhaps we are fooling ourselves while simultaneously doing our students a disservice. Recent links on this blog indicate that fewer students are using Facebook, but we why not integrate lessons using Instagram, SnapChat, or blogs? Some may bristle at the notion of interacting with students this way (it’s too personal, too gimmicky, too much extra work), and we will have to embrace that once we’ve finally figured out how to use a certain ICT, “those darn kids” will be on to the next one. However, incorporating more ICTs in the classroom could make the classroom more relevant to the current technological climate as well as help students become more agile in the future technological climate.

Using ICTs can help students understand the concept of audience better. Longo’s article “Using Social Media” emphasizes that users have become producers. One common complaint of composition students is that they feel their writing is “just for the teacher” and that the notion of a real audience is therefore false. If educators can create content that supplies student writers with a real audience (even better, a real audience of their peers) perhaps they will invest more in the content they create? If they are already composing SnapChat group chats and YouTube videos, asking them to write a five-paragraph essay for their instructor can feel archaic and pointless. By using social media, “we can design documents that are more explicitly responsive to audience needs” (Longo, p. 24). Using social media in the classroom provides educators a way to “recreate a professional setting where [students] learn about users directly” (Longo, p. 31). This real-life writing assignment provides immediate feedback for students from a larger audience and can allow them to carry that writing portfolio with them relatively seamlessly.

Using visuals is increasingly important in communication. Blythe, Lauer, and Curran’s article, “Professional and Technical Communication in a Web 2.0 World,” reports that surveyed technical communication alumni are increasingly responsible for visual communication (not just written communication). We are largely a visual society, and though the uptick in emoji use makes some of us nervous

HieroglyphsEmojis

How far have we come? Are we just circling back around? Courtesy of Steemit

(me included), visuals help to contextualize the written word and ensure greater reader comprehension. The social media applications that younger people are using are more visual (Instagram/Snapchat), but visuals will not replace the written word. Learning how to use both well cannot be a detriment.

HieroglphHumor

Source: Medium.com

Students should practice critical thinking as often as possible. Blythe et al recommend that technical communication students should be “exposed to situations in which they must choose the best channels for communication”, that they should be “exposed to a wide range of technology that will facilitate that process”, and that they should be “versatile with multiple media” (p. 281). I’m no longer a technical writer, but one of my most bemoaned complaints as a new technical writer in the early ‘00s was my lack of technical training. My college classes taught me how to be a better writer, but I had to teach myself how to use the technology. Aligning technology with communication is training students, no matter what their final profession, to be skilled in all forms of communication: audience analysis, visual communication, and content creation.

Creating better communicators across disciplines serves all of us. As more and more of us become both producers and consumers (“prosumers”), embracing the changes in teaching and technologies keeps our work interesting and makes our global world a more interactive and understandable place.

Technology: User’s Best Friend

Technological Friend

Image courtesy of Haiku Deck

This week’s reading and corresponding blog topic compare technology as being a ‘friend’ versus being a ‘tool’. However, the way I see it, technology (among many other things) is both a friend AND a tool. After all, with ‘tool” being an all-to-common slang term, haven’t you ever used the term jokingly to describe a friend, or negatively to describe a foe?

 

I love you, technology

Digital Friends

Image courtesy of Faith and Technology

We get frustrated with our friends. They often disappoint us, hurt us, and anger us. Sometimes, we even think we HATE our friends. However, no matter how bad things may get, true friendships are unconditional and eternal. Similarly, as aggravated as we sometimes get with technology, it is here to stay.

Technology most certainly meets the criteria of a true friend.

Technology is our friend for various reasons. Technology saves us endless time and energy, helping to expedite otherwise manual/mundane processes through automation and digitization. On the flip side, true friends help us to save time and energy through miscellaneous favors and general assistance.

Technology promotes efficiency and accuracy in information input/output. For example, if a user inadvertently attempts to submit inaccurate information, the techno-wizards will quickly put their heads together before flagging the information in the form of an ‘ERROR’ message. In parallel, genuine friends will correct us when we’re wrong, always telling us what we need to hear, even if it’s not necessarily what we want to hear.

Technology allows us to remain productive while “on the go”. Thanks to the wonderful creations that are mobile devices and Wi-Fi, we can complete any number of interactive tasks while away from home and/or the office. Though possibly a stretch in comparison, friends keep us accountable while we’re on the go, as friendship knows no bounds. A true friend is a true friend, even if he or she is in a different room, building, city/town/village, state, country, etc.

Perhaps most importantly, technology makes it easy for us to stay connected to friends across the globe. Imagine that! Technology, our friend, allows us to maintain and nurture our friendships. In other words, technology is a crucial, mutual friend that links us and our human friends.

Life is obviously much easier with technology than without. While the younger generation might occasionally take technology for granted, the rest of us surely recall what life was like before technology landed on Earth.

At the end of the day, we NEED our friends, just as we NEED technology.

 

My friend, the tool

My Friend, The Tool.jpg

Image courtesy of Webreality

Personally, I refuse to classify technology as a strictly a friend OR a tool. Instead, I believe technology is simultaneously (and perhaps equally) both.

Merriam-Webster offers various definitions of ‘tool’. In the context of this topic, perhaps it is most relevantly defined as an element of a computer program (such as a graphics application) that activates and controls a particular function.

I believe this definition helps to mesh the ‘friend’ and ‘tool’ components of technology, which helps to facilitate execution and production through various means and platforms.

Technology is our friend. Technology is a tool. A friend can assist us in ways that a tool can. Now, let’s put them all together.

Triangle

Feeling Superconnected

Hello, fellow bloggers!

For starters, my sincere apologies for my delayed contribution. I had this post saved as a ‘Draft’ before attempting to submit it via mobile phone. Unfortunately, it seems I was unsuccessful in that effort, which I hadn’t realized until tonight while searching for post comments/feedback from you all.

Regardless, I am thoroughly enjoying Superconnected thus far, as I can relate to many of Chayko’s perspectives, opinions, and suggestions. Pardon the clichés, but she pushes me “out of my comfort zone” while inspiring me to “think outside the box”. Before I began reading, I really wasn’t sure what to expect, though I also didn’t expect her messages to be so deep, thought-provoking, and borderline controversial. That being said, I feel pleasantly surprised, intellectually stimulated, and eager for future readings.

Below are my reactions to Chayko’s primary areas of focus of web content: Ownership and Security.

Ownership

Ownership

Image courtesy of Digital Resource

As a whole, I agree with Chayko’s general stance on web content ownership. The way I see it, all web content is susceptible to at least being accused of plagiarism. While we can argue that our opinions belong solely to ourselves, even subjectivity is bound to be common among users. In other words, no matter how unique I believe my opinions to be, others are bound to share the same opinions. Therefore, if I publicly post what I’m hoping will be a unique, original opinion, others may still accuse me of content theft.

I believe this is what Chayko is getting at as well. However, it seems like she’ll provide a strong opinion and then almost immediately encourage her audience to challenge her opinion. Does anyone else gather this?

Security

Internet Security

Image courtesy of Router-Switch

Again, in general, I believe Chayko and I share similar views on web content security. No matter the precautions we take, I think it’s safe to say that all web activity is susceptible to being monitored by a third party, and all web content is susceptible to being obtained by an untrustworthy source.

You’ll notice that many websites contain a ‘Security’ section outlining the platforms being used to promote information safety and confidentiality. For example, such a section may contain a ‘Norton Antivirus’ logo, implying that this antivirus software is activity being used by the website. You may also see a ‘PayPal’ logo, designed to assure users that it is safe to purchase the website’s products through this reputable third-party payment processor.

However, please don’t be overly trusting! You can never be too careful when it comes to internet security. Such icons don’t necessarily guarantee any specific level of security, as any website in the techno-sphere can contain images of antivirus software and/or payment processors. To be a little more explicit, thieves can host fraudulent websites containing endless, invisible viruses and forms of spyware. However, to create a false sense of security, these thieves can easily include the aforementioned ‘decoy’ icons on their wormy websites. Copyright infringement? Perhaps, but still hardly the least problematic area of this type of web-trap.

Final Thoughts

people in the information space

Image courtesy of Mobile ID World

I am not certain there are right or wrong answers to the aforementioned topics. Regardless, these particular topics are prevalent, controversial, and “here to stay” (you had to expect one final cliché).

 

Blogging: Past Experiences and Article Reflection

Past Experiences with Blogging

I discovered my passion for web writing/editing back in the fall of 2013 when I began taking online Professional Communications courses through Fox Valley Technical College. To hit the ground running, I created two blogs of my own. First, I created a Milwaukee Brewers blog called Barrel Man’s Brew Blog. Shortly thereafter, I created a professional-advice blog called Positivity and Professionalism. Though clearly dated, the blogs are still live:

Barrel Man’s Brew Blog

Positivity and Professionalism

I enjoyed maintaining these blogs, as it was solid “beginner” experience for me in my new field. However, I found them to be time-consuming, possibly because I was trying too hard to create “perfect” content out of the gates. As a result, I most actively blogged while I was only working part-time.

The time factor is the primary reason the two blogs have become stagnant. However, having gained significant personal and professional experience over the past few years, perhaps I could rekindle my bloggership while hopefully being more efficient and responsible with my content creation/management.

“What Blogging Has Become” by Robinson Meyer

I enjoyed reading this article while learning about Medium, a company I was previously unfamiliar with. In fact, I learned that Medium created Blogger, the blogging platform of Barrel Man’s Brew Blog.

Though I enjoyed this article, I’ll admit I’m saddened by its primary message. Meyer insists that blogging is dead, old news, a thing of the past, etc. However, I’m not specifically offended by Meyer’s words, as it’s one person’s opinion at its core. Instead, I’m disappointed that, well…he might be right. Upon further review, it seems many other internet voices agree with that of Meyer, whose post might reflect a trending, collective viewpoint on bloggerhood. Darn it. Just when I was considering a blog reboot!

Unless I’m misunderstanding the content, I believe Meyer is explaining how blogs were so prevalent that they became the status quo of internet content, or the new “normal”. Furthermore, with blogs becoming increasingly prevalent across the web, it’s as though bloggers spread a message to the effect of “This is the type of internet content that appeals to the masses in the 21st century. Deal with it!”

As a result, it seems many electronic newspapers, magazines, and journals have adopted a “bloggistic” writing style to stay current and relevant. Accordingly, traditional journal-type blogs are no longer common because the majority of internet content contains a blog-like formula. In short, blogs are no longer cool and trendy, since everyone is blogging, even if they don’t realize it.

Your feedback is welcome, as I am not sure I’ve grasped the intended message of this article.

Thank you!

Jeff

Social Media’s Digital Labor

Social Media gives us the connection we long for as human beings.  We feel part of something so much bigger than ourselves and are able to connect with past and current friends on a daily basis, if we so choose.  However, is social media connecting us the way we believe it to be or are we all incorporated into a false consciousness where what seems to be super connected is actually complete alienation?  One could argue that it is a matter of perspective, possibly determined by our internal definition of “connected” or that we are potentially being brainwashed on a massive scale.  According to Mary Chayco’s book SuperConnected: The Internet, Digital Media, & Techno-Social Life page 71, the idea of false consciousness is that individuals may not realize that giving away their free time by making and reproducing creative digital communications, they are actually benefiting the more powerful in society rather than themselves.  In other words, social media users and producers are focused upon the view that they are being creative or accomplishing a goal but actually those free efforts are benefiting companies.  Of course there are paid promotional considerations, influencer marketing, and other ways to monetize a blog or other social media platform efforts…  However, who is benefiting the most from this digital labor?

digital labor.jpg (960×851)

The weight of our social media engagements.

Image Source: https://goo.gl/images/sZPpck

 

Digital Labor is the act of individuals producing content for public consumption on social media platforms such as Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, and others that benefits organizations and corporations (Chayco, 2018, p. 71). It’s an organization of human experience that drives marketing, mostly unbeknownst to the producer and the consumer.  In one respect, by the vast amount of digital media consumers are exposed to, they learn about products and services that may not have crossed their path or are able to be involved in crowdsourcing or crowdfunding.   However, one could argue that by websites and companies having this inexpensive or even free digital labor, that consumers are exploited.

We rush to social media as a way to express ourselves creatively and to be included in the digital society.  Engagement on social media has become to norm in our highly digital society so much that the act of not being engaged in social media is seen as antisocial.  We’ve come to a collective consciousness in regard to digital media behavior and we didn’t even realize it.  We didn’t question it.  In addition to digital labor, companies also gain information about online behavior by the use of “cookies” (Chayko, 2018, p. 84-85).  This online behavior monitoring and data mining, along with our digital labor, reveals so much personal information about an individual that I’m certain they wouldn’t just tell a complete stranger.  However, that is exactly what is happening with our digital media interactions.  The video below shows how labor has evolved and what it looks like as a “social media workforce”.  It speaks to the idea that we do not feel we are being exploited or alienated as a result of coercion and then our consent.  It’s a bold statement and hard to accept because we like that rush of human interaction.  Again, there is much value in digital communications but we have a responsibility to understand exactly what it is we’re engaging in and agreeing to.

 

Digital labor can be beneficial to consumers on social media platforms but as producers and consumers, we need to reclaim our worth.  Social media users are valuable to corporations by their ability to reach others.  So, how do we make certain we are not free or cheap digital labor?  It starts with awareness.

 

 

My blogging experiences and motivations

The article, “Why we blog” discusses people’s motivations for writing blogs, which got me thinking about my motivations. I have a couple of experiences writing for blogs and I have learned different lessons (about myself and writing) from each of them.

The Tech Ladder – Blogs as muse

Occasionally, I write original tech content for my own website, the Tech Ladder. When I first started this website, I used it as a place to practice writing articles that focused on trending tech content. I practiced because I had tons of experience writing academic essays, but hardly any experiences publishing my own articles.

From this experience, I quickly learned blog writing was drastically different than academic writing – the purpose and style of writing serves different means. I learned that readers didn’t want to read long blog posts, they wanted something quick that educated them. I could use bullet points and needed to find images to make my writing compelling. I learned how to make the visual structure of articles (headlines, headers, and paragraph length) visually compelling so readers would stop to read certain sections. I no longer had a professor who was going to read it no matter what I wrote or said – it was my job to make it interesting and compelling for all sorts of readers.

My main motivation from this blogging experience was to become a better writer. In that sense, I used blogging as a means to educate myself on how to write on the Internet. While this doesn’t seem like an incredibly vulnerable act, it kind of was. Writing my first blog post on this website was slightly nerve-wracking and exhilarating as the same time. While the article wasn’t about me, (and I don’t think I’ll ever be the type of person who blogs about my personal experiences because I just don’t find this type of posts enjoyable/cathartic), it was about me becoming a stronger and more proficient writer (which can be a vulnerable act). I learned that I enjoyed article writing and took my tech content to other websites, which helped spark my career into technical writing.

Blogging for school – Blog as a community forum

The article “why we blog” discusses using blogs as community forums and comes to the consensus that they are not that effective for creating meaningful communities. I believe this is true and not true – it depends upon the needs and goals of the community.

I once created a community blog for an undergraduate class that was particularly difficult. Other classmates joined the blog because they also knew the professor was no easy grader and they were going to need all the help they could get. While we worked together to share study guides and such forth, there was definitely a group of classmates who contributed more to others. Regardless, there was some engagement. Classmates actively posted questions about homework, and sometimes used it as a place to vent their frustrations about the difficulty of the class. At the end of the course, many shared their final grade they got back, whether it was good or bad. I was surprised by how some were so willing to share their personal thoughts about their grades and other experiences in the course.

Afterwards, one classmate created a new blog for us to continue communications with each other even as we parted ways. This blog was not successful, mainly because the need for a community was no longer there. Before, we used the class blog because we felt we needed it to pass the class. Now that the need was gone, there was no reason to use this website or visit it to see what was new. This showed me in order to create a community, you need to have common need or goal in order for it to stay alive.

Particle Blog – Blogs as commentary

I currently publish tech content on my company’s blog. We mainly use this as a place to inform our engaged audience about trends in our industry, and product-related posts. Our main motivation is to provide commentary on our piece of the tech space and show that we are thought leaders in the industry. Writing for a company has taught me the challenges of continuously publishing relevant content. While there is plenty to write about – it can be challenging to stick to a schedule, which can be hard to build an audience when you post infrequently. It has taught me that blogs must contain more than just words these days. You must include images, videos, and other forms of interactive content to keep content engaging. It has also taught me about SEO, and making blogs findable via google search.

At the same time, it has taught me this is probably one of my favorite forms of writing. I like being a thought leader in a space and being able to show how things are evolving in a given industry. It allows me to put my writing in a public place, and receive reception to my work. I can consider myself as a published writer, which was always my dream growing up.

I look forward to blogging with you guys in this class. Even if I don’t wants get to comment on everyone’s post, know that I am reading and enjoying your posts.

You blog, I blog.. Well, I tried to blog and here’s what I learned!

Blogging – A platform used in today’s world to offer one’s opinion, recommendation or share information to a tailored audience. In Press ‘Publish’: Start an Academic Blog, Mann  (2015) refers to a blog as, “The contracted form of weblog, a website made up of ongoing entries, usually called posts, that are published in reverse chronological order (i.e., the most recent entry appears first, at the ‘top’ of the page, and so on)” (Mann, 2015).

The very first time I was introduced to blogging was through Pinterest. One day, I was pinning away on all the accessories, designer apparel, outfits, latest fashion trends and just about anything that related to luxurious homes including curb appeal, dreamy master bathrooms, kitchens, and the extravagant necessities one could only dream of having.  It was on this pin, right here, where I was brought to a blog… As the pin loaded, I stopped and almost shut my computer. But, I became so intrigued by what was loading that I anticipated what was to come.

I thought to myself, “Wow,” I could do something like this myself, but perhaps what would I write about? The question stumped me so much that I began researching like crazy all the different topics I could write about. One blog led me to the next blog and the next and so forth. Finally, I took away one recurring theme in each of the blogs and research I compiled online which was to find a specific topic to write about. The blogging industry was becoming so popular that one was advised to write on something very specific to attract, entertain and retain a certain audience. The next piece of advice often given was to write on something that interests you.

thought bubble

 

That’s it.. I wrote down a few items I was heavily interested in and this is the last I came up with:

  • Hockey
  • Fashion
    • Designing Apparel
    • Hair Styles
    • The Latest Industry Trends
    • What’s in Season and what’s not
  • Eczema
    • Yes, I understand this is painful and boring, but as soon as I found a food related link contributing to my dry-skin outbreaks. I wanted to inform, help and guide other individuals on my experience.
      • I couldn’t believe that certain “foods” were linked to my skin outbreak and that I consumed a vast amount of my free time researching skin care products, best practices and reading about other’s experiences, cures, and triggers which caused or help eliminate eczema.

Now, it was time to write. (Yikes!)

  • I could not come up with words, sentences, phrases or images/videos I wanted to include or expand upon for any of the above topics.. I felt a sort of shift in my interest level and motivation to write a blog altogether.

The blog – Well, the blog did begin, but it was for an undergraduate course during my time at UW-Madison. As I began to build my own personal website part of this site included a blog where others could read about my personal background, experiences and areas of interests. Essentially, it was another resource for hiring companies and professionals to get a better feel about the type of person I was and how I could fit into their culture and organization.

  • Reflecting on this (above) I noticed Mann (2015) talked about professional development and career advancement as reason 4 of 5 to begin an academic blog. While at the time I curated this blog, I wasn’t sure how much help or assistance it would ultimately provide me; I’m beginning to see the advantages of presenting a potential employer with more than just a resume… Mann addresses the benefits of creating a blog for this reason by stating, “A well-done academic blog can be a nice feature on a CV” (Mann, 2015). As I began to generate more content to add on this blog, I focused more on the clarity of the content and specific topic to highlight versus just writing to write! Additionally, Mann talks about his experience being awarded a scholarship by keening into the topic of making scholarship available to a wider audience (open access) and with the creation of his own website, ultimately he could illustrate what he was highlighting (Mann, 2015).
    • Y U P !
      • Mann is spot on. For me, as I created my own website I used the website domain in my graduate school application, resume and various other job sites to showcase my own capabilities, reference my work and highlight other interests that were outside of the job scope.

I guess that’s all for now, but there will be more to come with this course and another try at creating an academic blog with all of you.

-Kim Drake

 

References:

Mann, Joshua. (2013, July 25). Press ‘Publish’: Start an Academic Blog [Blog post].

Retrieved

from: http://www.academia.edu/4101490/Press_Publish_Start_an_Academic_Blog

 

 

From Mommy Blogs to YouTube Vlogs

HeatherArmstrong

Heather Armstrong (Dooce.com), courtesy of ProBlogger

I began reading blogs when I was a technical writer in Fargo, ND, in the early 2000s. Professionally, I followed some technical communication blogs, and personally, I read a handful of “mommy blogs”, one of which was the famous Dooce.com (Heather Armstrong), who has gone on to write several books about her experiences with mental illness and parenting. I still read a few of those lifestyle blogs, but many of the bloggers quit blogging after five years or so. I also had a personal blog for about six months where I mostly recorded my thoughts and observations for the day or week. I quit because it felt odd when people started commenting on my posts.

According to Nardi et al (2004), people are motivated to blog for five reasons: 1) to document their lives; 2) as a form of commenting on events; 3) as a way to process topics (catharsis); 4) to figure out how they feel about a topic (“thinking with computers”); 5) to build community with like-minded individuals (p. 43-45). My personal blog was a version of motivations 1, 3, and 4, and the other blogs I read were for similar reasons. I agree that these are reasonable motivations and that many bloggers touch on all five of those motivations at some point in their publication history.

When I began reading blogs, most of the bloggers posted at least several times a week. As their blogs grew their audience and perhaps the bloggers’ personal lives became more complicated as a result of that, their postings became less frequent, which is also a trend that Nardi et al (2004) note; they call it “blog burnout” (p. 42).

Nardi et al’s article “Why We Blog” was published in 2004, and a considerable change has occurred in that 14 years. Kissane (2016) chronicles the five most important trends in blogging include: 1) the end of the blogger and the advent of the influencer; 2) the size of posts becoming longer and more substantive; 3) removing or at least responding less to viewers’ comments; 4) incorporating more and better graphics; 5) measuring how long viewers stay on the site versus whether they visit the site. I definitely see these trends happening. Though I watch more YouTube now than I do read blogs, I hear more and more people refer to themselves as “influencers” or “creators.” Graphics have definitely become more elaborate, and I know that Google/YouTube provide tools for users to perform data analytics, which tell creators how long people are staying on specific pages or videos. I’m not sure I see the trend of fewer comments, but I know some creators choose not to reply to comments or even to block or remove distasteful content (troll behavior).

To have an online presence, be it blog or vlog, influencers must stay up-to-date on technological trends and essentially become mini producers. They have to know how to edit, tag, add music, know the rules around adding content (like music), keep on top of comments, police the comment community, and keep content fresh. Several of the big YouTubers have management teams, and more advertisers are recruiting these influencers to help sell products. That’s an entirely other can of worms regarding ethics and rules.

Blogging and Digital Marketing Strategy

Blogs have become my main use for Facebook.  While I first used it as a social outreach tool, I now appreciate it as the one place I can see all the blogs that interest me in one feed.  I also technically follow many bloggers on Pinterest. Pinterest is my go-to place for recipes, craft ideas, or sewing projects.  When I click on those Pins, I’m directed to the site. I find that I am more likely to engage with these bloggers if I can use certain social media platforms as a central feed or board. Otherwise, as my email inbox fills up, I’m more likely to delete communications without reading them.

Digital Marketing Strategy is an excellent tool for gaining blog followers.

From the article, 16 Top Tips from Blogging Experts for Beginners, by Belle Beth Cooper, she states she’s heard blogging referred to as a “mixture between an art and a science”.  What a precise statement!  The balance between the writer’s artistic, personal expression and attracting an active readership is an analytical challenge.

I’d like to touch on a few of the 16 tips provided in Belle Beth Cooper’s article that tie in Digital Marketing Strategy and blogging.

#4 – Build an email list.

Creating a call-to-action encouraging readers to sign up for an email list does make sense because your intent is having that open channel to reach their inbox.   However, consumers are bombarded with emails on a daily, if not hourly basis, and realistically because of the demands on people’s time, your email is more likely to end up in the trash.  Although the intent of building an email list is to circumvent competitive factors such as Facebook News Feed ranking (EdgeRank isn’t used anymore by name but Facebook still ranks based upon 1000’s of factors using algorithms) and Search Engine rankings, there are simple ways Bloggers can stay visible on social media platforms.

I encourage you watch this brief video by Facebook, “How Does Facebook News Feed Ranking Work?”.

A few recommendations I offer to create different call-to-actions encouraging readership are:

  1. Encourage readers to not only “like” your page but to also “follow” it.
  2. Encourage comments to your blog posts on social media.
  3. Consider “sponsored” posts. “Sponsored” posts are available on most social media platforms including Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest. “Sponsored” posts allow the blogger to target consumers who’ve already indicated behaviors that tie into their target audience.  Blogger’s can determine their own spend and the analytics immediately show if it paid off.

#6 – Focus on building an amazing call-to-action.

A central component of any Digital Marketing Strategy is the call-to-action.  What do you want the visitor to your blog site or webpage to do? As much as a blogger should stay true to their artist output, how are you going to encourage people to read it?

Nate Kontny, founder of Draft, a blog for writers, noted that when he created a strong, relevant call-to-action, it “immediately increased my Twitter followers by 335% in the first 7 days!”

The proof is in the analytics!

#7 – Give stuff away.

This sounds ridiculous at first because aside from wanting to share your writing as a blogger, there’s also the intent for it to be an income source.  However, the main idea behind “giving stuff away” is showing good faith to your readership.  Share those writing tips, offer a new seasonal recipe, or give away a PDF sewing pattern.   The best way to win followers is to offer them something they didn’t have prior to coming to your blog site or webpage.  This encourages readers to follow your blog.

According to research by Incentivibe, “adding a giveaway contest pop-up to the bottom-right of their website led to 125% more email subscribers”.  Again, I believe that the main focus should not only be on email subscribers, but the same giveaway contest could be offered to gain social media followers.

Digital Marketing Strategy can be a very useful tool in operating a successful blog!

Blogs Today Are Like News Sites

All Together

All Together, the blog of the Society of Women Engineers

I produce a blog for the Society of Women Engineers (SWE) called All Together. As the homepage states, it’s a blog about SWE members, engineering, technology, and other STEM-related topics. It’s up-to-date information and news about the Society and how its members are making a difference every day. You’ll find articles, videos, and podcasts under a variety of categories: Advocacy, Diversity & Inclusion, Member News, Outreach, Professional Development, SWE Magazine, and more.

Blogs vs. Websites
When I show people the blog or ask them to write an article for it, they often say it looks like a website. In fact, it is. As Robinson Meyer notes in the 2015 article “What Blogging Has Become” in The Atlantic, blogs in the past were a list of posts in reverse chronological order written by a single author. Today, blogs look like Medium, Tech Crunch, and Mashable. They have headlines, photos, and sections. They often appear the same as news sites, which many blogs have become. Huffington Post and BuzzFeed come to mind. Meyer also discusses how social media channels such as Facebook and Twitter have changed the online environment, driving traffic to today’s blogs.

Blogs and Social Media
Every post on All Together is shared on SWE’s social media channels which include Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Instagram, and Snapchat. Each article page also has social media sharing buttons to make it easy for readers to share the content with their friends and colleagues. This strategy seems to be working. I just checked Google Analytics for the latest data on how All Together is performing. So far in 2018, it’s had more than 100,000 visitors. That’s a great statistic considering the total number of readers last year was about 65,000. The bar chart below shows how All Together’s readership has increased since it was launched in 2015.

All Together

Visitors to All Together

When recruiting contributors to submit content for All Together, I send them a document describing the basics for writing a blog post. It calls for a blog to be at least 300 words for search engine optimization, and it should have subheadings and photos. Every blog should also have links to websites and embedded video or social media posts. This post follows all of those rules.

In Dylan Kissane’s 2016 DOZ article the 5 Most Important Trends in Blogging for 2016, number one is that bloggers are often now known as influencers. Number two is that size matters. The article cites a survey from Orbit Media Studios that found the average length of a blog post in 2015 was 900 words. Number three is  the comments section is disappearing. Four is great graphics are needed. Visual rhetoric is just as important as text. Finally, number five is that engagement rates are more important than visitors and page views. It’s a measurement of how much readers engage with the content in the form of not only views but also shares, likes, and clicks. Fortunately for All Together, the average time readers spend on a page is almost two minutes.

Blending 70s and modern tech

While I was looking for sources for my article that discussed the military’s use of emerging communications and technology, I found this article from the Duffel Blog, which is the military’s version of The Onion. 

The article, “Navy Issues Tablets to Prepare Sailors For Careers Working With 1970s Electronics” isn’t wrong. In fact, the system I was trained the maintain, the AN/SLQ-32, was developed in the 1970s.

Duffel Blog “quoted” the Master Chief Petty Officer of the Navy Mike Stevens: ““This is a cost effective way to replace the two books we issue at boot camp and it will also streamline the training process so recruits can spend more time folding clothes.”

Also true. And yes, I spent a lot of time in boot camp folding and ironing clothes. These mundane tasks are given to teach recruits to pay attention to details. Most of boot camp is designed around that purpose, actually.

However, while issuing tablets to Navy recruits can generate some funny stories, it signals a huge change in the service: audience analysis. Military service is often categorized by blind obedience, but the Navy is moving away from that philosophy. Leaders are encouraged to explain the “why” behind orders. And the military is creating training methods and knowledge management systems that mimic the devices and apps digital natives are already familiar with.

When the news about Navy boot camp issuing tablets to recruits, I joined in the ribbing around the ship that new recruits were spoiled. However, reading the story again through my technical and professional communication lens, I can appreciate Stevens’ revolutionary idea and I applaud him for making it happen. Because several of his salty peers would have dismissed the idea the way I originally did.

In addition to looking at new technology, I also examined the military’s use of social network sites. Overall, the military encourages servicemembers to use social media for its positive benefits, like keeping in touch while deployed. The military has even created its own knock-off version of Facebook. YouTube, Blogger, and Wikipedia. However, the military is still working on negating the negative aspects of social media: OPSEC violations and harassment.

Speaking of OPSEC. Check out this sweet declassified report I found.

Finally, I examined how technology was changing warfare tactics. I found a source that talked about Russia spending a lot of money to create #fakenews when it annexed Crimea in 2014. #shockedsaidnoone

However, #fakenews will be an issue for incoming servicemembers because multiple researchers found today’s students aren’t very good at discerning fact from fiction online.

Overall, I assessed the military’s use of technology and emerging communication methods as on the right track but with room for improvement.

Blog on blogging

Blog, blog, blog. . .

I have never blogged, nor found interest in blogs. Perhaps this was largely due to time constraints, but I am also sure it was due to my personal bias toward blogging, for it seemed to me that many used it to vent. I thought of blogs as more of an online personal journal.

The Writing Process

Many of my students blog, so I decided to use the following video about writing a blog as a way to connect with my audience, and show them that writers don’t just write– they follow a process.

Audience, Tone & Context

In addition, to sharing the above video about writing a blog, we also discuss audience, tone and context. Since the professor in the video is Canadian, that alone opens a discussion on audience, tone and context. So, we also evaluate the professors choices in devising this video.

Ta Da!

After doing activities like this with my students, I realized I needed to change my attitude about blogging. My goal as a writing instructor is to get students to write– even if they are writing blogs. Most likely they will enjoy the process more since it isn’t a traditional “essay.”

 

Hey, Look. It’s A Technical Communicator! What! Where! Who! When!

TECHNICAL COMMUNICATION, SOCIAL MEDIA, AND TRANSNATIONAL REALITIES

We have spent the past two months working to understand the breadth, depth, usage, analysis, audience, and users of social networking sites and emerging media in general. We have read articles, done our own research into companies and their social media presence, and experience a wide variety of opinions about the state of society in the Chrome Age we live in currently.

Thinking about the way we use social media in the different spheres of our lives is necessary if we are going to come to a consensus or even just a common denominator of standards and usage.

“Technical communicators are no longer able to control these new communication environments (perhaps they never really could), but technical communicators and teachers of technical communication are poised to understand content users now as producers and to work toward relationships between ICT and human interaction to design documents and content in this global context, allowing us to cross community boundaries (Longo p. 23).

I really appreciate what Longo had to say about the role of technical communications professionals and academics. If you’ve read my other posts, I do go back and forth about the role and mindset needed by academics and professors as we deal with a field that is constantly changing: partly because technical communication is still such an amorphous, inclusive field and also because we deal in technologies and platforms that are in a constant state of flux. It is definitely the definition of “blink and you’ll miss it.”

In my current role, I do see myself as straddling the world of information and communications technologies and the human experience. So much of what we do, as people, depends on the audience that exists almost constantly in our orbit. I work professionally to introduce people to different technologies through educational materials and technical manuals. I also manipulate content, create and Photoshop visuals (at a very basic level), and play around with layout design (bumbling around like an amateur) to make my content more streamlined and palatable to an audience that does not need or want to have the heavy technical knowledge required to fully understand the systems, softwares, apps, and other technologies they are using.

Large Man Looking At Co-Worker With A Magnifying Glass

Source: (https://www.theadvocates.org/internet-privacy-conversation/)

I also really loved what the article has to say about a non-American perspective on social media and knowledge management/collection. One of the great things to say about social media is that it connects us as a transnational community. Having said that, dealing with each other has started to form a sort of transnational shorthand (like the way English is taught all over the world while languages here are encouraged, but not taught in the same way English is all over the world) that sacrifices cultural knowledge and particulars to avoid cross cultural communications confusion.

COLLECTIVE KNOWLEDGE AND TECHNICAL COMMUNICATION

Thinking about our work (or future work) in the technical communication field, we as working professionals and budding academics must always question what we are learning and what value we can offer current and future employers. But how do we know where to start? Of course, the Society for Technical Communication (STC) offers a great place for us to network, job search, gain skills, and belong to as we start, or continue, on our chosen career path. The definition of technical communication offered by the STC website is a bit of a webpage full.

“Technical communication is a broad field and includes any form of communication that exhibits one or more of the following characteristics:

  • Communicating about technical or specialized topics, such as computer applications, medical procedures, or environmental regulations.
  • Communicating by using technology, such as web pages, help files, or social media sites.
  • Providing instructions about how to do something, regardless of how technical the task is or even if technology is used to create or distribute that communication.

What all technical communicators have in common is a user-centered approach to providing the right information, in the right way, at the right time to make someone’s life easier and more productive” (STC website).

stc

Source: (https://www.stc.org/about-stc/defining-technical-communication/)

Toni Ferro and Mark Zachary (2014) dive into the idea of technical communication, collective knowledge, and social media. What I focused on was what they had to report from others in the field about what the role of the technical communicator was and potentially could be again.

“Following this line of thinking, Johnson-Eilola (1996) suggested that framing technical communication simply as an activity that serves the real work of those engaged in symbolic-analytics disempowered both technical communication practitioners and those they supported. He posited that if technical communication was going to be valued in the new economy, it needed to be positioned as symbolic analytic work itself, rather than as support for that work (Fero and Zachary p. 8).”

This idea is not new but not one I had experienced as viscerally before. We are not meant to act as go betweens, connecting audiences to the work completed by engineers, mathematicians, scientists, and other insular, niche knowledge professions. We must work to cultivate our own audiences and we must find validation outside of the work we do after technologies and other fields have developed their plans.

What do you think about this idea? Was it very obvious to you? Am I just late to the party?

 

Step 13 says I need a catchy headline.

While not an expert, I do not consider myself a stranger to social media, despite being a late-adopter of Facebook and other Web 2.0 social media. I was active in America Online chat rooms in middle school and joined forums for various purposes throughout high school–while not the same as modern social media, it can definitely be argued that they are indeed in that class.

In high school, my friends introduced me to LiveJournal, which was arguably one of the earliest blogging platforms. Most of my friends used it as a diary, expressing their teenage woes and triumphs and commenting on each others’. However, some artists I knew at the time used it as a platform where they could communicate with their customer base–very similar to how some modern blogging platforms are used.

I was in college when I first heard the term blog. And like any proper Luddite, I hated it. These crazy Internet portmanteaus are ruining the world! (As an aside, I still hate the term vlog, despite accepting blog. Grudgingly. One can only go so far.) While blogging was somewhat common, wikis were more my speed. We used them for collaboration and discussion in class, and I wrote my senior thesis on them. I have since come to realize that a blog is simply a wiki with a single editor.

While I skipped the MySpace craze, I finally gave in to Facebook late in my college career. To this day I don’t have any other social media accounts. My cat, however, has both a Facebook and an Instagram–my husband curates the Instagram because I just won’t! Any day now, Tau become the next Grumpy Cat, and we’ll be able to retire. Or that’s what we tell people who look at us oddly for having feline social media.

I have a personal blog, which I actively posted to when I was looking for a job and had lots of spare time. I considered it a vital part of my “brand,” which also included my resume and portfolio. That fell by the wayside despite all of my intentions of resurrecting it. Meanwhile, for the past two years, I was the webmaster for the Chicago chapter of the Society for Technical Communication. While not a traditional blog, it it is a WordPress site, so behaved very similarly to my own blog/site.

In addition to being a producer of social media, I am a fairly avid blog consumer. I read many blogs in various genres: cooking, crafts, gaming, webcomics, science, and many more. I’ve been following some of these blogs long enough that I’ve seen them evolve as the landscape has evolved. They are constantly challenged by staying relevant, keeping and growing their readership, and staying profitable. I’ve seen at least one blog fold completely because it just became insolvent.

And I understand the struggle myself, as somebody who wants to make it big on Facebook–it’s simply very difficult to do, and often feels random. Sometimes it seems like all you can do is dream that something you have goes viral, and hope that once it does, your existing content is good enough to hold readers while you churn out as much new content as you can (while still retaining quality, of course).

That’s why I get very frustrated when I see articles like Belle Beth Cooper’s 2013 offering, “16 Top Tips from Blogging Experts for Beginners.” Articles like these are all over the Internet, and many of them have conflicting, or simply inapplicable, advice.

The first “top tip” in this article is one such example: “Get ideas from your audience” (Cooper, 2013). The gist of this tip is to use your preexisting audience as a topic resource. That’s great and all, but if I’m a new blogger (the “for Beginners” part of the article’s title), I don’t have an audience to get ideas from. How does this tip help me right now, while I’m a beginner? Tip number five, “Love your existing readers,” also strikes an odd note for the same reason (Cooper, 2013).

Ironically, number two is, “Know your audience” (Cooper, 2013). It seems that Cooper failed to follow this very advice when compiling this article. Otherwise, why have so many tips that don’t apply to truly beginning bloggers?

Not all the tips seem as nonsensical, however. Tips six, eight, nine, eleven, and thirteen all seem like very good advice. But they are good advice for any writing–not just blogging.

My blogging evolution

Before this course, I blogged off and on for several years on Blogger, LiveJournal, and WordPress. In college, LiveJournal was my first exposure to the idea of a blog. I used LiveJournal as a personal diary to share my thoughts with my closest friends who used it on a frequent basis. To me, it was my first social network experience because I would check every day for new posts from my friends and I would post there many times a day. After a few years of constant posting, I abandoned my account because my focus shifted to Facebook.

keyboard-wide

My life is behind one of these electronic typewriters. Credit: Roger Renteria.

Beyond documenting my personal life to my friends, I blogged about my summer internship for a grade. As part of the class requirements, I wrote about my experiences working for the Public Information Office at New Mexico Tech. My blog only had an audience of one: my professor, and I didn’t think I’d reference it here eight years later. Now when I re-read these posts, I definitely notice how different my writing was back then. As with any kind of activity, you get better the more you keep trying you improve with practice.

After I attended the Society for Technical Communication 2011 Summit, I started my own blog called WriteTechie. I was inspired to create a technical communication blog because I saw so many people blog about their experiences at the conference, technical communication issues, and anything related to this field. At first, I had difficulty finding topics that were interesting to write about, and I couldn’t maintain a consistent schedule.

When I was told in a job interview that my professional website was “too bloggish,” I converted my blog into a professional business website; my blog became a section of the website. Right now, if you search on Google for “technical communication blogs,” my blog shows up on first page of results. If you search Google for “professional usernames,” my blog post shows up first. I used search engine optimization to get my blog post to show up at the top, and somehow it has stayed there since 2011.

Lately, I hardly blog much because I have no time to write lengthy articles and do the necessary research to post anything meaningful. At my current job, we discourage blogging. I admit there are no technical limitations to blogging; however, it is a massive time commitment. That is something I understand when I look at my own blogs I’ve created. At some point, blogs become stale and then dormant.

Where do I go from here?

When I was reading the articles about blog literacy, I was surprised to learn from “Scholarly Reflections on Blogging” that “[b]logging has slowly become part of academic life” (Doucet, 2012). Andrea Doucet makes a nice point that blogging frees you from the bounds of the academic world and opens your content to larger and different audiences. I feel that when you write in a blog, you have more room to speak freely and develop a voice than in other formats such as press releases or research papers. In essence, blogging can be a formal-informal way of communication because you can express your professional ideas in a fresh and casual format while reaching a very broad audience. Andrea and I agree: “[b]logging has helped me as a writer” (2012). Whenever I read my old work, I notice an evolution in my writing. Writing for blogs is challenging and I know it only gets better with more experience.

Lastly, before I read, “Why We Blog” (Nardi, Schiano, Gumbrecht, & Swartz, 2004), I didn’t consider my LiveJournal as a type of confessional blog which was a form of catharsis. In retrospect, writing in my LiveJournal was therapeutic. When I read old posts, whether from LiveJournal, Blogger, or WordPress, I look back at how much I’ve grown since then. Some day when I least expect it, I’ll look back at this blog, re-read my entries, and wonder: what was I thinking?


References

Doucet, A. (2012, January 2) Scholarly Reflections on Blogging: Once a Tortoise, Never a Hare. The Chronicle for Higher Education. Retrieved from http://www.chronicle.com/article/Scholarly-Reflections-on/130191

Nardi B., Schiano D.J., Gumbrect M., & Swartz, L. (2004) Why We Blog. Communications of the ACM, 47(12) 41-46

The Wide World of Blogging

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Courtesy of The Gingerbread Gem.

I started blogging in 2008 before I started working for an online marketing business. I didn’t know really anything about writing online or blogging; however, I was interested to have my thoughts and ideas published online and to learn more about WordPress. I began with a site similar to this one and later moved on to the self-hosted WordPress.org where I selected a title and registered it with GoDaddy.com.

Part of my job with the online marketing company  was to write, edit, and publish about 12 blog posts per week for business clients. I wrote about car parts, plastic surgery, divorce and dating, limousine and wine tours, travel within the United States, custom cabinets, pet memorials, pet sitting, shipping/packaging supplies, Ohio law (lawyers) and more. To improve a business’ visibility in the search engines, search engine optimization (SEO) was important, which included keywords. These keywords (1-2 blog post) are placed throughout the blog post, title, meta-title, meta-description and meta-keywords. Check out Hubspot’s “How to Search Engine Optimize Your Blog Content”.

Content was important since anything published online is permanent.  Then you need to think about your blog’s “reach” according to Elise Hurley and Amy Hea (2014), “consider the ways which content is shared and distributed across social media and other media venues” (“The Rhetoric of Reach”, p. 62). Not only content, but also connecting with the audience. Be personable and imagine talking to one person about your topic. Whether a blog was one sentence or 750 words long, it was important to make a connection with the audience. This is true for business and personal blogs. How often have you read a recipe blog or a computer review that was dry and boring? Probably not too often.

With my personal blog (mostly how to be more eco-conscious), I didn’t think anyone would read it because there was already so much information online; what could I possibly add? There’s always something that you can offer – your opinion – on any topic and someone will read it. For example, Wikipedia, this is user-generated and user-edited. Anyone can start a topic on Wikipedia and others can add, clarify and provide sources of additional information to make it valid and credible. Hurley and Hea (2014) used Instructables.com as a student project to examine crowd-sourcing, the involvement of several people to do small pieces of a project. The result of crowd-sourcing is engagement though use of commenting, responding and sharing the content (p. 65).

Social media and blogging are important within the technical communication field because it provides another communication medium to connect with a larger audience and create a professional platform for future opportunities.

Reference

Hurley, E. V. and Hea, A. C. K. (2014). “The rhetoric of reach: Preparing students for technical communication in the age of social media.” Technical Communication Quarterly, 23:1, 55-68.

A Mixed Bag of Blog Experiences

A major reason that I pivoted from journalism to technical writing is the joke “What do you call an unemployed journalist? A blogger.” For me, blogs have been a casual acquaintance that make an appearance in various contexts every couple of years. I’m always impressed with the potential of blogs to be a dynamic forum to give voice to your worldview, and then a little bit disappointed when the reality of the work they take and mediocre response sets in.

I actually kept my own blog for a semester in college when I was studying in New York City, which was considered a different world from my home and school in Minnesota. It was the stereotypical travel “abroad” college blog to share pictures and stay in touch with family and friends. I like to think that my blog was slightly more clever and widely applicable than most, and I actually had a pretty strong and consistent readership. Then I came home and intentionally killed the blog.  

Nevertheless, a lot of the points in the Nardi, Gumbrecht, and Swartz article “Why We Blog” resonate with my experience with personal blogging. Along with the mix of motives for creating blogs, the authors discuss the awareness of readers and the effect that blogs can have on off-line relationships. My NYC blog was certainly an intentional form of communication, and I was very aware that my parents read it. I also appreciate the authors’ acknowledgment of “blogger burnout” and how the pace and style that you set for your blog can determine its long-term sustainability.

As a reader, I have a couple of favorite blogs that I frequent, but I haven’t bookmarked, closely followed, or commented on any of them. These range from recipes blogs to political commentary to friends’ blogs, and I categorize them all as “junk food” reading when I want to mindlessly skim and not think.

Along with my personal use of blogs, I’ve also blogged previously in academic contexts. Somewhat surprisingly, I actually can’t remember any blogging when I did online courses in eighth, ninth, and twelfth grade. I’m not sure if it was just too early in the virtual education revolution or if blogging wasn’t to be trusted to high schoolers.

In college, I did have several traditional and hybrid classes that included an online blogging component. My experience is in line with the findings in “Learning with Weblogs” (Du and Wagner) about the value of using weblogs in a constructivist model of learning. The learner-centered nature of a blog certainly helps with engaging course content, processing it, and creating based on it. Then again, this isn’t particularly new, and teachers have had students writing short essays for generations, long before they could be published as blogs.

However, I’ve been disappointed in the past with the collaborative aspect to blogs that Du and Wagner emphasize. Despite the potential, I haven’t really seen great dialogue come from blog comments. Even for classes that require commenting on others’ blogs, the comments are often low-level steps to a grade and don’t meaningfully contribute to a larger conversation or collaborative learning. In his article “Instructional Blogging: Promoting Interactivity, Student-Centered Learning, and Peer Input,” Stuart Glogoff enthusiastically embraces blogs for online learning, but also recognizes the difficulty in creating quality community through blog commenting.

I think this comic is a fair summary of my casual contact as a blog passerbyer so far, and I’m hoping for a much better level of comments and engagement in this course.

blogging-post-comic

Emerging from Emerging Media

thats_all_folks__by_gbetim-d5aydtbThis Course

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

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

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

My Final Paper

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

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

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

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

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

Good Luck to You!

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

Another End Brings New Beginnings

I often say that everything happens for a reason and at the time it should be happening.  But what I have found with my schoolwork over this past year-and-a-half is how the uncanny unfolding of situations at work parallel and seem to be answered by my school work.  This class was no exception.  For the past year, I have worked to try and create a blog just for my own department and for various political reasons it has not been very successful.  Fortunately this class has brought a number (too many to count) ah-ha moments. For example, developing a sound social media strategy is vital in order for organizations to survive in today’s digital world.  But the miss to this strategy is how we can also create a social media strategy as it relates to internal organizational communication.  Something I am now working to formalize with my role.

Just like the following image, however, aligning social media tools can be just as challenging to solving a Rubik’s cube.  Interestingly enough, the Rubik’s cube was actually designed by a professor to help his students look at how you solve an objects structural problem and solve individual problems without the whole object falling apart (Wikipedia).  The same goes for developing an internal organizational social media strategy.  While organizations may have entire strategies to build around this topic, it is looking at each situation that needs to be solved and understanding how that situation and solution fits into the whole strategy.

Rubiks

On that note, a sweet melody that brings to you my…

Final Paper Abstract
Many marketing and communication experts have defined this time in our history as Web 2.0.  It is the time in our digital history that highlights how organizations are required by societal norms and expectations to use social media outlets like Twitter and Facebook to communicate and connect with their consumers.  Kids, adults, students, even grandparents are using social media channels to connect with each other on a daily (sometimes even hourly) basis.  But the use of social media for organizations to communicate and connect with employees is uncertain and volatile.  In fact, in a study completed by Towers Watson (2013) the results concluded that just over 50-percent of companies are using social media to connect with employees in some way.  There seems to be little evidence and research into the social media structures and strategy for internal organizational communication.  Therefore, this paper will look at the social media channels that could be used to build an internal social media communication strategy for an organization and to begin identifying the effectiveness of these social media tools and tactics. 

Whew – nearly all of that in one breath.  I will say that the research aspects of this final paper have been tedious, exhausting, and exhilarating.  It can be like finding a needle in a haystack when there is little research out there.  But what has been an interesting challenge is to take the knowledge that has been built around social media and decipher and pull from it how internal communications could benefit from these tools and tactics.

tedius

And although this semester is coming to a quick close, the work around this class and this final research paper will drive my career and school work.  With that, while I could probably write to you for hours on this subject, I’m afraid I must bid you adieu.  Thank you all for such a wonderful semester.  Your thoughtful comments and intriguing posts truly provided for some great thought provoking conversations.

Feliz Navidad.  Happy Holidays.  Merry Christmas.  Happy Hanukah.  And to new beginnings.

Wrap-up and best wishes

At first, I found the final paper quite daunting due simply to all the research involved; however, once I started it, I was amazed at how much I was learning. For example, I didn’t realize how much social media users can circle back and help technical communicators improve their documentation. End users of technical documentation often leave feedback on social media such as a company’s Facebook page, which technical communicators can use to better organize their materials, improve content or add more illustrations or video. At the same time, technical communicators can engage with commenters online to fill in holes in documentation or answer questions, all which improves customer service and retention.

Also, I learned that today’s consumers consult how-to videos and online discussion boards before they read instructional manuals. I, too, prefer to type “how to . . . ?” into a search engine rather than pore through a cumbersome paper manual. In fact, companies are now offering more of the “quick start” type of instructions as an adjunct to the full manual; these types of instructions tend to be much more user-friendly and heavily illustrated with step-by-step instructions.

Lastly, I came to realize how much technical communication roles are changing for the better. Rather than being seen as an “add-on” to an assembly line product, technical communicators are taking a seat at the table as invaluable members of  interdisciplinary teams that are responsible for company growth and vitality. This means that we all need a robust education and can’t be content to conduct business as usual. I think this growth will present great opportunities for all of us.

Of course, emerging media are not without their disadvantages and dangers. We all have to be savvy consumers of information when doing research online. As technical communicators, we need to be quick to correct the errors that are prone to show up in online consumer help sites. And we need to be ever vigilant that our “need for speed,” which has increased exponentially since the advent of the Internet and social media, doesn’t affect the quality, originality, availability or appearance of our documents or audiovisual presentations in negative ways.

Abstract

Emerging media such as social media, email and the Internet have enabled us to gather and synthesize information faster than ever. We can accomplish tasks that used to require time, money and travel in just a click of a button. We can find and interview subject matter experts online at our convenience. And when we’re done, we can distribute our final document to the whole world, if we wish. But have these tools made our technical documents better—or just faster? This paper explores the advantages and disadvantages conferred by emerging media since the advent of the Internet. It gives concrete examples from the daily work life of a newspaper reporter and technical communicator and offers ideas as to how technical communicators can use emerging media to their advantage rather than to their detriment.

Wrap-up

This has been a great class, and I’ve learned so much from every one of you. Thank you for all of your thought-provoking comments, helpful suggestions and general feedback over this semester; it has been invaluable in both my coursework and my career. I wish you all a wonderful holiday season and good luck in your education and careers. Who knows, we may meet again!

And…Thats a Wrap!

 

Initial Thoughts

I came into this class reluctant about the whole idea of blogging. I didn’t think I would like it and thought I would have a hard time writing about topics that others would find interesting. When I first started, it was difficult for me to transition from writing in an academic tone to a more conversational tone. But over time, I became more comfortable with the medium, found my voice and actually found myself (gasp) enjoying it. Not only was it interesting to see what my classmates wrote, but the resulting comments and discussions were intriguing as well.

 

Paper Topic

For the final paper I chose to explore the idea of “long tail love” online. The idea was spurred from a combination of Michael Anderson’s “Long Tail” reading, Turkle’s talk of Second Life/profiles, and Rhinegold’s “crap detection”. Additionally, hearing about the encounters of my friends in their pursuits of online dating made me curious about the subject. Deciding to give it a shot, I started doing some preliminary research and the rest is history. What I can say is that researching the subject has certainly has lead me down a rabbit hole.  One lead uncovers the next as there are unlimited avenues this subject can take. Even though it won’t be for a while, the idea of “long tail love” online is even a topic I am considering for a thesis.

 

Abstract

The pervasiveness of technology and the internet impacts almost every facet of our lives. It has made our lives easier, faster and better in countless ways as it affects how we work, learn, and communicate with each other. However, can these technologies help meditate the need and physical drive to find love and develop lasting relationships?  And can the allure and convenience of the Internet really help us find “the one” and maintain these close ties? Or, does its ease provide protection, where in the digital realm where it is easy to present oneself in the light in which they want to be seen? To answer this question, this paper will explore online representations of the self, deception and misrepresentation, long tail love and the pros and cons of online dating and sustaining romance online. It was found that while the internet can certainly foster relationships, it can readily lead to misunderstandings as differences between face to face communication and computer-mediated communication occur. Thus, for better or worse, technology is redefining romance in our ever-connected world.

 

Final Thoughts

A big thank you to everyone for your intriguing posts and thought provoking comments during this semester! Have a wonderfully relaxing break and good luck with your future endeavors!

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Social Media’s Use in Higher Education Recruiting

The End

This has been an interesting class about blogging. I came into it unimpressed with the tool itself, as I previously found most bogs to be rants. Through the class I saw that another type of blog exists – one with research supporting the ideas, and with thoughtful commentary. It has been especially insightful to read posts from my peers. So many of you are incredibly talented in this social media platform and it’s been a pleasure to see your take and creativity in discussing the readings.

Working in higher education in a college that doesn’t use social media in a calculated way to attract students, I wrote about using several social media platforms for recruitment purposes. In addition, I made recommendations based on what I researched at schools that were utilizing social media effectively.

Abstract

Social media usage has seen a significant shift in the last ten years, especially with colleges and universities that are trying to attract prospective students. Not long gone but certainly less influential are flashy paper brochures, college open houses, and static websites. Colleges and universities recognize they need to increase their social media presence to attract students. Done poorly a college may be “clicked” past, but done well, a college’s social media presence can increase student curiosity and drive students to the college website. Is it working? This paper explores the importance of social media as a recruiting tool, how universities are using it, and, probably most importantly, how prospective students are reacting to it. It explores best practices that universities can follow and offers recommendations for effective, efficient use in student recruitment.

Reflections on Paper

Combined with my case study on the social use at my school, the addition of information from my research on it’s use in recruiting helped me shape suggestions for our Marketing department which included: a faculty spotlight blog, an “Eyes on the ground” student post and Twitter tweets about interesting or important daily events t each of our campus. This would be particulary useful in creating a sense of community between our six campus sites throughout the county.

Goodbye

It’s time to say goodbye. A few of you have been my peers in other classes and its been great to see how we’ve all evolved in our thinking about technical communication and social media. I’ve especially enjoyed the humor and camaraderie. To those of you completing this degree, I congratulate you. To those of you new, I wish you the best on this UW journey.

Dana

So long, and thanks for all the fish

So long, and thanks for all the fish.

– Douglas Adams, the title of the fourth book in the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy trilogy

 

My thoughts before and after this course

Social media and how to use it for a business advantage always seemed so simple before starting this course. Now, after this course, I know how to use it more wisely and how to use it more for my advantage.

But the learning did not stop there. For the final paper, I decided upon a topic that the Professor had suggested after reading a blog posting that I passionate about – how companies were exploiting people online without them realizing it.

Abstract of my paper

This paper aims to explore the result of what most people do with technology nearly every day – working for free while thinking that it is play. This working for free while playing is what some people have started calling “playbour” or “immaterial labor.” To avoid confusion in this paper, I will use the word, “playbour” to reference both. Thus, the focus of this paper is the internet and how it blends work and play together and how people are benefiting and/or are being exploited by it. Additionally, because technical communicators are told to create a portfolio of projects that they have done voluntary, these concepts are especially important. Furthermore, this paper also attempts to examine copyright infringement issues regarding work done as playbour, and the advantages and disadvantages of creative commons.

Reflections on researching my paper

 As I have not written a paper in nearly ten years, I was nervous, especially when I tried googling the topic of “playbor,” and Playboy kept popping up instead. (Yes, try to explain this to a boss at work). After those failed attempts, I tried the Stout online library with some success. Luckily, one can ask a librarian anything and they never disappoint. They found several documents for me to begin the paper proposal. But the biggest help came from the Professor herself. Thus, the lesson here is, never be afraid to ask your superiors for help. 🙂

Final thoughts

The only thing that I did not like about this paper was all the research. Most documents were quite long, and two were books. Sadly, I do not have the time for that much reading. In fact, after this semester, I am giving up my college days. My life is too busy at this moment, but I may be back in ten years. =D

I wish everyone much success and happiness in whatever you do. I am sure that whatever it is, it is exciting and a wonderful achievement that will not be taken for granted.

 

 

A Career Primer

A few weeks back, I expressed my desire to work in freelance technical communication.  Stacey Pigg;s piece, Coordinating Constant Invention:  Social Media’s Role in Distributive Work, puts the mechanics of that desire together.

I have a blog.  I am not very good about keeping up with it.  I have a Twitter account.  I am not so good with following up with that either.  I have read a dozen books on how to harness social media to further my career.  Stacey Pigg’s piece did a nice job of simplifying that.

Pigg’s ideas were nothing new, but it was helpful to read those ideas in a scholarly text.  While I can set my blog off to the side for personal reasons, her article reminded of all the practical reasons I should keep writing.

Recently, I parred down my book collection.  I had an abundance of business and marketing books, most were about ten years old.  I tossed all the business and marketing books.  Those books appeared outdated but, in reality, business is business.  The PR and business strategies were different, yet they continuously tell you to find ways to stay in your audience’s view.  You have to stay fresh, current and visible.  Dave’s “daily grind” is all about staying relevant.  He is a living and breathing personal PR machine.  The blog isn’t just to write and it certainly isn’t to entertain.  While the “traditional” advice in those book was useless in light of social media, it still has many similarities.

Dave made his work visible.  In many ways, his blog simplifies how a business, or in this case an individual promotes himself.  His blog is a portfolio of his writing.  It also served the purpose that an ad would by reaching his consumer base.  Even better, he is cultivating his contact list without the expense or effort that a direct mail campaign would require 20 years ago.

 

As this semester winds to a close, I am excited to return to my blog, re-experience Twitter and develop my social media from the stand point of my career versus my “personal” life.  What I let slip away in my private life, is not what I would do for my future or career.

I shared the above article with a friend of mine.  We both identified with Dave’s frantic multi-tasking.  We had never discussed this stuff before but it turns out we both have a ritual every morning.  This occurs whether we are working on our blogs, working, writing school papers, etc.  We both log on and sign into our various email accounts.  We also check back throughout the day, even if we can’t do anything about them.  Dave did reinforce our idea that you have to multi-task and jump around to be successful and get followers.

I loved this article and thought the author put what we need for success in a nutshell.  I did find one thing humorous.  I didn’t tell my friend any of my impressions about this article.  I sent it to her with a simple question:  “What do you think?”  She replied, “In this day in age—even if you don’t have a blog—don’t we all toggle to our social media a hundred times a day?”  Social media and email is part of many of our lives, just like getting dressed for the day.  We are always “connected.”

Who Are You?

What is it?

In Professional and Technical Communication in a Web 2.0 World, authors Stuart Blythe, Claire Lauer, and Paul Curran (2014) pointed out graduates of this degree “…often begin their careers by gaining experience at several jobs or…struggle to find full-time or stable employment in the current economic market” (p.266). While I believe all of us start out in that scenario, Technical Communication, unlike more specialized degrees, is misunderstood by employers and often students themselves. When someone asks what degree I’m earning I know this will be a conversation rather than a statement. Say Technical and Professional Communication and even my college colleagues aren’t clear on what I’m studying. So I explain that for my purpose it’s primarily professional writing for technologies, business communication, media, and scientific fields, and incorporates rhetoric, ethics, and theory to deliver concise content.

 

St. Leo

What to do with it?

“What will I do with it?” they ask. So I explain relevancy to website revision, and moving into a faculty position to teach English. “Why not an English degree?” Well, I don’t care for literature (although I’m a voracious reader of it), and don’t want to be pigeonholed as an English instructor. “So why study technology?” My God, it’s gets tiring. But the point is that Technical Communication is not an easy degree or field to describe. Similarly, with my BA where I double-majored in Public Administration and Management, everyone understood Management – but Public Administration? So after awhile I went with “It’s Business Administration without taking quantitative methods.” Whew. Must have been widespread confusion because St. Leo University no longer offers the degree. No wonder students have a hard time defining what they do and finding relevant jobs. As Bernhardt (2010) found, “Our graduates are getting jobs, but it is becoming ever more difficult to say just what kind of jobs are out there and what kinds of skills they demand” (as cited in Blythe, Lauer, and Curran, 2014, p. 266).

 

knowledge workers chart

(Mari Pierce-Quinonez, “What You Need to Know About Management” https://www.techchange.org/2015/06/16/knowledge-management-explained/)

 

What’s new? 

Confusion continues as communicators embrace new media, roles, job opportunities, and trying to define themselves to meet employer needs. The “typical” communication is no longer. Communicator jobs are not only in flux, but non-fixed. In Coordinating constant invention: Social media’s role in distributed work, Spinuzzi (2007) stated, “Recent scholarship has explored how the ‘‘distributed’’ nature of this work affects career trajectories and work practices of professional and technical communicators (as cited by Pigg, 2014, p.60). Meanwhile, Pigg (2014) considers the decentralization of ”typical” office work, and see’s todays’ “symbolic-analyst” workers method of social media use to be whatever they need, accessed wherever they want. Additionally, Pigg (2014) found, “With knowledge workers increasingly disconnected from desk and office spaces on the one hand, and with contract and freelance work on the rise on the other, professional communicators whose work is symbolic-analytic often face a dual burden: composing an immediate time and space to conduct their work and overcoming a long-term lack of stability related to future professional opportunities” (p. 69).

 

GoogleTwitter

(Scott Abel (2013) “Technical Communication 2012: Our Biggest Challenge Is Thinking Differently About Being Different” http://thecontentwrangler.com/2011/12/13/technical-communication-2012-our-biggest-challenge-is-thinking-differently-about-being-different/)

 

Will it matter?

What will Technical Communicators face? Blythe et. al, (2014) indicated, “Job titles that seem to have arisen more directly from a Web 2.0 economy include social media marketing manager, SharePoint engineer, social media consultant, content strategist, knowledge base coordinator, and Web content editor” (p. 272). In their “tcworld blog” ), The evolution of technology, authors Monalisa Sen and Debarshi Gupta Biswas (2013) stated, “technical communication has transitioned from a conventional author-reader engagement to a realm of social collaboration.” Additionally, they redefine technical communication stating “With the use of Wiki and Web 2.0 concepts technical communication has transitioned from being instructional to interactive. A technical writer has truly become “an honest mediator between people who create technology and who use technology” (Sen et al., 2013).

 

Who Are We? 

For me, “Instructional to interactive;” nicely captures the new realm that technical communication has reached, while seamlessly tying in traditional purpose. Yet it makes me wonder – will the roles under this umbrella title continue to swell until communicator means little? Will Technical and Professional Communication become another degree that disappears? What does this mean for us? As the great Roger Daltry asks “Who Are You?”

What do think?

It’s Time to Talk- Mobile Etiquette

mobile use in public

In Kenichi Ishii’s article “Implications of Mobility: The Uses of Personal Communication Media in Everyday Life,” he broaches the topic mobile communications and relationships in everyday life. Specifically, one area he explores is the use of mobile communications in public areas. In general, Ishii found that mobile phone users are criticized for violating the implicit rules of public space. When thinking about these implicit rules in everyday life, it makes sense. We all have encountered times when we have witnessed loud or annoying phone conversations in public. Despite public cell phone use being something that everyone finds annoying, many people continue to do. Perhaps they do it to feel important, or less alone, but no matter the reason, for better or worse, these private conversations have an audience.

Everyday Occurrences

I have a coworker who frequently makes private cell phone calls at work. Even though she steps aside to a “private” area to makes these calls, there is little privacy. I’ve found out more about her mother’s health conditions, her sister’s financial problems and issues dealing with internet providers than I care to know. The first time I heard it happen I thought it was a little odd, but because it was about her mother’s health issues I figured it was situational. As it continued to happen, it was made clear that she doesn’t realize that these private conversations are very public. These are things that she normally would not share with me (or probably the majority of my coworkers), yet she seems oblivious to it. Its not that I’m trying to eavesdrop on her calls, but the one sided conversation is so apparent to anyone within ear shot.

The Facts

Luckily, Psychology Today has an explanation for why we find these conversations to annoying.  In part, its because cell phone conversations are generally louder than a face to face conversation. Forma and Kaplowitz found that cell phone conversations are 1.6 times louder than in person conversations– a slight difference, but noticeable nonetheless. Because its hard not to overhear, and the lack of respect this implies for the others around you is grating.

In addition to loudness, these conversations are irritating because they are intruding into our consciousnessLauren Emberson, a psychologist from Cornell University found that when you hear a live conversation, you know what everyone is saying because it’s all there for you to hear. In contrast, when you hear a cell phone conversation, you don’t know what the other person is saying, so your brain tries to piece it all together. Because this takes more mental energy than simply hearing both sides of the conversation, it leaves less energy to allocate to whatever else you might be doing.

When is it Okay or Not Okay to Use Cell Phones

A study from the Pew Research Center found about three-quarters of all adults, including those who do not use cellphones, say that it is “generally OK” to use cellphones in unavoidably public areas, such as when walking down the street, while on public transportation or while waiting in line. In contrast, they found that younger generations are more accepting of cell phone use in public. While the definition of “cell phone use” in this study was not clearly defined, it generally is presumed that it means holding a conversation rather than texting.

For instance, only half of young adults found it okay to use cell phones in restaurants, this activity was frowned upon by older generations. Places where cell phone use is considered unacceptable in both groups include family dinner, movie theaters or worship services.
2015-08-26_alone-together_3_0122015-08-26_alone-together_3_04

Enough is Enough: Cell Phone Crashing

Greg Benson had enough of annoying people talking loudly in public and decided to take things into his own hands. To fill a void in a layover in an airport he came up with the idea of “cell phone crashing”.  In “crashing” the prankster sits next to someone talking on their phone, and then proceed to fill in the gaps left in the one-sided conversation. When one person said “What should we have for dinner?” into the phone, he responded, “I don’t know. Steak and potatoes sound good.” pretending to talk on his own phone. The whole process is filmed with a camera hidden from afar as the hilarity ensues. While the video may give you a few laughs, it may also help you reconsider how public your cell phone conversations in public really are.

So, what do you think? Should mobile devices be banned in certain areas? Or is this an infringement on our rights? 

AnnoyingCellPhoneGuy

Ethos and Instagram: Essena O’Neil

Essena-ONeill1

This week’s post touches on ethos, or identity, image or credibility of an author. Ethos can be used to persuade, relate impressions and convey notions about one’s character. This especially is true in online contexts where it is what we rely upon to communicate our sense of self with others.

In light of the major news story this week I think ethos is an important topic to touch on. For those of you who haven’t heard, Essena O’Neil, a social media starlet from Australia with over 800,000 Instagram followers and 270,000 on You Tube is calling it quits and leaving it all behind. This provides a relevant opportunity to examine social media, ethos and the implications it can have. While she looked like she was at the pinnacle of success, her job of being on social media and the ethos she created was consuming her life.

In an online confessional video explaining why she decided to quite social media O’Neil states,“my whole idea of self worth revolved around my appearance and my social media status. Basically, my self worth relied on social approval.” Everything she did- from the food she ate to the clothes she wore to the exercises she did- was to prove herself online and keep up her credibility as a”perfect person”. Because she created an image of herself that others feel that is unattainable, her success hinged on lies, followers, views and likes. One article even said, “The most authentic girl on Instagram is made of plastic.” 

Some may say she is selfish, others may say she is selfless. Is it all a hoax- using social media to criticize social media to become popular on social media?

Real Talk

On Friday we had a slow day at the office, and my coworkers and I spent the better part of yesterday discussing this story. Interestingly, that the group I was discussing this issue with was all female, ranging in age from 23 to 48. While the eldest in our group applauded her efforts to be real, the youngsters of the bunch shot holes in her argument. Below you can find some of the points our conversation brought up:

Pros

  • Quitting to get back to a more natural way of existing and reassessing things in her life.
  • She was encouraged and rewarded with hundreds of thousands of followers, money, contracts, and fame. If she was uncomfortable with it, it is her decisions. Let it go.
  • We shouldn’t feel we have to do anything to be up to someone else’s standards.
  • Now she can develop her new audience and approach with her new website and use Social Media differently.
  • She can use her tremendously positive force and use her frame to rebrand herself into the way she wants to be.
  • Ditching all expectations and pressure is awesome.

Cons

  • Ironic that she “got what she wanted” but then bashes it for being fake.
  • The reason that she is blaming social media is your classic burn out story. She finally realized that relying on her looks will be unsustainable, so she is cashing out while she is on top.
  • What’s wrong with showing a photo or wearing yourself made up?
  • Fame doesn’t equate to happiness.
  • Just because she views likes and views as validation don’t necessarily mean that everyone is that way. Generalizing they way that people view social media and lumping it together is not true. THE ONLY way she can spread her message is through social media.
  • No one talking about social media is trying to deceive you.
  • Its a reflection of her in choosing to wear or promote certain brands.
  • While her comments certainly make sense in her situation, can they apply to the average Instagrammer in the same way?

Conclusions

What I gathered from her post and confessional like videos is that she wants to be more transparent and honest and not do sponsored or extremely posed shots. While I’m not sure her intentions for quitting are 100% pure, this highlights a few important issues. O’Neil’s story opens a conversation not just about this case, but rather as our use os social media as a whole. The ethos she created is an illusion, yet her essence is so much more. She felt as if her numbers were overshadowing the content- her creativity, her personality, her intellect- the person she is. Social media isn’t the problem, but its how people use it that are the problem. It is how people are comparing themselves to these fake ethos, instead of just letting it motivate them. Particularly, the normality of image obsession, especially with younger girls is concerning. O’Neil’s story is especially important because she grew up with social media and belongs to a generation that did so as well.

One user said: “I wasn’t a fan of you before but I am now. Thank you for adopting a smart and realistic approach to social media and an even bigger thanks for moving things in the right direction.”

Perhaps its time for all of us to take a social media break…

Social Media Relationships

I’ve become a regular at a cute diner in my neighborhood. There’s something cozy about the restaurant’s décor that reminds me of my grandparents’ kitchen. Similarly, I regularly visit Facebook, as there’s something about connecting with old friends and acquaintances that I enjoy. I am a creature of habit in my digital and non-digital life. Do I feel more connected or am I isolating myself? Some argue that social media isolates people. Users may have hundreds of friends on Facebook, but many of those people may not be strong social connections. I used to have a few hundred; seriously. Until I took a look and realized I didn’t “know” these people. Now I’m squarely at 45 and they all connect with my real life. Quality, not quantity is what counts.

Relationships formed through social networking sites may be positive and beneficial. According to the PEW Research Center  Facebook users were found to be more trusting than others and have closer relationships than the average “isolated” American. Technology makes it possible for us to maintain relationships with others in ways that were not possible a few decades ago. Conversely, that same technology has contributed to the decline of other technologies – when was the last time you saw a phone booth or used a traditional landline telephone?

Bernadette Longo (2014) in Using Social Media for Collective Knowledge-Making points out that the way we use social media shapes us while we shape the media. Our digital world is now far more collaborative and interactive, and we expect that from all social media. At the same time, the world is shrinking and becoming “borderless” due to the opportunities new technologies afford us. This brings new challenges as different cultures bring very different perspectives. Where I may experience Facebook as a forum for sharing my individual life and experiences, someone from a more collectivist culture may see Facebook as a place to represent the community. The challenge is to recognize that there are multiple cultural perspectives and interpretations of technology and its uses.

Social Media HoneyComb2

(The Social Media HoneyComb, Business Insider, Jan Kietzmann)

Also, each social media platform fills a different role in our social lives. In Social Media? Get Serious! Jan Kietzmann, Kristopher Hermkens, Ian McCarthy, and Bruno Silvestre (2011) describe a framework for understanding social media through the seven functional building blocks: identity, conversations, sharing, presence, relationships, reputation, and groups.” (p. 243). Each platform allows users to experience these elements, but each platform gives users different tools that emphasize different building blocks. When Facebook added the feature of posting status updates, (and who doesn’t love seeing what someone cooked, or who’s at the dentist…) it began to emphasize the building block of presence and not just identity. One major building block of social media is the sense of community and how we connect with others. Longo (2014) states, “The desire for community seems to be so strong that we do not often consider how forming a community is as much an act of exclusion as it is of inclusion” (p. 25).

In many ways, social media connects to my life in a way that is different from my non-digital life; yet they clearly intersect. By positively reviewing my favorite diner online, I may help the business thrive and grow which may benefit my connections with the restaurant. Through my classes at Stout, my digital friendship with one classmate has turned into a “real” friendship and even though she graduated, we remain strongly connected. In speaking of the audience and tools of technology, Katz, 1992; Moses & Katz, 2006 stated “It is through processes such as this that we can come to greater understanding of the effects of social media on our relationships—how they extend our ability to engage people and how they impose a machine ethic on human relationships” (as cited in Longo, 2011, p.30). I may find technologies and social media frustrating at times, but I appreciate what it’s done for me. Without it I wouldn’t have found a new job opportunity, be completing my degree, or met a terrific new friend. And while that’s all really important, I have to go now.

Facebook needs an updated picture of my cat.

Buddy

A Millennials Experience with LinkedIn

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LinkedIn is a powerful tool to help professionals connect and stay connected. But treating it as anything more than just another tool in a job seekers utility belt is a mistake. While it has all the bells, whistles, and name recognition, I find that people’s experiences and success with the site very greatly. Contrary to what they may claim, LinkedIn in not the golden ticket to your dream job. Rather than an automatic connection to top recruiters, it is a tool people can use to gain a competitive advantage in the workforce market. But is it really meant for everyone?

Be Your Own Biggest Cheerleader

It’s not enough to create a profile and hope that the right person stumbles upon it. You have to be an active proponent and really sell yourself. This means regularly updating your profile, posting relevant articles and content. But with two to three people joining per second, the network is louder and more crowded than ever before. It’s hard to have your voice heard when it easily can get lost in the chaos.

Who is LinkedIn for?

While it may be a good tool for more experienced individuals mid career, it is extremely difficult for younger generations, including myself to use to help start a career. A recent survey of 23 major social networks ranks LinkedIn as the “oldest” social network, with an average age of 44.2 years old (Tumblr, for example had an average age of 34.6 years). So, while 80 million Generation Y users log on to social media daily, only 23% of Millennials are using LinkedIn. Therefore it makes sense that the majority of the content posted is geared towards more experienced users.

While I may be smart enough to be among the 23% of millennials who do use it, the types of positions listed aren’t for someone in my situation. I found that I was generally was either overeducated or under qualified for the vast majority of the positions listed. While I still applied to positions that interested me, the “1-3” or “3-5” years of related experience many employers required were a major problem. How am I supposed to get my foot in the door if employers are requiring experience upfront? There was no good way to win and little incentive to continually engage in this site.

Unfortunately, this is a large problem across all types of industries. Despite having the drive and ambition, many young graduates simply can’t get a start in the field of their study. Employers want young talent with experience, but with today’s job market they are able to employ experienced professionals just as easily, making it easier for established professionals to move up the corporate ladder, not newbies who have little if any substantial professional experience.

Making New Connections

Making new connections sounds great, but it’s difficult to create new meaningful connections. While relationships certainly matter, it is hard for younger generations to make connections that are actually worthwhile. I could reconnect with my past co-workers from Culvers or my lifeguarding days, but how helpful will those connections really be? If I am trying to break into a certain industry, these are not the people I need to target. Rather, I need to connect with notable people in the company as well as recruiters. Simply adding Bill Gates on LinkedIn probably won’t help me get a job at Microsoft. Similarly, sending inbox messages or stalking recruiters will not help generate a lead. There is a fine line between extending your professional reach and seeming desperate.

A Different Animal

Perhaps LinkedIn is less of a true social network and more like a job board with social components. If younger generations are using Facebook more, why not try to turn the tables and revamp its strategy? If Facebook is the destination, why not transform it into something more? Or, why hasn’t LinkedIn paired with Facebook to become just that? Creating a Facebook app that feeds informed networking and job opportunities to people could be a valuable tool for users- especially younger generations. It could combine forces and become a super social network, improving its strength and recognition.

Conclusion

But, after all the smokes and mirrors you can find a platform than can be quite useful in the proper hands. With over 94% of recruiters using LinkedIn, it would be a waste to dismiss it entirely. It may not appear to be as beneficial in the short term, creating a profile has the potential to connect to others later down the line. While I believe LinkedIn’s greatest asset is its ability to help maintain and foster new professional relationships, this should be taken with a grain of salt. Building professional relationships can be exceedingly helpful, but at its core, these relationships already need to already be in place to be beneficial.

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

Evil angry robot . Render on blackbackground

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

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

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

What’s Up with That?

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

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

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

On the Other Hand

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

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

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

So Which Is it?

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

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

Resistance Is Not Futile

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

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

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

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

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

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

Would you add anything to the list?

My Relationship With LinkedIn

I love LinkedIn. I visit her regularly, usually sneaking away from my work monitor to check her app on my phone. I’m addicted. But LinkedIn’s like a flirty little hooker – teasing me with options and promises, but only if I pay up front. She is, what Jonathan Zittrain in Smart Technology – Future Employer or Job Destroyer calls, an “owned platform” that supposedly promises “abundance.” But Andrew Keen, referring to Chris Anderson’s The Long Tail, says abundance hasn’t happened – it’s just an illusion on a platform that everyone uses. So what? It’s how we find jobs and stay connected and updated to industry happenings. Yet Keen asks, “to what extent do you need a platform” (33:56)? What extent? It’s where I go; it’s expanded my options. Or has it?

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Well, it turns out these owned platforms actually make our world smaller, and the platform itself harder to escape. We become reliant on LinkedIn to help us find connections, information and jobs – to the exclusion of other resources. That’s a problem with solely using technology, the Internet, and these “pay for more” networking sites. Plus, it’s expensive. As Zittrain states, “If everybody uses it, it’s going to take a larger cut” (39.56). Which is what really annoys me about LinkedIn. She lets me look around, and browse some resources, but she doesn’t let me look as good as I am to prospective employers, colleagues, and a plethora of professionals who could mentor me or connect me to others. Do I even look good enough; am I creative, relevant, and clear on the benefits I offer…everyone? In Using LinkedIn to Get Work, Rich Maggiana and Ed Marshall (2010) describe a LinkedIn profile as “a living document of your professional life” (p.32). Yikes. And while I think I’m projecting well and tons of people are admiring my skill set, one look at my weekly up/down searched statistics shows that clearly I’m not being “seen.” But I want to be seen!

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So she tempts me. Every day. She knows I like the look of her and that I wonder about her “premium services.” Don’t I want an open profile, expanded search options, and to know who’s checking me out and ranking me? I can have it she whispers, if I’d just fork out that teeny-weeny, recently increased price of $30 or $50 a month. But there’s more, and it’s not even a whole $1000 dollars annually. Makes my pulse race, which is why I can’t stay away. In Net Smart, Harold Rheingold (2014) states, “Our hormones reward us for information seeking and social contact…” (p. 246). And he advises that we “regard search as a process of investigation…instead of searching to find, search to discover” (Rheingold, 2014, 248). LinkedIn shows me a “selective audience,” one made of up people similar to myself, but without premium services, I can’t access the broad audience of network contacts that makes LinkedIn valuable. Which means I’m not succeeding at the purpose of LinkedIn. It’s become a second Facebook and I’m a passive spectator.

In Who Owns Your LinkedIn Connections, Dorothy Dalton states, “What is clear is that network contacts are a currency with significant value to anyone as a job seeker.” And I need more. So I guess it’s time for me to follow Maggiana and Marshall’s steps to be successful on LinkedIn: write updates weekly, list awards and conferences, and make sure my profile is set to full view. None of which makes me more searchable…

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So she wins. I guess I have to pay up

Is it a Small World After All?

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What do the Queen of England, a cabbie in New York and a second grade teacher in Italy have in common? No, this isn’t the beginning of a bad joke. A solution truly exists. Believe it or not, but they are all related by six degrees of separation. In other words,everyone in the world somehow connected through a chain of six people. This connection demonstrates the “small world phenomenon” coined by Stanley Milgram.

Milgram’s Experiment 1976

In 1976, Stanley Millgram conducted an experiment in which he randomly selected 300 participants in the Midwest to deliver an information packet to a stockbroker Boston. The only rule was that they had to send it to one person who they think would get the package closer to the destination. While only 64 of the 300 packets actually made it to Boston, they found that on average “path length” was 5.5. This led them to conclude that six steps connect everyone, and the small world phenomenon was born.

Milgram in Cyber Space

Fast-forward twenty-five years and several studies have demonstrated that this phenomenon remains the same. For instance, a 2010 study by the New York Times discovered that five steps connect 98% of people on Twitter. Similarly, Jure Leskovec and Eric Horvitz examined 240 million users for the average path of an instant messaging service, Microsoft Messenger. While the results of their study found that the average path length was 6.6, a number slightly higher than Millgram’s study, the results are shockingly similar. In his book Net Smart, Howard Rheingold states, “Social cyberspaces… are small world networks because they are electronic extensions of human social networks.” In other words, these networks of smaller networks closely mirror the connections in our everyday lives.

Criticisms

However, can we generalize the connection between online and offline contexts? Online, people may be more apt to try because the consequences are lower. Because they can hide behind the protection of their screens, perhaps they were more likely to take on a bolder persona and reach out.

Additionally, the extent to which instant messaging is a marker of a relationship may be blown out of proportion. Next, I believe the term “relationship” may have been too loosely defined. While I can strike up a conversation with my garbage man, does that really count him as being within my social network?  I think a similar offline study would need to be conducted to make stronger generalizations to compare Millgram to Leskovec and Horvitz.

Even more, the low completion rates of both studies should be noted. In Milgram’s study only a handful of letters made it to the target in Boston. Likewise, Leskovec and Horvitz. had to examine a staggering large number of participants to yield a small result of successful messages. Whether the reasons behind participants behavior stem from low motivation or a lack of connections, it is a broad claim to base an entire theory on such shaky evidence.

Lastly, USA Today found an unpublished archive sent to Milgram that revealed indicated low-income people’s messages didn’t go through. Subsequent studies investigating by Milgram found a low rate of completion as well as a social divide between racial groups.

Judith Kleinfeld, a professor psychology at Alaska Fairbanks University, went back to Milgram’s original research notes and found something surprising. It turned out, she told us, that 95% of the letters sent out had failed to reach the target. Not only did they fail to get there in six steps, they failed to get there at all. Milgram was a giant figure in his world of research, but here was evidence that the claim he was famously associated with was not supported by his experiments.

Rather than living in Milgram’s small world, we are living in a world where a select few elite and well-connected individuals reign. The rest of us are living in a “lumpy oatmeal” world looking through rose colored glasses.

Conclusion

In sum, there are a variety of reasons why we want to buy into the small world phenomenon. Perhaps the desire to feel connected to others makes us want to believe. Or maybe we want to believe in this urban myth for our own sense of security. Whatever it is, I think it needs to be reevaluated again. While our networks may reach not farther than we think, maybe it’s not a small world after all.

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Netflix and Long Tail Economics

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Whenever I open Netflix or Amazon Prime, I notice a large amount of algorithm-fueled recommendations curated and tailored for me. Sometimes I find them helpful, but it makes me wonder: do I actually want all of those recommendations, and are they even necessary? According to the writer Chris Anderson (2004), in The Long Tail, these are part of Long Tail economics – a new age of digital entertainment that’s opened audiences to a greater variety of entertainment, and companies can now make money on more niche products rather than purely relying on hit movies, music, and books.

 

Making recommendations based on previously watched films benefits me because it exposes me to movies I might not otherwise see, and yes, the more I find, the more I like. But I wonder – how much of a movie do I have to watch for Netflix to generate the recommendation? What if I turn it off after 20 minutes? And the recommendations aren’t just on the streaming service. I get DVD’s I didn’t place in my queue. Has anyone else noticed this? Is Netflix ensuring my queue is never empty? And at what point will there be a need and option to do as Howard Rheingold (2014) asserts with Facebook – “…use…privacy settings to consciously control your boundaries to the degree…it allows” (p.233)?

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(System Architectures for Personalization and Recommendation by Xavier Amatriain and Justin Basilico on TechBlog.)

 

Personally, I find there’s an overwhelming amount of entertainment material online. Just scrolling through my Netflix account and selecting a movie can be time consuming and frustrating. So while the digital world has virtually unlimited amounts of space for storing, selling or streaming media content, I still have a limited number of hours in the day to consume it. I understand that companies must compete for our time and attention, and to be successful, they must collect and analyze vast quantities of data about their clients. But their motivations may not be transparent. As the past few years have illustrated, protecting our privacy in online media use can be difficult to achieve, and is anything really private? And our collective culture is becoming more fragmented as we’re consuming media that purely fits within our niche interests. The drawback to this is that our cultural and daily connections may suffer.

 

While Long Tail economics revolutionizes how businesses do business, the effects on social media are less clear. In general, Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram dominate the market while smaller companies struggle to find an audience. And in the way we use social media there may not be an audience for every story, as ones that are positive and arousing are far more likely to be shared or retweeted. For example, news stories designed to make a reader angry or inspired are far more likely to be shared on Facebook than neutral stories that evoke fewer emotional responses. With the political debates, has anyone else noticed more “us versus them” rants?

 

The sunny ideas explained by Chris Anderson about Long Tail economics are great in that they show that media is evolving, audiences have greater choices, and we are exposed to less mainstream movies, music, and stories. However, Long Tail economics fails to take into account the complexity of our digital media, which may be reflective of our previous patterns of media consumption. When TV was first invented, there were only a few channels, and frankly, I didn’t mind having just four. As we technology advanced and more channels were added, that meant more choice. At one point I had access to over 600 channels and the time it took to just scroll through the guide was ridiculous. Then I realized the law of diminishing returns for me was 84 channels. So as Steve Jobs observed – “focus is about saying no” (Rheingold, 2014, p. 246), I cancelled the rest. Now I surf less but on more options, and I benefit by the changes in which businesses like Netflix attract and keep customers. As a matter of fact, I intend to benefit from this strategy by re-watching House of Cards, Luther (one of the coolest detectives ever, oh and there’s that serial killer chick), and Sherlock on Netflix – right after I finish scrolling through my recommendations. That could take a while.