Blog Archives

Organizational Ethos in Crises Management

Crises Management in the Shadows of Self-Promotion

Melody Bowden’s Tweeting an Ethos:  Emergency Messaging, Social Media, and Teaching Technical Communication focused on the ethos that organizations encourage through their social media posting.  Her viewpoint that such groups have a duty to put their audience’s needs first was eye opening.  Meeting the reader’s expectations contributes to the organizational ethos, but Bowden also suggested that organizations have some responsibility in facilitating an informed community.

I think that most of us anticipate that an organization or corporation, when communicating via non-cyber media, will put their own agenda first.  Oh, sure… We expect them to spin their message so there is the appearance of truly caring about the audience; but, we still notice the shameless plugs, the product placement, or the solicitation for a donation.  We get glimpses of what the organization is really after and usually it isn’t just to be helpful, devoid of an ulterior motive.

Bowden’s study revealed that in a time of crises the Twitter posts by both CNN and the American Red Cross had the highest concentration of tweets fall into the category of “self-referential posts designed to promote the organizations’ programming and accomplishments” (P. 46).  I am not surprised.   But reading about Bowden and her student’s surprise, made me reexamine how I think technical communicators and the groups they represent should present themselves in social media and why social media is different.

Questioning How Social Media is Different 

She suggests that, for the sake of ethos, organizations should not focus so heavily on self-promotion.  She explains, “Technical communication scholars need to continue to study…how these forums can be used to promote a safe and informed citizenry as well as the objectives of corporations, nonprofit organizations, and government agencies” (P. 50).  I find it interesting that she mentions “a safe and informed citizenry.”  This statement seems to be referencing the internet as a community.   This “community” concept has been a subject of controversy in many of our readings.  So, if we accept the internet as a type of “community” does this really make these groups responsible for fostering it?  Or, is she only referring to the specific real world citizens of the community where the crises is occurring?

Additionally, if she is saying that organizations should abandon self-promotion to focus on the needs of an actual non-digital community in crises, then why don’t we have those expectations of the communication that occurs in those communities offline?  Why is this study about the organizational ethos as it applies to social media and not championing organizational ethos as it pertain to all media?  For instance, I lived in Florida for the last 28 years.  I am no stranger to hurricane season.  The television stations, newspapers, radio stations, local organizations and even home improvement stores, grocery stores and convenience stores would get involved in storm preparedness outreaches.  And when disaster struck, they had a plan for reaching out to the community, but you could always see the company promoting itself alongside those efforts.  It was expected.

I am also wondering how an organization can afford to not take advantage of these situations. Perhaps they should not be so overt in their self-promotion, but they may not have this exact audience in front of them except in times of crises.  If they don’t get their message to them now, when will they?  The audience is using the organization for something they need.  Why can’t the organization saturate it in their own message?  Annoying?  Yes.  A bit uncouth?  Probably.  But expected?  Understandable? Kind of.

An Inspiring Future

Before anyone misunderstands my Devil’s advocate type thought process, I am not disparaging or arguing her ideas.  Bowden opened my eyes to a whole set of possibilities.  I actually like the idea of a technical communicator as a facilitator of community who provides a service-oriented message to the reader.  The questions about how to go about it and how to preserve ethos are fascinating.  I think serving the community while somehow satisfying the objectives of an organization sounds both challenging and inspiring.  The questions that I have shared are ones that I continue to play around with in my head.  I rather like this new vision of where technical writing can go and I look forward to seeing how these concepts evolve.

Branding and online communication by people, not machines

I had a thought about something B. Longo said in her article, “Using social media for collective knowledge-making: Technical communication between the global north and south,” when she said that technical communicators first began writing content for the web with an authoritative voice, and then changed it to a more approachable, interactive platform (p. 4). My question that I pose to you, my smart-as-a-whip classmates is this: How does a company remain authentic, keep up its brand, and stay somewhat colloquial when writing for the web?

Can we as technical communicators help our company maintain its brand when we create the approachable content–that must come from us and our experiences at some point? (Or do all employees contribute a certain bit to the brand of a company?) Just a thought I wanted to throw out to you guys.

Blogging. It’s grown on me.

I think at first, blogging had a negative connotation due to many people using it as an online, public diary. Now, there’s still that genre, as well as any other type of information mecca one might seek. I’ve thought about blogging. And haven’t because the dedication to come up with something readable every week or day or month is daunting. And I would have to inevitably choose between quality or quantity.

For work, I publish mini blogs about our product portfolio and keep the tone professional and in line with our company’s branding. I am an avid fan of one blogger who posts great recipes on her My New Roots page. They’re delicious.

I found the “Why We Blog” PDF useful in that it organized thoughts I’ve had about blogging into readable points. For example, why bloggers are motivated–why someone would invest a huge amount of time to create a blog.

Week 5 | Digital Technology Gives Power to the Little Guy

If He-man were a technical communicator in the age of social media

Social media and personal computers at every work space has cut out a lot of middle men and shifted power from a few big entities to many individuals. It is a fundamental shift and the overarching theme between Spilka and Qualman readings this week.

Many people have heard how online news and content is quickly diminishing the viability of printed newspapers and magazines. Readership of printed newspapers has declined. People don’t have to wait for the news to break, be printed, and get distributed. Even more, social media is changing who is distributing the news.

Qualman features a hypothetical news story example involving the car accident of a U.S. senator from Idaho. Both a popular newspaper conglomerate in New York a local political enthusiast blogger cover the story. In the end, more people probably read this news from the blogger than the news source because the blogger knew more about the local senators, was able publish the news online faster, and offered her content free. Her friends read the blog post, and her friend’s friends keep passing the word on. People get news with less of a middle man like a news organization. It is an interesting case study that shows the power may be shifting to bloggers. Qualman (p. 12) states that newspapers can’t just get by on delivering news to stay viable. Instead, the newspaper must provide analysis and commentary.

I have to note, however, that the reputation of the newspaper must have some merit. I would more likely click on the newspapers link on the story than the bloggers link on the story. I might not have guessed the blogger to be a credible source on the topic. If I could not read an article because a subscription was required, I’d search for another name in news who was delivering the news story for free.

I appreciated Table 1.1 (Spilka p. 24-25), but I would have understood the example faster if I would have known who the large employer was. I wasn’t sure at first what point the table was trying to make, being that the technical communicator’s role in a large corporation has changed drastically since the 1970s. My guess is the table is a case study of IBM because the company went from making mainframe computer systems to PCs to networks and databases like Watson, the supercomputer.

Spilka reviewed how technology has fundamentally changed the role of the technical communicator. I believe technology has changed every field of work, nonetheless, Spilka made an important point. Before personal computers desktop publishing, communication would have to go through a lengthy production process. But now, the power shifted from a technical communicator who could not produce communication to a technical communicator who could do it all—create and produce.

By being able to do it all, so to speak, bloggers and technical communicators can reach niche markets and small interest groups like never before. Traditional media’s content like TV and newspapers is generated by only a few and is good for reaching the masses. On the other hand, internet’s content is generated by many. Social media has created a huge shift in information holders and distributors (Qualman, p. 11). People are web authors through wikis, they develop micro content with blogs, and interface in an online software applications, thus cutting out the middle man TV or newspaper distributing the content. Like never before, an individual has power and influence.