Category Archives: Marketing

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.

Recruitment and Digital Audiences

Recruitment and Digital Audiences

Blakeslee in “Addressing Audiences in a Digital Age,” describes technical communication as it interacts with user-centered design, or UX. As communicators, it’s ingrained in us to keep the audience as the forefront of creating any materials, both in writing and design, so that the audience engaging with the material can process it easier, quicker and more intuitively. However, with the shift to digital communication, specifically digital reading of documents, it’s critical that we re examine if the audience has changed. Blakeslee says, “The thinking here is that technology potentially makes our writing accessible to a much broader audience than before” (p. 201).

UX

Anything published on the internet could essentially be accessed by any user with a computer. These users have different identifies, cultures, languages, preferences, etc. So how can documents, which are published online, be written with a specific audience in mind? Can they be written for a specific audience? What boundaries are in place to create these communities.

These questions from Blakeslee reminded me of recruitment materials I utilize at work. As a reminder, I work at UW-Madison in the Mechanical Engineering Department. There has recently been a major push to create new online and in-person accelerated Master of Science programs for our department.

Download the PDF here.

We have a variety of target audiences for these programs, but one of the target audiences in international students. We partner with a number of schools in India and China and they are some of the student we aim to recruit into these programs. I don’t work directly with creating or distributing recruitment materials, but our graduation admissions office does and I am included in many of these meetings. In the early stages of discussing partnerships with schools and these programs, we knew immediately that we would have to adjust our materials to fit the international audience. Some of these adjustments included re-ordering information on the flier so international tuition rates are listed first and selling not only the program but the City of Madison and the State of Wisconsin as well. Whereas with resident students, they likely already know about the State of Wisconsin and City of Madison. Additionally, it was important to adjust the language so that it fit the skill level of the international students.

To test these materials, we started with developing personas, as Blakeslee discusses, but really found the most value out of interacting with readers. As Blakeslee says, “another valuable heuristic for learning about and understanding reader needs is interaction, especially with actual readers” (p.208). We at UW-Madison are lucky to have a number of international students who are from the universities in India and China that we are partnering with, so we have access to these students who are already on our campus. The design team developed the materials and then tested those materials in a session with volunteer students from these partner universities to watch how they read and understood the information. (Thank goddess for free pizza, it really brings the graduate students into a room!) By watching these students process the information and having a discussion with them it was easy to make changes to the document based on that specific audience.

It may sound like an ideal situation, and maybe it is, but it worked. We have had positive feedback from the materials we have sent to these universities and our enrollment numbers from students at those universities coming into our programs continues to grow. So  yeah, it’s difficult to keep the audience in mind when publishing documents for the whole world to see, but in reality there are almost always going to be some type of restraints on the community of people you are targeting with messaging. For us, it was retraining the target audience to international mechanical engineering students who were possibly interested in a masters degree. Knowing those boundaries narrowed the audience, even though the information is published on a public facing website for the world to see.

Content Management and Leadership. Content Playbooks? Content Leadership?

This week’s readings revisited a number of concepts that I’ve learned throughout the technical and professional communication program.

Chapters 2, 3, and 5 essentially summarize that technical communicators should not just view themselves as writers, but also rhetorical tool experts, information designers, and content managers. It was a solid review and there were actually some things that caused me to stop and think more deeply about my own role as a technical writer.

Content Management Perspectives

For instance, Hart-Davidson makes an argument that there are three perspectives for creating and managing content in Chapter 5.

  • The first perspective is making texts — this is the dirty work, the actual writing we do for clients, users, and customers.
  • The second perspective is creating and managing information assets — from my understanding, this is the process of making content reusable and “evergreen”.
  • Lastly, (and this is the part that made me think more deeply) Hart-Davidson argues content mangers should design and manage workflows and production models — this last perspective focuses on the responsibilities of those who are involved with content management in an organization context.

Hart-Davidson elaborates more on this third perspective later in the chapter:

“Here, technical communicators take on supervisory roles at the level of a team . . . They study how people work to create and manage information and they then look to make improvements.”

After reading this, I started to ask myself, “How do we do that?” Particularly when we’re not always in leadership roles to manage how other people create and manage information? The answer sounds simple, but I’ve found it to be rather difficult in some instances.

The Content Playbook

For example — this week, my team conducted our monthly content calendar review to discuss what will be published in the month of November. This meeting included my directors and other marketers. During this meeting, me and the other content manager started to discuss our process for creating and publishing new content. As we were explaining this, my director suggested that we make a “content playbook” that basically describes the process of how we publish content.

Now, this isn’t the first time my director has asked for something like this. He has briefly brought up a similar request months ago. However, I haven’t acted upon this request because it sounds like a waste of time. Not because I feel it is a bad idea necessarily, I don’t think anyone will actually use it. Immediately, my content management brain kicks in because I think, “Who is going to read that?

Should I be spending time creating a playbook for something that (that I feel) no one will read? At my work, there are only two content managers (me and another writer on a separate marketing team). I feel he would be the only other writer who would benefit from something like this. However, after reading this week’s readings, I may be feeling differently.

Content Leadership

If I was to put on my managerial content marketing hat, or as Hart-Davidson describes ” study how people work to create and manage information and then look to make improvements”, I would have a few recommendations.

One thing that I wish the other writers would do is amplify the content they have created. Once they publish an article on the company blog, they do not try to republish it on other websites or share it that often enough on social media. Earlier this week, I was listening to a presentation about why content marketing fails and the podcasters mention that writers often fail to ask this simple question during the content creation process:

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Source: Slideshare: Why Content Marketing Fails

I do not feel the other writers ask this question. Typically, I’ve chosen to just do my own thing and not worry about the process in which they publish content. But, our readings this week have got me thinking more about it. How do you lead others to write and manage content effectively? How do you become a content leader and inspire others?

Content Management Revisited

Like I mentioned before, the readings this week got me thinking about the content playbook. If I created a content playbook that describes how to amplify your content, would that change anything? I’ve shown my colleagues the results and statistics of amplifying their content, and that still doesn’t seem to change anything.

But maybe it’s not that simple. In the same presentation that I mentioned earlier, they suggest that content marketers don’t try enough. If their efforts fail, they should try again. Maybe I should at least try this content playbook.

I’m interested to know what you guys think. If your director suggested you write a content playbook. What would you do? Have you already done it? Do you feel others (have or would) use it? What are other ways you manage the content and information in your own organizations?

Make Video an Essential Part of Design and Information Architecture

Presentation of a video channel of laptop. Light blue background with tall buildings of the city. Modern technologies for business. Flat design. Vector illustration

Presentation of a video channel on a laptop. Source: Getty Images

As video usage and video views continue to grow, so does the importance of making video a key part of digital design. A Forbes headline from June reads “Video Marketing in 2018 Continues to Explode.” Consider this statistic from the article: more than 500 million hours of videos are watched daily on YouTube. In a 2018 survey that Hubspot conducted, 81% of businesses reported using video as a marketing tool, which is up 18% from last year’s survey.

Video Placement Guidelines

Despite the increased profile of videos, many people still place them at the bottom of emails, hide them in links, or forget about them altogether. A 2015 article by Stjepan Alaupovic for OnlineVideo.net has some practical guidelines for the placement of video on websites:

  1. Use a simple video player that viewers are used to seeing such as YouTube or Vimeo with a video play button to provide a visual cue to users.
  2. Place videos above the fold (in the top part of the screen) and in a prominent spot so that viewers see them easily.
  3. Enhance search engine optimization (SEO) with good metadata including a description that includes the word video and a verbatim transcription.

Recently, my own firm was redesigning our website. When the plan for the site was presented at a meeting, video was not part of it. Not only is video a product of most agencies today, it is essential for capturing an audience’s attention and presenting information in today’s digital environment.

Video Gallery or Library

In Chapter 4 of Digital Literacy for Technical Communication on information designMichael J. Salvo and Paula Rosinski discuss the need for technical communicators to consider “findability” of documents and information. Today, users want to be able to find information in many formats including video. Websites should have a video gallery or library that is linked in a tab, card, or area of the homepage that is easy to see. Videos should be organized by category and playlists. Descriptive thumbnail images are useful, too.

Many organizations spend time, effort, and money producing videos, but they fail to consider where the video will be placed online, how it will be seen, and why users will view it. I recommend starting any video project by completing a video creative brief that lists a series of questions that should be considered. One of the most important questions to answer is “where will this video live online?” Below, you’ll find an example of a video creative brief.

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Video Creative Brief by Angie Myers

 

 

How To Show Management Your Value As A Technical Communicator

Chapter 1 and 2 of “Digital Literacy For Technical Communication” focuses on the history, the role, and the value of technical writers. Chapter 2 can feel like a downer because it discusses how the role of the technical writer can be vague for managers. In fact, Dicks writes “Technical communicators need to worry about how they are perceived and evaluated and whether they might be likely sources for being reengineered and either either eliminated or outsourced” (64). 

I have felt these worries myself at times. After a copywriter left the company, my manager decided to hire a different role versus hiring a new writer. It made me wonder if he didn’t see the value of having two writers on his team. Dick outlines his four points for how technical writers can still show their worth in today’s companies. In my post, I’m going to discuss how I show my value to my managers and company. I’ve discussed iterative design enough in my previous posts, so I’m going to leave this skill out of the list (although I heavily suggest gaining design skills as a technical communicator). 

UX Expert or User Advocacy

UserTesting’s Company Logo. Source: UserTesting.com

I believe technical writers have a better understanding of the company’s customers than most employees in a organization. That’s because technical writers have to think about the needs of the customer whenever they write a blog post, a case study, documentation, etc. This puts technical writers in a prime position to lead UX (User Experience) efforts in a company.  

I commonly contribute to UX discussion, especially in regards to the design of my company’s website and products. However, it is not enough to simply know UX. In “Don’t Make Me Think, Revisited“, UX professional, Steve Krug, states that most believe they know UX regardless if they have been trained or not. 

As technical writers, that means you must become versed and trained in UX practices. Back up your assumptions about users with usability tools. I am currently designing a usability study using a research tool called UserTesting. With this tool, I plan to run 10 unmoderated tests that will help me understand how users feel about my company’s website. I am also running a survey to better understand user’s direct feedback about the company. Through these efforts, I am showing my company that I can lead my company’s UX efforts. I am bringing consistent value by helping them gain more insights about our customer base.

Content Strategy

Source: EngageContent.com

I don’t think I need to discuss how content strategy works because most of us already know it. But I do believe we possibly underestimate the value of this skill. In my experience, I’ve run into two types of writers in companies — those who just want to write, and those who strategize and write. I totally understand just wanting to be left alone to write and not focus so much on the strategy part. Content strategy takes away time from writing. And most of the time, the content plans you put together can be hard to stick to. However, you will gain respect from your colleagues if you do spend time putting this strategy together. 

I realized the value of content strategy after interviewing marketing directors. I’ve been interviewing directors a lot because my company is currently looking for one for our marketing team (this person would essentially become my boss). One candidate asked me some interesting questions after our interviews. She was extremely interested to know how I spend my time as a writer. Based on her questions, I could tell she was trying to figure out if I was a writer who just wrote, or if I was willing to be content strategist as well. This caused me to reflect on other questions director candidates have asked me, and they are always asking me about my content strategy. Even when I meet with my non-marketing director, he is asking me about my content strategy. 

Even though content strategy isn’t my favorite thing in the world, I’ve learned that many see tremendous value in taking the time to spin up a plan.

The Bottom Line

You may be feeling that this list is extremely marketing oriented. Like Saul Carliner’s history of the technical writer in Chapter one of our readings, my list has a personal dimension to it. There are still many ways technical writers can add value to their company through other means: programming, documentation, product management, etc. I would love to hear how the rest of you have found ways to bring value to your company, organization, or even to yourself, in your profession. 

The Constantly Evolving Role of a Technical Communicator

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Angie Myers shoots a video with SWE Past President Jonna Gerken. Photo credit: SWE Public Relations Manager Jenny Balogh

As manager of digital media for my client, the Society of Women Engineers (SWE), my role is constantly evolving as I oversee content development and marketing communications for the society. Instead of simply creating content primarily by myself as I would have in the past, today I must find ways to help my clients work together to develop their own multimedia and share it through a variety of communication channels.

Today’s media environment demands a consistent stream of content provided in a variety of ways at a low-cost by a reliable source in an authentic voice. To meet that need, those of us who work in technical communications today have to be resourceful, lifelong learners. In Chapter 2 of Digital Literacy for Technical Communication, R. Stanley Dicks writes that user-centered design, collaborative technologies, and user-generated content are transforming the jobs of technical communicators.

“Rather than the relatively limited contributions of writing and editing in narrowly defined and conceived technical communication jobs, future jobs are more likely to require that communicators engage in the more complex symbolic-analytic work involving not just developing information but also managing, reconfiguring, disseminating, and customizing it for a diversity of audiences and in a diversity of media” (Dicks, 2010, p. 75).

As I encourage SWE to embrace the organization’s communications strategy, I am always looking for ways to help create content and share it through social media. I ask SWE members, sponsors, and staff to write blogs, do Facebook Live posts, and record videos as well as podcasts. When I request their contributions, I facilitate the development of content by explaining any processes or tools involved.

Using Collaboration to Create Content
Using collaborative technology is an essential aspect of developing content in today’s workplace. For example, to write marketing emails, SWE now uses Google Docs. First, I write copy in a Google Doc that is concise and includes multimedia such as videos and images. Next, I share it with coworkers who are involved in program(s) being promoting. They proofread and edit the document directly. Finally, it is viewed and approved by the organization’s leadership. We all have access to the same, updated content that is saved indefinitely in Google Docs to use again at a later time.

Recently at SWE’s annual meeting, I shot video interviews with SWE members who were taking part in programs such as the SWE High School Leadership Academy, Collegiate Leadership Institute, and Academic Leadership for Women Engineers. Prior to the conference, I asked SWE staff who oversee those programs to help me develop questions and select participants for video interviews. After the interviews were recorded, I sent the video files to a transcribing service so that I have a verbatim transcript of what they said on video. Next, I will create a written script of the edited video so that my team can create video graphics and the content can be easily approved to make sure the video includes all of the pertinent information. When I publish the video on YouTube and in a blog post, having the transcript will improve search engine optimization (SEO) and make the content accessible to a broader audience. Using a transcript also makes it easier to pull out quotes while sharing video and podcasts on social media.

Transcribing Videos and Podcasts
For anyone working with video or podcasts, transcribing, captioning, or subtitling can be a time-consuming, labor-intensive and costly task. Transcription services in the past cost a fair amount of money, which made them too expensive for some projects. Fortunately, I have started using Rev.com. It costs $1/minute for transcribing, and the transcripts come back within hours of uploading the content. The service has been around for a few years. The company’s FAQ page says it employs workers in the U.S. and some overseas after business hours.

Using a service like Rev.com is a good example of finding a new solution to a communication problem, which is one of the primary functions of being a technical communicator today. I am always learning new processes and technology in a constantly evolving communications landscape.

The Power of Online Activism

I began an internship/volunteer role with a county-level political party this week.  My role is to build reach and produce content for their social media platforms.  I expect to experience the extremes of all online activism in the next few weeks.  My interest in online activism began a few years ago when I realized impact of quick spreading information.  As much negativity that comes with it, it is also does help to educate and rally people together.  I am now calling it digital canvassing.  I thought I was clever creating the term, but it actually does exist and has become widely used, especially leading up to the 2016 election.  The power of social media tools for facilitating political participation and protest also open the door to use social media as surveillance, repression, censorship, and trolling. Since the introduction to Web 2.0 into our political climate, we’ve seen a rise in issues related to cyberbullying and trolling. (Preface: A decade of Web 2.0 – Reflections, critical perspectives, and beyond). The more volatile our political climate becomes, the more we see how the internet, especially social media, enables individuals to show the cruelest versions of themselves.  However, we also get to see the best by stories and communications of support, cooperation, and collaboration.

 Embed from Getty Images

Howard Rheingold, in Net Smart, discusses convergence culture depends upon what Pierre Lévy calls “collective intelligence”, in reference to Wikipedia.  This idea “refers to a situation where nobody knows everything, everyone knows something, and what any given member knows is accessible to any other member upon request on an ad hoc base.” (Rheingold, 2014, p. 159) This type of collaboration goes well beyond Wikipedia and has been studied in many different social situations.  In an interview with Lévy, Rheingold asked about “the skills needed to participate in and instigate collective intelligence activity.”  The answer exhibits the way we interact on social media platforms or through blogging. It is a creating a “synergy between personal knowledge and collective knowledge management.” (Rheingold, 2014, p. 160). Our collective intelligence is used in online activism.  It may be part of its foundation.  The positive desired outcome is the sharing information to create a likeminded group and to gain members.  However, we’ve also witnessed the ability to troll each other in these interactions which then becomes divisive.

Many users see social media as an especially negative venue for political discussions, but others see it as simply “more of the same”

Merriam-Webster defines power as (entry one of three), “1a(1): ability to act of produce an effect, 1a(2): ability to get extra-base hits, or 1a(3): capacity for being acted upon or undergoing an effect.” (Power)  Understanding that by definition, power is capacity to elicit effect, conveys that power should not necessarily be considered a positive thing.  The power of online activism is its capacity for producing effect, positive and negative.  Since our immersion into Web 2.0, online activism, especially political, has become a daily, sometimes hourly bombardment.  Before the Web, especially, Web 2.0, we were able to limit our political driven activism exposure to television commercials (usually only aired near elections), some print materials, or door-to-door canvassers. Now, we can’t run away from it. Now, is the power of the online activism encouraging our political engagement and encouraging us to vote, or is it deteriorating our moral so severely that we chose to not engage at all?

 37% of social media users are worn out by political content

Is freedom of speech, in coordination with online activism, creating a healthy functioning collective intelligence?  While this could be argued to great lengths and we still wouldn’t all agree, is that the point? The opening line in an article in Forbes discussing the internet and activism states, “How we choose to act in extreme circumstances helps to define our character.”  The article goes on to easily explain how quickly we can find our own collective in the digital world.  From joining Green Peace to save the world or to join a terrorist organization, it is easy to find your own collective. (The internet and the next generation of activism) We’ve had conversations resulting from blogs this semester surrounding the idea, ‘if you can’t say anything nice, don’t say it at all.” At what point are our words creating divisive online activism and actually causing great harm?  I anticipate this question only becoming more difficult to simply answer as our interaction with online activism grows. I think it is better to kind and if you can’t be kind, be silent.

 

Talk to Me!

In this week’s readings, I made a connection between Howard Reingold’s talk of “Net Smart,” Scott Kushner’s article, Read Only, The persistence of lurking in Web 2.0and my personal business – specifically my Facebook Live Videos.  Kushner says that, “…Consumer habits research reveals that a wide swath of the social media user base lurks: these users read, watch, and listen to content, but they do not contribute any of their own.”  Reingold reminds us of these “invisible audiences” of which we must always be aware (p.235).  In my business, I am acutely aware of the invisible audience or the lurkers.  When I hit the live button, I can literally watch my viewer count go up and down throughout the live show.  Often I will have lots of conversation moving in the thread, but it will be the same handful of people responding to me and corresponding with one another during the live video.  I may have 40 viewers, but only 10 people talking.  And of those 40 viewers, very few will remain constant throughout the video.  Many will click on and off of the video to do other things on the internet (or offline); some will simply tire of the live video content and leave prematurely.  Lurkers may feel unsure of what is going on in the video and prefer to watch quietly so they do not ask any questions that seem silly or insignificant.  I have built a group of viewers that are very accepting of new faces, but that have also gotten to know one another on a personal level and that choose to Facebook friend one another outside of my videos.  I am sure that can be intimidating to those who lurk – but I count on the interaction between those connected viewers during my lives!

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Image from Rebecca Snyder, Vantel Pearls Independent Leader Facebook business page.

Why I Work to Increase Viewer Interaction – and How

Facebook operates on a series of algorithms and one of those is that live video interaction/participation directly correlates to how much exposure Facebook gives your video.   Kushner says, “At the end of the day, it is still the eyeballs that matter to Facebook.  In this case, participation becomes ornamental, and the forms of easy participation that today serve as gateways to increased participation may sink into platforms’ ever more sophisticated boxes of content-targeting tools.”  Reingold says that, “if you tag, favorite, comment, wiki edit, curate, or blog, you are already part of the Web’s collective intelligence” (p. 148).  Later, he reiterates, “Participation can start with lightweight activities such as tagging, liking, bookmarking…then move to higher engagement…” (p. 249).  While I realize that people have many reasons for only watching (or lurking) on my videos, I try to stimulate these passive forms of interaction by often calling on my viewers to click the hearts when we open an oyster.  I may say, “Give *insert name* some love and let’s see what color she gets for that gorgeous Caribbean Shore bracelet!  Start those hearts!”  Sometimes even the most passive lurker will add to the anonymous heart collection.  Likewise, I discourage mad faces and my admins will block people who come onto my videos giving mad faces as this is often a tactic of trolls to get their buddies onto your videos.  They, too, know that interaction drives up viewers.

As an extension of my live videos, I run a VIP Group for my customers/viewers.  Joining is completely up to them – I do not put them into this group myself; they must request to join.  During days that I am not live, I (or my admins) will put up interaction posts – for the sole purpose of eliciting interaction from my group.  It is a tool to keep my followers interested in me and what I am doing;  I am showing my active members that I have not disappeared just because I am not on a live party.  I am also working to bring my lurkers out of hiding (on the live videos) by getting them more comfortable in the VIP group first – as it has proven to be a less intimidating, slower-paced setting.  Here is an example of an interaction based post that was amazingly successful!  You likely see these all time on Facebook whether in a friend’s feed or on a business page.

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Image from Grad School Pearl Girl VIPs Facebook group page.

And notice that, just as Reingold suggested, I am not only asking my customers to participate, but I am showing a “reciprocating cooperation” (p. 149) by responding to each comment they make on my post, in some way.  I am furthering the interaction by interacting back.  I never realized how important that small detail was until I joined the VIP page for a very successful make-up gal.  She would ask a question and hundreds of people would respond, but she never uttered a word.  It was obvious that she was not trying to connect with us but simply working to keep the algorithms ever in her favor.  It is a delicate dance to make Facebook like you by keeping your viewer responses up while also making sure to not seem like you are posting ONLY to keep your viewer responses up.

My Rule Looks a Little More Like 60-20-20

Kushner brings up Neilson’s work on participation inequality and his idea of a “90-9-1 rule” and describes it as being “where 90 percent of users lurk, nine percent ‘contribute from time to time’, and merely one percent ‘participate a lot and account for the most contributions.'”  In my personal experience, I have more of a 60-20-20 rule.  60% of my nightly viewers tend to hop off and on all night, never speak, and mostly just help to make up my viewer count.  20% of my viewers actively participate by commenting on the pearls during my live videos and placing orders with me which forces them to speak in the live feed as they choose their oyster and answer any questions I may have about their order.  The other 20% are my tried and true viewers.  These are the core of my business as they are the ones who will share my videos often, talk back and forth to one another, click the hearts for me if they see the viewer count go down, open an oyster to get the party going, and purchase from me almost nightly.  These are the people that I count on completely.  If you average that out – I keep around 40 viewers per night.  The math says that 24 of those viewers are passive lurkers, eight are contributing from time to time, and eight count for the majority of the contributions.

A Little Appreciation Goes a Long Way

After reading “Net Smart,” I have realized that I am doing a lot right in terms of networking.  I have always found that the best way to increase participation on my videos and in my group is to give my viewers and customers a reason to interact.  The simple/fun posts help keep the thread boosted to the top of their news feeds and thus keep my VIP group in the forefront of their minds even when I am not live, but that is not enough.  Reingold says, “Small talk nourishes trust.  Trust lubricates transaction” (p. 251).  I allow and encourage my customers to connect with me on a personal level by sharing parts of my life with them.  It makes me “real” and thus helps to establish trust with them.  For instance, I have talked on my live videos about my oldest son moving away and how hard that transition can be for me at times.  I also share my accomplishments with them – making sure to let them know that my business accomplishments could not happen without them!  For example, I recently received a gift from my leader for having sales of over $250,000 in 20 months!  That is their accomplishment as much as it is mine!

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Image by Rebecca Snyder

Just as they celebrate my triumphs and tragedies, I celebrate theirs.  Some of my customers know that I am a Christian and they will ask for prayers in the video.  Many keep in contact with me via Facebook messenger and some have sent me friend requests on Facebook.  I try to make sure my interactions are not just organic reach but are personal and connected.   Most importantly, showing customer appreciation is key!  A little bit goes a LONG way to keep customers coming back and loyal.  We all need to feel valued and appreciated.

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Image from Grad School Pearl Girl VIPs Facebook group.

The Role of the Blogger

Rheingold discusses the role of the blogger and the power of participation in chapter three of “Net Smart: How to thrive online.” This chapter, along with our other readings, caused me to reflect on the role of a blogger and their ability to influence action through participation.

The Power of Connective Blogging and Being Human in Markets

Rheingold discusses how connective blogging creates communities where people can comment, think critically, and influence action by sharing like-minded information. In the Cluetrain Manifesto, Levine, Locke, Searls & Weinberger argue that “markets” (bloggers, etc.) are able to do this because they speak in a human voice. They also argue companies often fail at this because they try to convince others they are human with lip service.

Most companies blog about their product or service and expect consumers to engage with it. They fail because they do lip service – they contribute to a conversation in order for you to buy such product or service. While this works to a certain degree – it is not the most effective way to create and influence action because most readers know what these companies are doing. Companies can create discussion, cause others to think critically, and influence action by being human.

Being Human Means Being Educational

Source: The Modest Man’s Website

The Modest Man is a good example of a blogger being human. Brock, The Modest Man, focuses on helping short men “dress better and ultimately feel more confident.” People actively watch his online videos, leave comments on his blog, and seek him out for fashion advice. Brock is not only able to get users to actively engage with his blogs and videos, but he was able to influence a men’s clothing company to change their sizing options after posting a positive, but critical review of their service.

Brock was able to have this effect because he has a human voice – he doesn’t post YouTube videos and blogs because he is trying to influence his audience to buy a certain product or service. He is blogging because he genuinely wants to provide helpful, educational information for those who are interested. When your focus is being educational, versus trying to influence a user to buy a certain product, you are more likely to gain a user’s trust (which Brock has done). The information he provides is authentic, truthful, and human because he is honestly trying to help men dress better, regardless of the product or service.

Being Human Requires Being Authentic

Source: The Chicken Whisperer’s Website

The Modest Man is similar in many ways to the Chicken Whisperer. Joe Pulizzi, author of Content Marketing Inc., loves to use the Chicken Whisperer as an example of a blogger who has gathered a large audience by posting educational content about raising chickens. However, it’s not that he just posts educational content – he demonstrates authenticity through his content.

For instance – his website and branding is slightly boring looking, but it helps provide authenticity. There isn’t shout outs to other brands, he doesn’t look like a executive who is trying to take your money, and most of his call-to-actions link to content and not products. This looks like a blogging information source that someone could trust and share with other users. His blog is shared because users respect and trust the information he provides them.

Being Human Means Being Trustful

Source: Realtime API Website

As a content marketer who works for companies, I often have a disadvantage because my content will automatically be seen as biased if I post anything about that subject matter on our corporate blog. One way I’ve remedied this is by creating third party microsites to publish and share information about a subject matter unbiasedly. For instance – my coworker and I created a microsite called realtimeapi.io that helps users build realtime APIs. All information we publish on this website is helpful for anyone who wants to build a realtime API and doesn’t focus on a single company or product. Whenever I create websites like this, I disclose that I work for a certain companies so users can trust and be cautious of the content. But websites like this also allow me to discuss a certain topic (like Realtime APIs) more generically and be more educational, and not force users to only look at my company’s product or services.

I believe connective blogging requires having a human voice. A human voice requires being educational, authentic, and being trustful. Companies typically fail at these three things because they only want to focus on their product and come off as biased. I believe companies must learn from connective blogger’s transparency and educational content to be truly successful in content marketing.

Technical Communication is Multifaceted

Ever since I joined the MSTPC program, I have noticed a repeated theme throughout technical and professional communication literature. Technical communication often doesn’t seem to know what it is, what it does, or why it matters. I have read many research papers that seem insecure about the profession and try to pinpoint what technical communication is and who it is for. Notable technical writers like Tom Johnson have even tackled this issue in posts like “Why is there a divide between academics and practitioners and tech comm?”. In my Theory and Research class, I wrote my final essay about why researchers seem to explore the identity of the technical writer more so than other professions. I understand all professions do research about about their own field, but technical communication is one of the first fields I’ve run into that seems unsure of itself. 

I saw some of these themes of identity in Blythe, Lauer, and Curran’s article “Professional and Technical Communication in a Web 2.0 World.” However, these authors seemed more sure about what technical communicators do and seem to be okay with the fact that technical writers are a diverse bunch with a wide skill set. They focus less on “What is a technical writer?” and instead, “What does a technical communicator do?” I particularly enjoyed and agreed with this quote from the piece, “In other words it is not enough in a Web 2.0 world to ONLY write effectively, you must branch out and be a master of many skills and tools.” Blythe, Lauer, and Curran explore these many skillsets and tools throughout the paper and it inspired me to create my own list of common writing tasks and tools I use in my day-to-day job as a technical content writer: 

Most often used types of writing Most often Used Tools
1. White Papers 1. Google Drive (Doc, Excel, Slides)
2. Case Studies 2. Sketch
3. Blog / Syndicated Content 3. Slack / Email
4. Website / Landing Pages 4. UX Research tools like Ethnio
5. Blog / Syndicated Content 5. HubSpot
6. Press Releases 6. Asana
7. Advertising 7. WordPress
8. Strategy / Planning / Internal Sales documents 8. Survey Tools


Most Often Used Types of Writing

I decided to create two different list of my writing tasks / tools to show the multifacetedness of technical writing. For instance, many of my “most often used types of writing” involves doing more than just writing (especially the higher ranked types). To create a strong white paper or webpage requires knowing design skills, information management, and UX expertise. Sometimes, I spend more time designing white papers and case studies with design tools than I do actually writing. This often makes me feel more like a visual designer than a technical writer, but I would argue that you would need to know skills from both trades to make a compelling document that is exciting to read. 

A case study I created for work

Case Study Design

I created this document above to explain how Jacuzzi is using my company’s platform to create a connected hot tub. One of the biggest challenges with case studies is they offer a lot of information and most clients don’t have time to read them. As such, I believe it is important to create a document that would excite clients and can be read quickly. For this case study, I create a document that is easily scannable with data visualization and short paragraphs, while adding visual interests with color contrasts and visuals. I had to use design tools like Sketch to make visuals that draw the reader’s attention and use information management skills to organize the information in a way that is compelling. 

The Importance of Tools

In “Using Social Media for Collective Knowledge-Making,” Longo discusses how technical communicators must become masters of ICT technologies. I would add to that and say that technical communicators must master more than ICT tools nowadays, but also must become a master of design, information management, task management tools, and more. The number of tools required to be a become a proficient technical communicator is only increasing too. However, while mastering all of these tools is helpful and certainly increase career opportunities, I wouldn’t say a technical communicator must be an expert at all of them.

The Bottom Line

As a marketing technical writer, it makes sense why I see visuals and design tools as such an important element of being a technical communicator. However, a technical communicator who focuses on creating internal documentation may not need to know the same number of design tools as I do. They may prioritize other skillsets and tools that I may not even know about. And that’s the benefit of being a technical writer – there is so many different routes and paths to specialize in. These wide range of skillsets and purposes make it hard to define what a technical communicator is, but it is certainly not a weakness. It’s something we should celebrate more. 

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!

Social Networks and the Changing Patterns of Communication

SocialNetwork

Image: wikipedia.org

My final paper for English 745 – Communication Strategies for Emerging Media builds on ideas I have been studying in multiple classes and in carrying out my work as a public affairs specialist for a large health care organization. My paper explores the ways in which networked communication afforded by social media platforms is changing the patterns of internal and external communication in the workplace. The study explores previously-published research to draw connections between practices that have been learned from consumer behavior on external social media and practices that have been applied to internal organizational communication. It also includes my own observations. In the paper, I analyze the ways in which top-down, or one-to-many communication is being replaced by a many-to-many, networked flow of information. A review of the literature finds that this restructuring of communication has led to a deemphasizing of hierarchical organizational models and a growing prevalence of peer-to-peer collaboration. With the growth of networked communication, this study finds that individuals who place themselves at the intersections of social networks have the most influence.

To highlight three of the sources that interested me most:

David Meerman Scott, in the book, The New Rules of Marketing and PR, describes how social media, such as blogs, Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram have afforded businesses new tools with which to reach potential customers and maintain relationships with existing customers, and how those businesses that use social media most effectively have had to adapt to a new communication power structure. In the not-so-distant past, marketing and public relations (PR) communications followed a one-to-many flow of information. Marketing and PR professionals created messages, which were then distributed to a mass audience via paid advertising and press releases (Scott, 2015). Scott describes how companies must adapt to the ways in which their customers now seek information: “…the evidence describing how people actually research products overwhelmingly suggests that companies must tell their stories and spread their ideas online, at the precise moment that potential buyers are searching for answers” (p.41). Social media, such as blogs that allow comments, Facebook pages, and Twitter feeds, have disrupted the previous one-way flow of information: “We also have the ability to interact and participate in conversations that other people begin on social media sites like Twitter, blogs, chat rooms and forums” (Scott, 2015, p. 41).

Mehra, Dixon, Brass, and Robertson, in the article, “The Social Network Ties of Group Leaders: Implications for Group Performance and Leader Reputation,” found that the social network ties of group leaders in a large insurance company were an indicator of leadership reputation and group success (2006). The study sought to measure the centrality of group leaders in internal and external social networks and to draw a connection to the group leaders’ reputations and the success of their groups, represented by sales and customer loyalty. Mehra et al. found that a group leader who was centrally placed in a network of his or her group members and/or a network of other group leaders did have an enhanced reputation for leadership among their group members and peers (2006). Perhaps more significantly, the study found that the groups led by those leaders were also more successful, both in overall sales performance and customer loyalty (Mehra et al., 2006).

Robert Berkman, in his article, “GE’s Colab Brings Good Things to the Company,” studied how GE is using an internal enterprise social network (ESN) called “GE Colab.” Interviewing GE’s chief information officer, Ron Utterbeck, Berkman found the organization was drawing on the same benefits offered by a external social networks such as Facebook to leverage existing connections and build new ones across the organization (2013). Utterbeck described the goals of using the platform: “…some of our challenges, as we’re global, is how do you connect people? How do you make it so that you can search and get the right skill sets very easily? How do you make GE a lot smaller of a place? How do you have a virtual water cooler?” (Berkman, 2013, p.2).

Utterbeck said the company is seeing real benefits to facilitating these network connections:

“We’re solving problems faster. When you belong to these groups and you can see how people are saying, ‘Hey, I got this problem,’ literally, within minutes, three or four people comment on it and say, ‘Have you tried this? What about this?’ People are connecting, finding the people they need.”

I also touch on the topics of crowdsourcing and crowdfunding. My favorite example of this is the novel The Martian., which author Andy Weir originally posted, chapter-by-chapter, for free on his blog. Scientists who read the chapter suggested technical corrections. Readers eventually urged Weir to make an ebook available for sale, which he did, on Amazon, for $0.99. The popularity of the download led to a hugely successful book and movie deal. You can read all about it here: http://www.businessinsider.com/how-andy-weirs-the-martian-became-so-successful-2015-6 

This research has been useful to me at work, where we use an enterprise social network called Yammer and other tools to collaborate across departmental and geographical boundaries. It has been interesting to study the ways in which personal connections, help get the job done, as I have definitely observed in my work. This is something I will continue to study throughout my master’s degree program.

 

 

 

Content Management in Job Searches

It can be almost funny when you find connections between real life and content in your assigned coursework. After reading Chapters 3, 4 and 5 in Digital Literacy I found myself in an ironic situation. My husband and I had to work together to create content. On Friday my husband came home from work and I asked him how his day was. He said it was fine and then I heard the real story. Corporate human resource represenatives came into the plant in our small town and said that all 40 employees would be laid off sometime between January 1 and April 1 2018. The company has a much larger plant about an hour and a 1/2 away that employees around 200 people. The employees were told they would be making 1/3 of the positions available in the larger plant but it would be open recruitment.

My husband hasn’t updated his resume since the last time he was job hunting 5+ years ago. Knowing there is such a high demand for these positions I stressed how important it would be for us to have a professional looking design with quality error free content.

My search for a new resume template started with Google search for free creative resume templates. Some pages I was afraid to click on because I was worried about the sources. Other pages had nothing but ads or still required payment. I spent a number of hours using a variety of search terms to find this content. There was very little if not zero content available that was professional, modern and clean designs.

My next search was to try to find content that was very low cost. I remembered seeing digital content such as clip art on ETSY and thought it was worth a shot.  I was able to find just what I was looking for using Etsy.com search for instant download resume templates that cost between $1 and $2

Screenshot_003.png

To my surprise all it took was paying $1 instead of looking for the content for free. The template I picked had three templates with it. One for the resume, one for a cover letter and one for references. It included instructions and templates in a variety of formats. Both for the Apple software Pages and for Microsoft Word.

I think this taught me a lot about the availability and cost of content. No one wants to give up content for free. Even if it is just a dollar per download that adds a lot to the professionalism and quality of the product.

Navigating the Changing Waters of Technical Communication

 

In the chapter, “Information Design,” Michael J. Salvo and Paula Rosinski draw repeatedly on the concept of “metis,” an ancient Greek term that refers to navigating change. The metaphor struck home for me. My family had a sailboat when I was in middle school, and I still take advantage of the chance to go sailing with others when it comes along. My wife and I had a great time on an evening charter sail in Bayfield, Wisconsin in October, and I took a turn steering for a while. I had to keep a number of factors in mind to navigate safely between the mainland and Madeline Island. There was the unchanging, but invisible hazard of the water depth. I had to follow our captain’s guidance and the feedback of the depth finder to avoid running aground. I had to be mindful of moving obstacles, such as other boats. And I had to be mindful of where the wind was blowing, so that I would not get trapped too close to a shoreline without enough sailing room to tack my way back out to safe water.

As I read the chapter, I thought that sailing was a good analogy for navigating the changing conditions of technical communication. There are obstacles we know about, like the depth of the water in a bay, which change slowly, and there are unexpected changes that happen more quickly, with less warning, such as the direction of the wind and movement of other boats.

The chapter includes a description of a futuristic, but not hard-to-imagine scenario. A father enters the word “broccoli” into a search engine. The search engine takes into account not only the word, but the searcher’s context: what room of the house he is in (the kitchen), what time it is, and what time the family usually eats dinner. The search engine determines that the searcher is looking for a recipe containing broccoli that can be made in an hour or less.

We currently use and allow some of these context-based tools. I will search “restaurants near me” in a new city, and let my phone tell the search engine exactly where I am. I know from the ads that pop up on my Facebook page that Facebook knows I occasionally search for clothes, kayaks, and musical instruments. But as developers are working to take marketing advantage of more and more of this data, and context-based results can be very useful, some of us are getting uncomfortable with the notion that somebody knows where we are and what we’re searching, reading, and buying. A previous borrower of my Digital Literacy for Technical Communication textbook wrote “****ing creepy!” in the margin of this section. Just like we are now able to mostly shut telemarketers out of our lives by signing up for no-call lists, many people will likely block access to personal data, and new rules are making it easier to do so.

This article from Marketingprofs.com outlines Europe’s forthcoming General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR). These rules will require any companies doing online business in Europe (regardless of where the company is located) to ask consent every time a piece of personal data is used; just allowing a user to opt out now and again won’t be enough. Companies also will need to provide users with a way to access and change their preferences at any time.

Continuing with the sailing/navigating reference, developers have been sailing toward an ideal to providing a personalized experience to users. Now they will need to sail around the obstacle of much stricter privacy rules.

Technical communicators will also need to make course changes career-wise to survive

DanSailing

The author

changing conditions. In the chapter, “Content Management,” William Hart-Davidson points out many changes to how communication work is accomplished, including the automation of some writing tasks. A few years ago, as a working journalist already watching the job market shrink dramatically, I was alarmed to learn that online news outlets were employing news-writing bots to create content. This is not limited to news aggregators and gossip and click-bait sites, but includes, as noted in this article in Wired, serious news organizations such as the Washington Post and Reuters.

Who knows where the wind will blow next? Our employers and our own careers will be best served if we learn to be navigators, ready to plot a new course when needed.

 

What is talent anyway?

In the Web 2.0 text debate between Andrew Keen (author of The Internet is NOT the Answer) and David Weinberger (author of The Cluetrain Manifesto, Small Pieces Loosely Joined: A Unified Theory of the Web, Everything is Miscellaneous: The Power of the New Digital Disorder, and others), the authors discuss whether the Web is a Kafkaesque miasma of chaos and disorganization or a Cinderella story of a happy ending waiting to rise from an underrated medium (fortunately, they did specify Disney’s Cinderella — it would be a totally different debate if it was the Grimms’ version!). Keen was on Kafka’s side, while Weinberger was on Cinderella’s.

I willingly acknowledge my bias and optimism toward the Web and all it has to offer — ideas, communication, knowledge. With that said, Keen came off as a Luddite who is terrified of losing his precious status quo because of the newest technology on the scene. It seemed like every sentence of his gave me the desire to retort — yet Weinberger provided all the retort much more eloquently than I could have here. He his ultimate criticism of Keen’s views came early in the article, but sums up my thoughts perfectly: “Andrew, you join a long list of those who predict the decline of civilization and pin the blame on the latest popular medium, except this time it’s not comic books, TV, or shock jock radio. It’s the Web.”

Keen’s arguments shifted as Weinberger rebutted his arguments. Starting with the Web populated with nothing but monkeys (I assume drawn from the infinite monkeys theory) who just make and endless chaotic cacophony, to the threat to the livelihoods of those in traditional media (sad, but not like technology has never threatened whole industries before), to the fact that without traditional media, talented individuals will neither be discovered nor properly groomed. He even goes so far as saying that artists are useless without the industries that support them:

The issue of talent is the heart of the matter…. Web 2.0 misunderstands and romanticizes talent. It’s not about the individual — it’s about the media ecosystem. Writers are only as good as their agents and editors. Movie directors are only as good as their studios and producers.

These professional intermediaries are the arbiters of good taste and critical judgment. It we flatten media and allow it be determined exclusively by the market, then your friends Joe and Marie have even less chance of being rewarded for their talent. Not only will they be expected to produce high quality music, but — in the Web 2.0 long tail economy — they’ll be responsible for the distribution of their content…. Either they can produce music which has commercial value or they can’t. If they can’t, they should keep their day jobs.

While Weinberger addresses this handily:

It aims at moving units. It therefore does exactly what you complain the Web does: It panders to the market…. The question, therefore, is not whether the traditional media’s taste is better or worse than the Web’s. The Web doesn’t have taste, good or bad. The Web is not an institution, a business, or even a market, any more than the real world is. It’s us. We have lots of different tastes. On the Web we can better fulfill those tastes (because of the Long Tail you ridicule in your book), rather than simply relying on others to decide for us what is worth attending to.

However, I had more questions about Keen’s arguments about talent and commercial value. For instance, what is talent? Does talent equate to commercial value? Has the definition of talent changed with the advent of the Web and democratization of the arts?

From Keen’s remarks, is definition of talent would include being “discovered” by some media outlet (publisher for authors, recording label for musicians, agent for actors, etc.), groomed for success, and then made famous by that media outlet. As we have learned about the long tail, it is much more likely for somebody to make it big when their only competition is the limited to the amount of physical shelf space in a bookstore or music store. Thus talent does, indeed, equate to commercial value and marketability in his view.

But bookstores and music stores are dropping like flies (RIP Borders, Blockbuster, Sam Goody and countless others), and only those who adapt to the new media on the Web will succeed.

So the question still remains of what constitutes talent in a system where you might be successful if you are a skilled self-marketer… or you might not. Or when all it takes is one lucky viral video to make it big.

What even constitutes popularity and success? In traditional media, it was the number of books or CDs you sold. It was the number of awards your acting netted you. It was the ratings you got on your TV network during prime time. Yet some things inexplicably become extremely successful. Are the winners of reality TV shows successful or talented? By what measure? They gained popularity and wealth–they had tons of commercial value (so I guess they could quit their day jobs, according to Keen)–but is that truly success?

The Web is even more complicated. Are you judged by the number of Facebook friends your Famous Internet Cat has (Grumpy Cat has more than 8 million). The number of subscribers you have on YouTube, or the number of views your videos have. Pewdiepie has the most viewers and views, and few would call him an artist of any sort of merit — even a 17-year-old responded with disgust when I asked if Pewdiepie was relevant among teenagers: “Not to me anymore. I’m older than 12.”

Or maybe it’s your commercial value–both Grumpy Cat and Pewdiepie have made millions off of their respective branding. However, Grumpy Cat’s phenomenon was started by a viral photograph, while Pewdiepie’s fame was arguably due brilliant self-marketing. But much like the mega-stars of traditional media, Internet mega stars are uncommon. Yet, I would argue, not as uncommon as those in traditional media because there are no gatekeepers beyond luck and the fickleness of Internet democracy (and Facebook’s algorithms, but that’s another story).

It’s in the long tail where we see the main differentiators between the traditional and Web media. The long tail does not just fulfill our tastes, as Weinberger argues, but it also gives a chance of success to those who would otherwise not have it. In traditional media, you’re either a star or you’re not (for the most part). But on the Web, there is a wide spectrum of success. I follow a blog whose author makes $400,000 per year just on ad revenue. But I also have a friend who self-published a book and has sold fewer than 20 copies due to poor self-promotion. I have several artist friends somewhere between those two extremes–some survive exclusively on their art, while others struggle to break even. In a world of traditional media, it is unlikely that any of these people would be successful–there would be no spectrum.

I think the biggest talent when it comes to producing creative content for the Web (be it paintings, music, videos, video games–anything a person creates) is self-promotion. It is a vital literacy to “make it” on the Web. In fact, I’d say it is the content creator’s analogue to the content consumer’s “crap detection.”

Oh, and Grumpy Cat’s first book debuted on the New York Times bestseller list for nonfiction hardbacks. So, Keen, put that in your “I applaud the engineering of books about critically important subjects in politics, history and theology.” pipe and smoke it.

This is When Everything Changes: Cluetrain and the Technological Experience

If a tree falls in a forest and there’s no one around to hear it, does it make a sound?

The only thing that’s changed about this adage is that now we have the ability to Google the answer with the press of a few keys. Working in that atmosphere, where technology and the Internet have allowed us all to access an endless amount of information on a variety of subjects

Reading through the 95 theses from the Cluetrain Manifesto: The End of Business As Usual by Levine, Locke, Searls & Weinberger is an interesting little web page to look over. It’s full of a lot of sage advice and theses that I find to be completely obvious. Though there is power in making statements so I guess I can see the point in creating a very pointed guide for companies to read through.

Image result for puzzled face

Source: (https://www.123rf.com/photo_33013224_middle-aged-man-with-puzzled-face-expression-and-question-marks-above-head-looking-up-isolated-grey-.html)

Let’s break some of it down, shall we! It starts out by stating:

“A powerful global conversation has begun. Through the Internet, people are discovering and inventing new ways to share relevant knowledge with blinding speed. As a direct result, markets are getting smarter—and getting smarter faster than most companies.”

At first glance, this is all standard fare. Yes, we are now more of a global community. The Internet has allowed us to friend, follow, and tweet at anyone around with the world with WiFi and a digital social life.

More than that, we are discovering and inventing new ways to communicate and convey information. This idea is particularly important, to our greater class discussion and to the Manifesto. Outside of the limited amount of countries that actively limit the scope of the Internet for their citizens, surfing the Net is such an individual experience, mostly because no one can truly lay claim to it. We all have the ability to create blogs, websites, videos, music, and a variety of content, post it, and have it read 1,000 times before lunch. This freedom is something that is exclusive to the Web. As Americans, we live in a country where the Freedoms of Speech and Expression are protected, but as always, putting that into action inevitably causes friction with other people, groups, religious organizations, and/or the government.

The online space, as much as it is open to manipulation and abuse, is viewed as safer. We have the ability to hide behind screen names and anonymous messages, giving us the option of both utter honesty and utter depravity.

When the opening to the manifesto talks about relevant knowledge is where I drew up short. This might just be a personal opinion of mine, but what information can you not deem relevant? Yes, time period, setting, and other factors provide context. Your office job is not the place to talk about that rash you have, unless you work in a hospital or urgent care center. But that knowledge will come in handy eventually, like all knowledge.

What’s relevant to businesses is to understand that customers are people who cannot be neatly pressed into columns, lines, and graphs on a spreadsheet.

Image result for spreadsheet death

Source: (https://www.veeva.com/blog/death-by-spreadsheet-the-gremlins-paradox/)

As you have probably heard from a parent, professor, elderly person on the street, Turkle, the age of the Internet, mobile devices and social networking has brought about many detrimental changes to our society. We do not learn or retain information in the same way. We do not connect with friends and neighbors like we used to. We can’t understand how vital it is to connect with people face-to-face in order to be an actual human being.

They have done their part by creating a dialogue about this topic. It is now up to us, those of us working with technology now, and those of us who come later, reared in the cradle of mobile devices and online communities.

What’s relevant to us as content creators, digital consumers, and technical communicators, what we must all understand is that we do not live in binary opposition with technology. It is not either or. The human experience has to be allowed to evolve. Change comes when we’re placed into new situations. Technology has affected the way we relate to each other, yes. It has driven businesses to look online for customers. It has caused innumerable automobile accidents and driven progress in health care, defense, travel, and commerce.

Levine, Locke, Searls & Weinberger work to clarify the position of the audience as autonomous agents who do not need companies to tell them what to want anymore.

So where do you fall on the spectrum of this argument? Do you feel that the rise of texting, Facebook, Snapchat, and every other social networking site and digital communications tool has led to the simplification of meaning? How much does what you buy have to do with the method/medium you are exposed to it?

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.

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

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.”

How to run a business as a technical communicator

Reading through various articles in the Technical Communication Quarterly, I am finding good nuggets of information on how to run my business on social media, as a technical communicator. Of course, the information that I found can be applied to one’s personal life, but since technical communicators are hoping to make a career with their writing, I will reiterate these points below, focusing solely on the business aspects.

Keep busy with social media

According to Ferro and Zachry’s article, “Technical Communication Unbound: Knowledge Work, Social Media, and Emergent Communicative Practices,” when using social media platforms for your business, there needs to be a “real-time monitoring of texts” and that you should be “monitor[ing] the technological landscape and be ready to integrate emergent types of online services” (p 7). Customers today expect a business to respond immediately to their messages or posts online, and if they do not get that, some of them will use social media to say how horrible the company’s customer service is. Depending on the business, responding to customers can be a full-time job.

Now, from analyzing other businesses’ social media platforms, I saw how they tried out new social media platforms, which they sometimes abandoned when either the company decided that they were not getting enough traffic from it, or they did not fully understand how to use that new platform to extend their business persona. It is always a good idea to try new technologies, as you never know which one will suit your business best. Once you try a new platform, even if you abandoned it, never take it down. I would suggest putting that abandoned platform on your website as a link and naming it an archive. While the content may be old to most, for those who are just coming across it now, it will be new to them.

Stay positive and audience-centered

Always keep your postings and messages positive. This way your company seems like a happy place and people will feel good reading the posts. There is already so much negative things on social media and elsewhere that reading something positive can boost someone’s day. Additionally, when a company posts a positive post, people are more likely to respond to it, as people want to continue this positive feeling. Ferro and Zachry wrote that “contributors…are motivated by the positive feelings associated with participating in a larger community” (p 9). I have certainly noticed in my business postings that if I write something positive, I receive more likes and more comments. (And if I post a positive video clip, I receive more sales).

By staying positive in posts, you are more likely to have “good sense, good moral character, and goodwill,” which Bowdon explained in her article, “Tweeting an Ethos: Emergency Messaging, Social Media, and Teaching Technical Communication,” is what you need to do to write good posts on social media (p 35). By focusing on these ideas, it makes sense that your posts will then be audience-centered, because you want to help your audience with whatever information that you think that they actually need, instead of just your company’s self-promotion.

If you can always put your customer first, thinking about what information that they are seeking, your company will come across positively by being helpful and customer-driven. I know that this is something I will have to work on too, as several of my own business postings are of self-promotion instead of being customer-centered.

Conclusion

Technical communicators can find jobs within a company or use their skills for their own businesses to ensure that their customers are happy because of the positive message that they read, their questions and concerns are addressed promptly, and that they always find audience-centered postings with the information that they are seeking instead of just a company’s self-promotion. On any social media platform, you can provide a link to your website, so there really is no need for self-promotion anyway. Many businesses, including my own, should always evaluate their own postings periodically to make sure that their messages are coming across positive and audience-centered. Moreover, we should continue to look new ways to interact and gain new customers through new technologies, as not everyone joins the same social media platforms, so it is good for business to try them all to see what works best for them.

My very own manual!?!?

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.

Manifesto

“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.

Trying my best to not spoil the broth!

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.

cartoon

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”.

inforgraphic-learnmax

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?

References

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.

Relying on Heuristics in Digital Communication

I spend nearly every work day reviewing science and engineering reports and memos. Virtually every one of them follow the same structure: introduction, methods, results, and discussion or IMRAD as it is sometimes called. IMRAD is a viable heuristic for what is historically a paper-based, long-form argument. (If it weren’t, it would likely not be so prevalent.)

I’m also asked frequently by the marketing department to review content for online distribution. To help them along and save myself significant substantive editing time, I’ve attempted to provide that department—some of whom are trained technical writers—with heuristics (what I call writing prompts or an outline of sorts) which they can use to author within the various information types they are responsible for. So far, I’ve developed heuristics for blog posts, social media posts, brochures, flyers, and so on.

They’ve come to rely on these heuristics, essentially canonizing them, which was never my intention. I’ve been thinking a lot about why this has happened and its appropriateness. I’m beginning to be cautious about developing heuristics especially for digital communication.

Paper-Based and Digital Communication Are Different

Michael J. Salvo and Paula Rosinski wrote in Digital Literacy for Technical Communication (p. 105) touched on this dilemma:

“One difference between paper-based and electronic communication is that the forms and designs of older analog media have been internalized and naturalized…Use, familiarity, and comfort within these newer information spaces are therefore, to some extent, generational, and technical communicators must now consider how to bridge these generational boundaries that are likely to express themselves as technological preferences.”

I suppose what I’m saying is that the bridge between paper-based (with their traditional heuristics) and digital communication (which lets admit can be a free-for-all) is not heuristics.

Moving Away from Heuristics

What I’ve come to realize is, when it comes to digital communication, heuristics are effective starting points, but should never take the place of authentic communication. By authentic communication, I mean communication conceived of and designed to serve its particular audience and the content itself. This is the opposite of content designed to meet a preset structure (such as IMRAD).

In other words, instead of developing heuristics for digital communication (e.g. “A blog post has these five components” or “The services page on your website should cover three things”), what if we simply approach each rhetorically? Dave Clark in Digital Literacy discusses the “rhetoric of technology” which he contrasts against IMRAD without using that concept specifically.

So, the next time the marketing team wants some help structuring digital communication in particular, instead of writing up a heuristic they can use over and over again, I’m going to write a set of rhetorical questions they can rely on.

College Website Content Management

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.

 

Stevenson

 

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/

 

HCC

 

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?

 

 

Globalization Gone Wild: The Other Side of Outsourcing

sweatshop, IT

“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.

Balancing truth and a positive image online

What is our responsibility to the truth when we post online? When representing a business/institution online and on social media, must we always represent it with 100 percent accuracy? What is the truth anyways?

At first glance this question seems pretty straightforward. Always tell the truth. Anything other than the truth is misleading and therefore wrong. How could it be otherwise?

The same straightforwardness seems apparent in Jonathan Zittrain’s talk when considering the ethics of interfering with Facebook or google’s algorithms. He uses as an example the potential power that Facebook would have to sway an election by just leaving a reminder to vote off of a person’s newsfeed who shows a preference that is unfavorable to the powers-that-be at Facebook. It would be unfair for these online giants to use their influence to sway something that is as fair and unbiased as a math-based algorithm to anyone’s benefit.

Screen shot of Facebook's reminder to vote.

Screen shot of Facebook’s reminder to vote. Source: TechPresident, Facebook’s Voting Reminder Message Isn’t Working, 2012

But his next example makes the issue a little murkier by explaining how google has removed from its top search results a company that blackmails people by ensuring that their mugshot photos would be prominent when their name was searched unless they paid a steep fee. This seems like justice, even though Google is stepping in to use its power against the cosmic fairness of a mathematically-powered search algorithm.

So when we create a presence for a public institution online – possibly a social network site where we create a public profile, make connections in the community, and gain access to their connections (D. Boyd, Social Network Sites: Definition, History, and Scholarship, p. 211) – what is our responsibility to the public to represent the institution truthfully?

I’ll use photography as an example that I come up against as a graphic designer in the marketing department of a technical college. Let’s say that we’re posting a picture to facebook of our college’s president smiling next to a student at a college event.

  • The lighting is too bad to post this picture without adjusting it in Photoshop. Do I correct it? Yes.
  • While I’m here, in this portrait the president clearly has lipstick on her front teeth. Would I remove it? Absolutely.
  • How about a couple zits on the student’s face? I would remove most of them or at least lighten them.
  • What if the student has a permanent wart or a birthmark? Those stay. That’s part of what the student looks like, and it would be crossing a line to remove that.

But isn’t the student’s zits also part of what he/she looks like on this particular day? Isn’t it the truth that on this day the President attended the event with lipstick on her teeth? Isn’t it also the truth that the lighting in the room was horrible?

In a conversation about Web 2.0 between Andrew Keen and David Weinberger, Keen likens the story of the Internet to Kafka’s Metamorphosis, where the Internet is the mirror that reveals ourselves to be cockroaches. He compares the multitude of contributors of online content to mindless monkeys. This strikes me as counterintuitive when most of us spend our efforts consciously making ourselves look as good or better than we are in real life.

In our office, amongst the graphic designers, the social media administrator, the copywriter and anyone who is creating content to represent the College, our mantra is to represent our community (students, staff, instructors, even the campus) in a way would be recognized by them as having a “good day.” We choose our content and edits with empathy and compassion. We don’t strive to mislead, and we always maintain what participants would recognize as the reality of the moment. The camera is often cruel, picking up details that we would overlook in person. The candy wrapper on the sidewalk in a picture of the facade of the school does not represent how we see the building. It just happens to be there when the information is flattened into a photograph. No one noticed the white specks all over the shoulders of your shirt, but that dandruff sure does shine in the lighting of the photo. To remove these details doesn’t change the reality experienced by the individual in the moment, it just shows it off at its best.

Would you rather that I not clean up your shirt? Lighten the blemish? Subtract the trash? Am I being kind, or deceitful? Is my responsibility to tell the truth of how you experienced the moment, or the truth of the photograph?

Natasha’s Test Blog 2

As soon as I began reading “The Rhetoric of Reach: Preparing Students for Technical Communication in the Age of Social Media” by Hurley and Hea, I felt like I was being sold the “social media/blogging ruins professionalism” ordeal that’s been a major part of my young, professional life. I’m often advised to delete all of my social media accounts because simply having one looks bad to potential employers, and many of my friends have actually stopped using social media due to this fear. I feel like the majority of people have a negative connotation about social media because the media showcases the career ending follies of irresponsible, formerly successful professionals.

Examples of the ways social media can hurt you are rampant as ever, however the most brilliantly glorious professional social media successes are so seamless they go unnoticed. The article instantly made me think of 1 company that single handedly proves how essential social media is to technical communication. Apple uses their social media presences like no company I’ve ever seen.

Apple is THE master of social media advertisement and technical assistance. Around a month before the annual iPhone release (that’s completely shrouded in secrecy), new iPhone rumor sites begin popping up in Google searches, and on Facebook to strike up interest. Arguments and debates spring up alongside questionable “leaked images” to get the Apple junkies excited to see the new device. I’m not sure if Apple is actually responsible for this commotion, but it seems unlikely that they aren’t as it’s the perfect marketing strategy.

By the time the iPhone release video is available, the Apple fan base is so anxious to see if their speculations were realized that millions of users stream the live video feed and bombard Twitter, Instagram and Facebook with #iPhone trends. I’ve been around to watch cell phones rise to their current popularity, and I have yet to see an HTC, or Samsung Galaxy raise as much release day insanity as an iPhone.

By the time iPhone pre orders become available, customers can hardly pre-order because within the first 5 hours Apple has literally sold more iPhones than they have in existence at that point. Many pre orders aren’t filled for months, and people just keep on buying. The well produced videos and easily sharable links and videos saturate the internet, convincing America that they need the newest addition.

On the technical communication side, the Apple Support Communities are a series of community forums that are incredibly helpful for tech support. The beauty of this site is that it is the ultimate FAQ, some answers come from Apple Geniuses and others from other users. You simply type in a few key words about the issue you’re facing, and a list of responses appears in past threads. These forums are incredibly useful for customers without AppleCare insurance plans, and for those who don’t have time to wait on hold for 45 minutes.

In conclusion, social media and blogging can destroy a professional image, but they can also make it invincible. It is imperative that technical communications professionals learn how to use social media to strengthen their credibility and introduce clients/readers to their services.

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Relationship Status of Technical Communication and Social Media – It’s Complicated

I have to agree with Elise Verzosa and Amy Hea regarding their paper on “The Rhetoric of Reach: Preparing Students for Technical Communication in the Age of Social Media,” when they say how most people feel that posting on social media websites can have disastrous results for one’s professional career, but in reality, social media websites can actually be helpful and build a person’s professional career in technical writing.

While it is true that there have been cases of people’s careers being ruined because of some inappropriate, personal postings such as scandalous photos or opinions, if a technical communicator uses social media for business goals and stays away from religion, politics, and things that one would not share with their grandmother, they can be successful. Stories of social media success can also be found on the internet, although they are not as popular to talk about as the scandalous stories are.

Naturally, the first social media place that most professionals start with is LinkedIn, as that social medial website’s target audience is professionals who want to network with other professionals and companies. While building a profile and adding samples of your work there is a great start, there are other websites to join as to display technical writing skills. These websites include Dice, Instructables, eHow, and Fiverr, just to name a few. With Dice and Fiverr, technical communicators can not only build their portfolio, but they can also build a client base too.

Fiverr, like Instructables and eHow, allows the technical communicator to see how much reach they have with their writing, as all three social media websites allow users to like, comment, and share the technical communicator’s website page. If the technical communicator’s work has value – users find it helpful, then the more likes and shares his or her page will receive.

Of course, the technical communicator’s writing should be professional written for these websites to show credibility and authority.   Because of the need for clear, professional writing, people who feared that social media eroded the “grammar, correctness, or lack of professionalism” will find that fear to be invalid (Hurley & Hea, 2013, p 60). A professionally written piece is likely to receive a greater audience through shares and likes than a poorly written one.

If it turns out that the technical communicator’s written work needs clarification or a rewrite, the technical communicator can participate in crowdsourcing. In crowdsourcing, the technical communicator can learn what needs to be corrected through comments left on their work’s page, or they can join that website’s community and ask others to read their work and to provide a critique of what was done well, and what needs more clarification. By asking for feedback, the technical communicator is engaging the community and learning from others. This also helps the technical communicator build skills of working in groups, and learning where they could possibly turn for answers when they need help.

Lastly, Hurley and Hea mentioned that the “most successful DIYers had a significant social medial presence across social media platforms,” and because of that, their work had more credibility, their work was shared more often, and they had a large following (p 66). While I believe that to be true to a point, one cannot rely only on plastering work on several social media websites. What Hurley and Hea fail to mention is that to build up that following, one must engage the community as well by responding to users’ comments, questions, and private messages quickly; create a call to action by asking questions or feedback; and by posting their message on several websites, but with each posting, writing something a bit different, otherwise, it would be deemed as spam, and the technical communicator could actually lose followers. If people liked or added a technical communicator to several of their social platforms, the users will want to see something different on each platform, otherwise, what is the point of adding/liking the technical communicator to each social media platform?

All in all, I agreed with what Verzosa and Hea’s “The Rhetoric of Reach: Preparing Students for Technical Communication in the Age of Social Media,” and found their myth busting of technical communications’ fear about posting on social media to be accurate. I enjoyed learning how Verzosa and Hea, as technical communicator instructors, taught technical communication students find value in their social media writings through reach, via Instructables.com and through crowdsourcing. My only issue was to clarify that posting across several social media platforms was not enough to build an audience. What is further needed is responding to users’ questions and comments in a timely manner, and when posting across several social media platforms that the posts be written differently, as not to be confused with spam. Verzosa and Hea’s paper is a great resource for those technical communicators new to social media and who are carrying the fear of building their professional technical communicator career online.

 

 

Source:

Elise Verzosa Hurley & Amy C. Kimme Hea (2014) The Rhetoric of Reach: Preparing Students for Technical Communication in the Age of Social Media, Technical Communication Quarterly, 23:1, 55-68, DOI: 10.1080/10572252.2014.850854

My Experiences – Paid vs Free Blogs & How My Customers Reacted

I have had a few blogs over the years. The first couple of blogs were owned by the blogging website, and since I did not want to pay for a blog, the blogging website had advertisements everywhere. I used these blogs until people started to complain about the advertisements, so I paid a blogging website (LiveJournal) a fee to never have advertising on my blog again. I still use this blog today, maybe once or twice a month.

A few years later, WordPress became wildly popular because of how easily you can customize it with themes and widgets. I believe that people can also sell things with a merchant shopping cart on there too. For this WordPress blog, I paid someone to set it up so that it was on my own server. I had even purchased a new domain url for it. Sadly, the WordPress theme that I was using was retired, rendering my website useless. Since I did not have time to find a new tech person to update my website, my website currently sits defunct online.

So, what did I do with my blogs? My blogs were to promote my business and gather a loyal customer base. I would post photos and videos of my products, as well as cartoons and news about my industry. These postings automatically fed into my Facebook news feed. I found that when I posted stories of my adventures with my business, I would get the most replies on those postings. When I would post a video of my product, I would get the most sales. Photos were a hit or a miss. With photos, I would get the most criticism – positive and negative – responses. When I posted news or cartoons, people really did not respond much.

However, when I shared content links from others, my customers enjoyed those and would share those with others. This made me take a look at how other companies were engaging their customers with their Facebook news feeds. I began taking screen shots of things that I found to be quite clever and fun, so that I could do something similar later. Unfortunately, with what little time I have now, I have not tried anything of these ideas, but I hope to test the ideas out maybe next year or two. This should give me plenty of time to create nice content that will be ready when I want to use it.

Now that I have touched upon my experience with my own blogs, I will talk about my experience with other blogs. The only other blogs that interest me are those that give me ideas to make my business more successful. I personally do not care if there are photos or not, I just want good information that I can put to use right away. I do not want filler or fluff. That stuff does have its place, and I have done it for my own blogs once in awhile, but when I want answers, I want answers immediately.

So what have I learned through all my experiences? I learned that blogging is a lot of work, so if I was going to blog, I wanted to make it count and send sales my way, as paying my bills was the goal instead of writing just to write. Thus, I did not spend any time reading blogs that could not help me with my goal. My goal was to succeed with my customers and my business. It still is.

 

You don’t need an app to detect bullsh*t

“We are immune to advertising.  Just forget it.” – Cluetrain Manifesto

There it is.  The secret of the modern day consumer.  We know this is all a game that is geared to make us buy stuff and guess what?  We’re not buying it anymore.  But, we are still buying.

Recently, I’ve been looking into purchasing a Chromebook for myself, but it definitely wasn’t because of some incredible advertisement I saw.  Nope.  My coworker bought one, showed it to me, and now I’m a bit interested in getting one for myself. So, naturally, my next step is to hop on the Internet and start doing some research on the different models, pros and cons, specs, etc.

As I’m researching and poking around on different websites, I decide I want to post on Facebook about how I am searching for a good Chromebook and am open to suggestions from my network of friends.  As I start typing my post, I notice an ad in the corner for the new Toshiba Chromebook.  Coincidence?  Definitely not.

I am immune to advertising and, in fact, it turns me off to a product more than it grabs my attention.  I’ve actually stopped looking to buy a Chromebook now because my experience on Facebook made me feel so invaded, almost violated.  I was actively searching for a Chromebook, I didn’t need some sneaky, “stalkerish” advertisement algorithm reminding me of what I was interested in buying.

There are many points in the Cluetrain Manifesto that make me want to raise my smartphone in defiance to big, faceless and emotionless corporations that don’t care about their customers. I don’t view corporations as “godlike” figures.  In fact, I feel a little bit sorry for them that they are trying to convince me that seeing advertisements for an item my browser history is loaded with is pure coincidence.

“However subliminally at the moment, millions of people now online perceive companies as little more than quaint legal fictions that are actively preventing these conversations from intersecting.” – Cluetrain Manifesto

Precisely.  Let’s cut out the bullsh*t.  Stop trying to sell “my demographic” a product.  In fact, stop trying to sell me a product altogether.  If I want it, I’ll look for it.  That’s what the Internet is for.