Category Archives: Marketing
Every once in a while, I open a product I have just bought, and feel a little nostalgic for the days of paper manuals. I guess there’s some comfort in knowing that I can seek out instructions regardless of whether I am online. The truth is, when a question does arise, it is second-nature to sit down and search the internet. And, honestly, when am I offline anyways?
I do remember the days when online help wasn’t so easy to come by. If a manual did not have an answer I needed or I didn’t understand it, I was stuck with the time-consuming tasks of doing my own research. Other times, I would come across mistakes in the instructions or information that became outdated after a software update occurred.
So while I think I “miss” the days of paper documentation accompanying products, I don’t miss all that they represent. I like that I can search for specific issues quickly. I love that outdated or inaccurate information is usually wiped away. And, it’s super convenient that customer support is often a click away, instead of requiring a call to the customer support line.
Now don’t get me wrong, I still print out a lot of the instructions that I look up in customizable searches. I do this because, in many cases, it is easier for me to follow directions on paper. (It is an annoying personality quirk of mine that costs me untold amounts of money buying ink and paper.) I also find that I often look up the same issue repeatedly. I have certain applications that I use on a regular basis. There is usually a function or two that I only use occasionally, so I find that when that rare occasion comes up, I need a refresher on how to do it.
Along with my printing habit, I like to cut and paste chunks of helpful or interesting information from help sections, and put them into a Microsoft document for future reference. I bookmark a lot of pages too. There is a problem though. This inconsistent data collection makes it very difficult to access the information. I have to search my saved documents which leaves me trying to remember if I saved it on my laptop or desktop? Hard drive or memory drive? If I bookmarked it then I have to search through all the bookmark and Chrome and Internet Explorer. This is assuming that I actually recall saving it in the first place. Often I go look up the same information again, only to notice I already had it, when I go to save it. Sigh.
The idea of being able to customize my own instructional text on a site is an incredibly exciting concept (Spilka, 2010, p.206)! I imagine all those topics that I go back to time and time again at my fingertips. No more haphazard organization of all the information I want to retain. No more wasted time looking for information, only to realize I already have it documented somewhere. Just one site to go back to, the source. Not only would all the information that I need be structured in the way that best meets my needs, but I could also add more information or remove what I no longer need. That would be the ultimate user experience!
Until that becomes widely available, I will continue to appreciate the ways that digital media is enabling writers to provide better and more targeted content. The use of digital media has not lead to a homogenized audience, but has instead given many new opportunities for writers to tap into the specific needs of the reader. They no longer have to make assumptions about the reader’s needs and can instead utilize a variety of user information absorbed from observing the user directly. In many ways, the move to greater use of online documentation, defies the image of the internet widening the distance between people. In this instance, online media allows for a greater personal connection with the audience.
“If you’re not part of the future than get out of the way” (Mellencamp, 2001, Peaceful World)
When I started The Cluetrain Manifesto and 95 Theses I wasn’t sure if it was forward thinking or silliness. Granted, I hadn’t gotten to the “meat,” because I almost stopped reading after this enthusiastic bit: “The sky is open to the stars. Clouds roll over us night and day. Oceans rise and fall. Whatever you may have heard, this is our world, our place to be. Whatever you’ve been told, our flags fly free. Our heart goes on forever. People of Earth, remember” (p. 5). Okay. But you can be over-the-top when you’ve written a corporate wake up call the equivalent of the Ten Commandments.
It’s pretty bold to imply the customer is always correct; it’s more so to state that businesses are completely wrong. Yet, that’s exactly what authors, Christopher Locke, Rick Levine, Doc Searls, and David Weinberger proclaim. Their Cluetrain Manifesto warns corporations to speak our ”human” language, include us in their discussions, realize conversations are online, outside, in-house, and that it’s no longer business as usual. We matter! We want a place at the table, we want to be heard, and we want them to change how they deal with us. “You want us to pay? We want you to pay attention” (78, p. 7). Good stuff.
Going for the corporate jugular, the Manifesto mocks how companies communicate not only with their customers, but also with their own employees. Having just received another company email explaining an administrator-approved, attorney-reviewed, HR-established procedure that strips away more employee soul, I particularly liked 44: “Companies typically install intranets top-down to distribute HR policies and other corporate information that workers are doing their best to ignore” (p. 5). Yep. And let’s not forget command and control. I work in higher education; I get it.
There’s some over-reaching with the truisms. We “get far better information…from one another than vendors” and “There are no secrets” (11-12, p. 6). Not necessarily, or we’d know the secret recipe for Coke and when Apple’s introducing the iOffice (I made that up). And the authors skipped over the fact that plenty of businesses have adapted, and adopted business practices that meet our needs. Many businesses do “talk” to their customer and market honestly. In my observation it’s the larger, often disconnection corporations that “do not speak in the same voice as these new networked conversations” (Locke et al., 2014, p.5). Where I live we have many small stores and franchises, both on the ground and online that engage in marketing strategies with a “human voice.”
Ernest Hemingway stated, “Every man should have a built in automatic crap detector operating inside him” (as cited in Rheingold, 2014, p. 77). In a lesson with his daughter, Rheingold delved into crap detection and the difficulty of knowing what’s credible in the online environment. Following his steps with his daughter was a bit frustrating (I wrote down the links to try), and yes, the Internet is full of companies that either missed the Manifesto, don’t know how to transition their hard-sell marketing techniques, or simply don’t care. Blaring banners, eye bleeding colors, tricky links, and less than truthful claims seem to be regular marketing practices today. (Could it be our culture of increasing acceptance of misinformation in politics that makes it okay?). You want to talk to us? Learn our language. You want to sell to us? Your old tactics won’t work. You want to reach us? We’re on the brave new ‘web of a world’. And when Rheingold’s daughter asks, “How can I tell if anything I find on the web is real “ (Rheingold, 2014, p. 78), that, dear child, is a great question.
As a professional in the world of technical communication, I often wonder what my role really means for the organization. When people ask me what I do, I often pause and respond with some generic phrase like, “I decipher geek speak for non-technical people”. But, at times I am in the business of marketing our department to the rest of the organization. At other times, I am compiling “How To Instructions” (when I can get away with it). But I often wonder at what point in time does one cross the line between technical communicator, to support help, or even to technical subject matter experts (SMEs). And this idealism off too many cooks in the kitchen seems to ring true from a technical communication standpoint.
I am always asking questions and trying to drive out more information from technical SMEs. In return I am cornered with negative responses and many people not understanding why I’m asking the questions I am asking. Or, my favorite, telling me that no one actually needs to know that (because technical professionals are so good at putting into human terms what they really need to say. But for me this is where Dicks (2010), identifies that technical communication is developing and changing in a number of different ways (p. 58).
I personally believe it is this change, this evolution that may be causing angst for many newer generation technical communicators. Many organizations have to spread out responsibilities and for some organizations; technical communication is a fairly new commodity (especially if they are not delivering some type of technological solution to the consumer world). In the case at my organization, internal technical communication is fairly new and while our primary product is food related, technology is still at the core of our business functions.
I particularly find the following graphic interesting as well when it comes to this concept around both the change that technical communication is unfolding within organizations today and the correlation with “too many cooks in the kitchen”.
This graphic is based on products by LearnMax (2015), a company who specializes in technology training. But for me it is the categories that truly resonate with the different areas of technical communication that I see quite often.
As technical communicators we need to have a baseline knowledge of what we are writing/communicating about. Unfortunately we cannot always trust the SMEs to know what we need and why we need. It’s this type of information that I believe drives technical communication. Dicks (2010) further states, “reshaping [our] status will involve learning technologies and methodologies such as single sourcing and information, content, and knowledge management, and then optimizing information development of multiple formats and media” (pg. 55).
- This statement not only aligns with the knowledge management aspect, but also with regard to the training aspect.
- Optimizing our information for multiple formats hones in on this idea of enterprise mobile and writing for mobile device – not just shrinking our information to fit on mobile devices
- We are also there for the customer – whether it is for an internal customer or an external customer.
Ultimately this all aligns with content development, as shown in the graphic above. It should be our goal to customize our content not only for formats and media – but for our audience. Dicks (2010) calls out the value of our role in the following four categories: “cost reduction, cost avoidance, revenue enhancement, intangible contributions” (p. 61). But I bring us back to my original example in my own situation – of too many cooks in the kitchen and refining the role of technical communication within organizations.
For example, the Information Technology Help Desk was at one point responsible for preparing our department intranet pages. The content, design, and layout was all brutal. In an effort to formalize this channel as a communication tool, I focused heavily on design and updating the pages so they seemed more accessible and inviting to staff. Unfortunately, I would say that this idea / change in ownership of job duties has been a constant struggle. At one point this group never wanted to give anything up, and yet at time if it’s not perfect it is used as an excuse to pass the buck off onto someone else.
So while we can theoretically lay out for management on how technical communication can provide value to the organization, how do we show value to our colleagues who might be more concerned that we are stepping on their toes?
Dicks, S. (2010). Digital Literacy for Technical Communication. In R. Spilka (Ed.), The Effects of Digital Literacy on the Nature of Technical Communication Work, (pp. 51-81). New York: Taylor & Francis.
Content management as it applies in Digital Literacy by Rachel Spilka refers to “a set of practices for handling information, including how it is created, stored, retrieved, formatted and styled for delivery” (p. 130). My first thought was of college and university websites – who creates the online image, who maintains it, and how do you know if it’s effective? When your website looks different, are you being original, savvy, an “outside the box” thinker or someone who looks like they don’t know what they’re doing? A standard design helps you find information, “validates” it, and to a certain degree creates “credibility” – an implied added value that brings users to your site. Visit 39 Factors: Website Credibility Checklist (http://conversionxl.com/website-credibility-checklist-factors/), and web design is the first standard. And it needs to be attractive with bells and whistles. University of Melbourne’s (http://www.unimelb.edu.au/) Dr. Brent Coker states, “As aesthetically orientated humans, we’re psychologically hardwired to trust beautiful people, and the same goes for websites. Our offline behavior and inclinations translate to our online existence. As the Internet has become prettier, we are venturing out, and becoming less loyal” (The Melbourne Newsroom: http://newsroom.melbourne.edu/news/n-575).
The annual Webby Awards (http://www.webbyawards.com/winners/2015/) selects the best of the Internet including websites and mobile sites and apps. I took a look at the awards for college and university website design, because I have the chance to redesign my page. Stephenson University was a top winner; take a look – http://www.stevenson.edu. Notice anything different? My eyes went straight to the left navigation – where is it? Stevenson dumped it on their homepage, but click any link on the center block of information and you get one. Whew.
I’m not a technical writer, but I write for work. No one at my college is a technical writer, but everyone with access to the Novus Content Management System (CMS) writes for our website. In Digital Literacy, William Hart-Davidson asks, “what does a writer do when the whole company writes (Spilka, 210, p. 137)? In the case of my school, you get a fragmented, out-sourced variation of styles and priorities. My college’s website design is awful. Don’t get me wrong, I love where I work, our students love us, and we engage with and support our community– but our web appearance really bothers me. Take a look at Hillsborough Community College: http://www.hccfl.edu/
The left navigation isn’t alphabetical or listed in order of importance; certainly, “Dining Services” isn’t as important “Searching for Classes. In the middle we have “Steps to enroll” and “Apply Now;” “Apply Online is also on the left – everything leading to the same information. Part of the problem is the use of a content management system (CMS) – Novus – that longer meets our needs. And until recently we employed one web manager and no other web staff to maintain the college’s web presence. As Hart-Davidson notes, “content management (cm) systems provide resources for enacting the kind of work reflected in Table 5.1, but they do not do the work themselves. Nor do they help those who lack expertise in writing studies learn best practices” (Spilka, 2010, p. 141).
This is an area that interests me and I have a chance to practice what I learn with our Distance Learning website revision. But in an educational organization with so many layers of administration, and committees who make most of the decisions, how does one promote a new content management strategy? Do any of you in higher education employ technical communicators to assist in website design and maintenance? And how do you measure the success of your website?
“Today, outsourcing is not just a trend; it is an integral part of how smart companies do business”, “…a company concentrates on its core business and relies on outsourcing partnerships to get the rest done”
~ Harvard Business Review
In the past 30 years, the rapid pace at which technology is evolving has drastically shifted the modern business climate and the world of technical communications. As a result of these emerging technologies, both the tools we use and the scope of our work as technical communicators has changed. Thus, the digital revolution has resulted in a “blurring of boundaries in our field and our work” due to major changes in economics, management and methodologies. To keep up with these significant advancements, many companies have been forced to shift their product base and find ways to restructure themselves.
Through re-engineering and an adoption of radical new changes many companies have found ways to cut costs. Major layoffs have occurred as a single person now can execute jobs that once took seven people to complete. Moreover, globalization has played an undeniable role in this change.
That is to say, globalization and “improved methods of communication make it economically possible and desirable to work with people from all over the world…”. Consequently, it is becoming increasingly common for companies to send their work to countries such as India, China, Korea, or Brazil. Asa result, outsourcing, is an important factor for companies to keep their competitive edge. According to 2011 outsourcing report, “Over 94% of the Fortune 500 companies outsource at-least one of their major business functions”. With that in mind, it should be no surprise that both the company I work for, as well our clients outsource jobs.
For instance, Wunderman, has offices around the world and takes advantage of its bandwidth by outsourcing jobs. Specifically, the Minneapolis branch utilizes its Buenos Aires office for much of its production work. While 6000 miles physically separate us, we communicate with each other through weekly conference calls, Skype and software called Brandshare to keep tabs on the project. However, there is a difference between the tasks that are delegated to Buenos Aires and the work that stay in house. The projects we send to our off shore resource is oftentimes grunt work and involves little creativity. In contrast, the higher-level work generally stays in house where we can have more control over the project. Overall, despite the language barriers that sometimes occur our Buenos Aires team has proven to be a valuable resource in saving Wunderman both time and money.
Likewise, on the client side, Best Buy outsources a sizable amount of its work as well. While I know outsourcing occurs in the majority of it’s departments, I am only familiar with what goes on in the marketing sector. The bulk of Best Buy’s creative work is outsourced not only to Wunderman, but also to several other creative agencies across the country. This allows them to distribute their workload evenly and hone in on each agency’s specialty. Other aspects related to the production of marketing materials such as coding, subject line testing, and analytical reports are outsourced as well. If that wasn’t enough, Best Buy also utilizes creative resources in India for some projects. Because of the time zone difference, this allows them to work around the clock and have the finished product on their desk the next morning.
While outsourcing certainly has its benefits such as producing jobs and reducing costs, there also are several downsides. It should be no surprise that when work is outsourced at an international level there are oftentimes disparities. While many companies play by the rules, others take advantage of these workers and skirt environmental and labor laws in the process. For instance, these individuals work hard, if not harder than their US counterparts for significantly less pay. According to the US Bureau of Labor and Statistics, the average hourly wage for Chinese manufacturing workers is less than a tenth that of their average U.S. counterparts. Additionally, Factory workers in China are more than three times more likely to get killed at work. With these grim statistics in mind, it is clear these workers will do anything for a job.
One of my coworkers used to work for a different Fortune 500 company that would send her to India for weeks at a time. While this third party business in India was an important asset to company, the picture she painted of her time there was bleak. Each week, the company would bus in workers from neighboring cities up to three hours away to its headquarters in New Delhi. There, the workers typically would work 10-14 hour days without complaining. At the end of the day, instead of returning home, many would sleep at the company campus’s small apartment complex- only to repeat it all the next day. Consequently, families would only see each other on the weekends because it was easier and cheaper to do so. Unfortunately, this practice is common and is a reality that all too many are unaware of.
In sum, it is clear that technology is a driving force of the economy around the world. Our demands for newer, better, faster technology and ways of communicating clearly fuel this practice. As a result, we are reliant upon both these technologies and the foreign workers who produce these products to do our jobs. So, while outsourcing certainly has its benefits, perhaps there is more to consider than the business aspect of it. Maybe, we ought to consider the humanizing side as well.