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Where Social Media Brand Communities and Technical Writing Meet

I’ve been intrigued by both this class’s use of social media and readings about social media, as well as the changing role of technical communicators. It made me start to wonder — what if technical documentation was a social media platform?

Companies are already investing heavily in social media brand communities where they create their own internal social media sites so that customers can connect with each other and provide direct feedback to the company. Earlier research has shown that strong social media brand communities have a sense of connectedness, rituals and traditions in the form of storytelling, and a moral responsibility where users want to contribute. All of these seem like a natural fit for technical documentation.

The company where I work has a vibrant social media brand community based on a discussion forum that is accessible to customers only. Customers use it to post questions and offer support for each other. We’ve begun to integrate it with our repository of published technical documentation through shared searching and allowing for commenting directly on documents.

Using my company’s site as the primary case study, my final paper focused on pushing the boundaries of where we can go next. The idea of social media brand communities creating technical documentation fits with the trend toward user-generated content (a la Wikipedia) and would certainly change the face of technical communications. However, it might be premature to begin publishing both company-created content and customer generated content alongside each other and without distinction without a way to validate what customers write. Users need a way to know which of their peers are credible and to identify trustworthy documentation.

Until we tackle those questions of developing a trust system and a way to maintain the quality of technical documentation, there are some baby steps that both my company and other organizations can take to begin leveraging the power of the user community in technical writing. These include:

  • Integrating social media features such as commenting and “likes” with technical documentation.
  • Using viewer data to organize content and help users find what others similar to them have read.
  • Creating collaborative documents where the company partners with a customer in creating a new guide.

I think the big takeaway for me from this course and from the final paper has been how rapidly technical communication is changing. It’s an exciting time to think about all the new tools that are available, and we’ll also have to be agile and aggressive as we redefine our role in a new age of documentation.

open road horizon

TPC: More than a Writing Degree

technical-writing-Dilbert-cartoon

Technical writing is misunderstood. Reproduced: Scott Adams, Dilbert, United Feature Syndicate (1995)

Technical and Professional Communication vs. English Degree

Stuart Blythe, Claire Lauer and Paul Curran’s (2014) article, “Professional and Technical Communication in a Web 2.0 World,” reaffirms the breadth and depth of communication and web 2.0 knowledge that is needed in many job positions. However, this article specifically took account of Technical and Scientific Communication as well as Professional, Technical, Business and Scientific Writing degrees, but English degrees could also fall in this category. Since English majors potentially are doing the same types of writing, collaborating, and web 2.0 work, I’m not sure if employers valued a technical communication degree more than another English or related writing degree.

Methodology and Results of Survey

The authors surely provided an extensive methodology to discover the types of communication that TPC graduates used in their lives and the graphics equally supported their results of the study. Surprisingly, TPC graduates are employed (or studying) in “education, technical and scientific communication, and publishing and broadcasting” (p. 271) as well as more women were employed in the software, hardware, and network industries. However, the authors did say these numbers were “skewed” based on the number of male vs. female respondents. Other noteworthy statistics from this article was the most types of writing done and the ones most valued. These numbers were from the respondents; however, I wonder how their supervisors/managers’ opinions would differ? For example, Grants/proposals was eighth on the list of type of writing and sixth as most valued (proposal was not included on most valued list) and Definitions was fifth on type of writing and did not appear on the most valued list (I’m not sure what definitions means anyway). Would supervisors/managers agree with these statistics?

More Technologies Used in Writing Process

Email, not surprisingly, is the most popular type of communication written and most valued. Does this mean that colleges should teach students how to write effective email more and less about blogging? According to Russell Rutter (1991), college graduates discover that what they learned in college do not always correlate to the writing type/purpose/audience in the workplace (p. 143). On the other hand, as Blythe, Lauer and Curran (2014) noted, technical communication graduates use a multitude of technologies during the composing process from pencil and paper to social media (p. 275); likewise, Rutter noted, “technical communicators must know how to do more than write –  do more than inscribe, type or keystroke” (p. 145).

I still argue that English and other related writing degree graduates could accomplish similar tasks with a similar amount of success. Writing skills can be taught, but writing seems to be a natural ability. Rutter (1991) asserts, “Education should seek to create sensible, informed, articulate citizens. Some of these citizens will want to become technical communicators…” (p. 148).

References

Blythe, S., Lauer, C. and Curran. P. G. (2014). “Professional and technical communication in a web 2.0 world.” Technical Communication Quarterly, 23:4, 265-287. DOI: 10.1080/10572252.2014941766

Rutter, R. (1991). “History, rhetoric, and humanism: Toward a more comprehensive definition of technical communication.” Journal of Technical Writing and Communication, 21:2, 133-153.

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.

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.”

It’s Time to Talk- Mobile Etiquette

mobile use in public

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

Everyday Occurrences

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

The Facts

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

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

When is it Okay or Not Okay to Use Cell Phones

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

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

Enough is Enough: Cell Phone Crashing

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

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

AnnoyingCellPhoneGuy

Job secrets buried in texts

While I enjoy a more direct and simple approach in writing, it seems that most writing is about repetition and telling stories. Both can be good for teaching, but when you wanting to find the main point immediately, it is annoying. So for the three readings for this week, I will suggest the things that I found most helpful in creating a technical communication career.

Get your own advertisers

In “Coordinating Constant Invention: Social Media’s Role in Distributed Work” by Stacy Pigg, we are told that because of new technology and culture shifts, technical communicators will have a hard time finding jobs, unless they can create their own career themselves. The best way to do that is to find something that you love, find an angle that no one else is really doing, and then blog about it. (I know the article showed the writer getting “inspiration” from blogs that already had content similar to his, but in my opinion, why beat a dead horse?) While the writer whom Pigg described waited for advertisers to make offers to be on his blog, do not wait. Instead, join Amazon’s affiliate program and always include a product in your post. (If you do not like Amazon, there are many other affiliate programs to choose from).

Furthermore, if you are comfortable creating your own videos (your smart phone can handle it), upload them to YouTube and set up your account to monetize them. Next, blog about your video. If you market it right with a catchy title, good tags, and a good brief description, your video could go viral. Good luck!

Learn a culture for profit

 In Kenichi Ishii’s article, “Implications of Mobility: The Uses of Personal Communication Media in Everyday Life,” you get to learn how technology is received in Japanese culture. What interested me most was that the culture of the young was avoiding “direct communication” (p 349). As a technical communicator, in what ways, if any, can we use that to our advantage? While I can no longer find the link, there was a story a few years ago where a woman in Japan made a lot of money by selling videos of her staring into the video camera. I believe that she did it to help people overcome their shyness and other social anxiety issues. She probably created and published her own press releases and joined communities on social media to create a following for her work. I would suggest you doing the same (creating press releases, and joining and participating in communities). There are free press release websites available for use, and you can google how to write a press release, if you need experience with that type of writing.

It would be a good idea to learn about other cultures and try to figure out if there is a way to provide help. Your knowledge could help someone live a better life, or, at least, have a better day.

To learn more, just ask

In “Professional and Technical Communication in a Web 2.0 World,” by Stuart Blythe, he talked about creating surveys in order to gather information for his research. He provided some great tips that you can use when creating your own surveys:

  • let your users be anonymous – this way they can feel free to answer honesty
  • keep your surveys short – no more than 20 minutes. Make sure that your survey has a progress bar so people can see an ending
  • if you need a long survey, break it up in sections and send it out
  • use a web based survey – I suggest SurveyMonkey (it is free), to keep everything easy and in once place
  • post a link to your surveys on social media, email, and on your website, if applicable
  • provide plenty of choices – this way the user can click through instead of typing
  • give a deadline – make sure you give plenty of time to complete it though, such as 2-3 weeks. Follow up with a single reminder halfway through the deadline

Conclusion

While I provided just a few helpful pieces of information from the three texts to get you started in creating your own technical communication career, there are many more listed in the readings. If you have read these readings, which information did you find most helpful or intriguing?

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.

Understanding Social Media Stakeholders and Their Needs

As I read through the Using Social Media for Collective Knowledge-Making, Tweeting and Ethos, and Technical Communication Unbound articles there were two main concepts that really seemed to jump out at me – the idea of social media stakeholders, how those stakeholders use their social media tools, and how [as technical communicators] we may need to adapt our communications based upon social media channels.

SMpic1

The idea of stakeholder analysis is a way to analytically look at individuals who are impacted by a particular event/situation/problem/etc. and understand how they are impacted.  As technical communicators, by conducting stakeholder analyses we can better articulate the communication messages and more effectively design systems to better suit the stakeholder needs.  As Longo stated in her article on Using Social media for Collective Knowledge-Making, “technical communicators and teachers of technical communication are poised to understand content users now as producers and to work toward relationships between [information and communication technologies] and human interaction to design documents and content in this global context, allowing us to cross community boundaries” (2013).

This statement defines the importance around establishing stakeholders in order to build those relationships Longo describes.  If we can understand how those stakeholders use social media, we can in fact, better communicate and refine our messages to those individuals.   The following graphic by Meritus Media shows, at a high level, how many stakeholders there can be and drives out what they value.  How a customer uses Facebook is different than how an employee uses Facebook.  If we can begin to identify and analyze those stakeholders, we can truly begin those targeted communications that means something to our readers.

SMpic2

One thought, however, that was raised after reading Bowdon’s article on Tweeting an Ethos, was on how [technical communicators] use these channels.  As Bowdon found in a study he conducted, “[technical communication students] had trouble discerning and articulating the values of their various organizations, but all of the groups faced great difficult when trying to product content to post on Twitter and Facebook in order to keep up a consistent, meaningful presence on behalf of their organizations.  They were unsure how to translate that understanding into a Twitter or Facebook thread” (2013).  What this called out to me was that we, as technical communicators, need to be cognizant now only about stakeholders and how they use social media channels, but how we use social media channels to communicate with those stakeholders.

One of the biggest challenges for us will be to effectively use and communicate via social media channels.  To Bowdon’s point, delivering a message on a social media channel can be very different than drafting an e-mail or writing content for a Web site.  Learning how to translate our messages to a 140-character tweet and learning when it is most appropriate to use Facebook to share messages will become part of our skill sets that we will need to master.

SMpic3

Creating audience-driven content

I was surprised at how off-base so many of the Tweets were in Melody Bowdon’s study, “Tweeting an Ethos: Emergency Messaging, Social Media, and Teaching Technical Communication.” For example, when tweeting cbc756e8b79d10bffdf95bf729e29839to people in an emergency situation such as Hurricane Irene, the three key organizations (the American Red Cross, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and CNN), 31% of the tweets were simply promotion of their organization’s programming, like “More stormy weather in store for the U.S.? Watch on cnn.com/cnndc14.” I would say that the last thing a person in an emergency situation needs is an ad.

Bowdon said these ads “enticed readers with potential information but did not offer inherently useful content for readers.” In another tweet, the American Red Cross instructed people in the storm region to “remember to have a nonelectric can opener,” when one would think that if you don’t already have one, you’re probably not going to rush out into the storm to buy one. And these were just a few examples.

Said Bowdon, “According to our analysis, very few of the tweets conveyed audience-centered, immediately relevant, locally focused information that someone preparing for the storm would need or substantive news updates that would help people in other parts of the country to understand in detail what was  happening or specifically how they could help.” This really reflects poorly on these organizations’ ethos that they were taking up people’s valuable time with noise and self-promotion when they could have directed people to local resources that could have helped them. The risks they were running were that people would become frustrated and turn to other organizations for news, perhaps never to return.

Sadly, this is so often the case because we communicators (I’m including myself) often don’t stop to think or try to find out what our audiences really need and want and then we don’t think about the purpose of many of our communications. For example, I’ve been writing my organization’s e-newsletter for the last six years, just cranking out the information that passively trickles in to my inbox without often questioning whether it is really helpful and useful to my audience or whether the articles tie back to my organization’s strategic and annual plans.

It takes a long time to read my newsletter, as it is often 10 or more pages long, and I don’t want to waste people’s time with information that isn’t relevant for useful to them. So thinking in terms of ethos will be helpful for me when I produce future newsletters. For example, what am I saying about my organization’s ethos when I publish my newsletter, and what are the implications of that for leaders, staff and my organization’s standing within a larger organization?

I’m seeing the many different ways, aside from Twitter and aside from communicating in a disaster, that we as technical communicators can try to put a little more distance between ourselves and self-promotion and get a little closer to what readers and viewers really need and want. And we can’t wait for a disaster to start doing this; we should always be asking our readers and viewers what they need in different situations so we can be prepared with audience-driven information.

I’d like to add you to my professional network

In “Using LinkedIn to Get Work,” the authors conclude that LinkedIn is a fantastic resource for getting2015-10-31_16-28-32 a new job or new projects. As a long-time user of LinkedIn to get more work, I completely agree. I visit LinkedIn only about once a week to check who’s viewed my profile, make new connections, answer email and manage a microsite for a local chapter of a national organization (I approve or disapprove applications to join). And I have gotten many projects for my side business, Synapse Writing & Editing this way.

The secret to success is having a complete profile, which is a lot of work and depends on the cooperation of others. After plugging in all of your information, which can be extensive, you need to ask for and receive three recommendations from people with whom you’ve worked who are also on LinkedIn. After you’ve done this and achieved the “All-Star” status, you are ready for business, which includes keeping the information on the site updated, continually adding trusted connections, joining groups related to your work and, depending on your objective, checking out companies where you might want to work and making connections with people within those companies.

Truth be told, in every instance in which I’ve received a new freelance project on LinkedIn, it was from people who were searching for terms such as “medical writer” or “medical editor.” I’ve never approached a company or individual on LinkedIn for freelance work, although I have approached them about full-time job listings in order to establish some kind of connection–although that has never worked for me.

Some of the functionality on LinkedIn requires you to upgrade to the “Premium” level, in which you can see everyone who has viewed your profile, send “InMail,” see how many other people have applied for a job you’ve applied for and gauge where you stand in comparison to the other applicants. However, LinkedIn allows you to do free one-month trials of Premium every so often, which can be a big help when searching for jobs.

One feature I’ve never understood the value of is the endorsements. This features allows anyone in your network to “endorse” you for different skills, in my case writing, editing, journal management, proofreading and Web content LinkedIn-Recommendationsand design. Seems fair enough, but an endorsement isn’t the same as a recommendation, which requires you to describe how you know the person you are recommending and where  you worked together, facts that increase the legitimacy of the recommender.

But endorsers don’t have to describe your relationship with them or where (if) you worked together, and they don’t have to write anything of value to prospective employers. I have gotten tons of endorsements, many from people I don’t know and who have no idea whether I’m actually proficient at the skill for which they’re endorsing me. I’ve never participated in these endorsements for those reasons.

Overall, though, LinkedIn has been a very valuable tool for me. In many ways, it gives you access to people with whom you would have not been able to contact through traditional means, such as via email or phone. While not every connection leads to a job, or indeed, to anything, you never know when someone will remember seeing you when they need someone like you in the future. And, unless you hide your profile, you’re always visible to a network of thousands while not appearing to your employer like you’re looking for a job, because almost every professional is on LinkedIn.

Source of the graphics: LinkedIn.com

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.

Valuing and Protecting Our Internet Community

He “ruffled” me from the start.

I have been obsessively returning to this post, trying to edit the length and the “insane person on a mission against cyber crime” tone.  There have been so many revisions that I am starting to think maybe I AM a crazy person who takes the topic too personally.

Chapter 6 of Net Smart disturbed me, or rather the first page and a half did.  While I realize Rheingold’s objective was a broad discussion about internet privacy and security, and not specifically cyber crimes, the comments he did make about it were unsettling to me.  He made security invasion seem like “par for the course,” that to some extent, we should shrug off and accept it (239).

“Internet Invasion” IS a home invasion.

Internet security and data-surveillance (or “dataveillance” as Rheingold refers to) is often approached from the direction of how network users should protect themselves.  While their social media usage may provide a possible entryway for their privacy to be violated, it shouldn’t be mistaken for an open door.

There is a duality to our life.  We reside in two very real communities:  the “real world” and the virtual world.  Our cyber “dwellings” should have an assumption of safety like our physical dwellings. I would be horrified if someone entered my home uninvited and proceeded to rifle through my file cabinet, taking any document of interest.  I can’t imagine anyone suggesting that it was “to be expected.”

Guaranteed security and protection is hard to come by.

Rheingold–and many others–have no hesitation suggesting privacy violations on the internet “are to be expected.” He passively responds by telling us, “While not advocating collective surrender on the legal and judicial front, I do suggest that your best individual defense at the moment is know-how…. You will still be surveilled.  But at least you can be informed.”  I imagine if Mr. Rheingold had the same low expectations of “real world” security, when the stranger enters my house and takes the documents from my cabinet, he might say something like: “You could call the police, but let’s consider getting a locked file cabinet instead and maybe hiding the more important documents under your matress. It’s probably best to accept that things like this happen.”  I get the feeling this is when he might give me a fatherly pat on the hand.

Rheingold also mentions “privacy advocates” and how we can’t depend on them to protect us because they lack the financial and political resources to act on our behalf.  Advocates?  How about having faith in law enforcement to protect?  I realize they are busy fighting “real world” crime.  And yes, I know tax dollars are always being fought for.  But, we wouldn’t suggest the police department conserve manpower by only fighting crime in half of their local communities. We also seem happy to utilize legal and judicial means to seek fair punishment for crimes that we don’t even suffer personal harm from.  We take corporations to the “judicial mat” when we discover they have lied to stockholders about their business practices.  We force politicians, in judicial hearings,  to share humiliating details of their inappropriate personal affairs.  The guy on the other end of the computer, who is scavenging for an innocent person’s personal information, will certainly inflict personal harm to his victim.

Although I am not about to high-five the politician with a mistress, I care more about my neighbor’s identity theft causing her bank account to go into overdraft.  As an extension of either of our communities, cyber or “real world,” we need to care and be cautious that our language reflects the concerns of our neighbors.

A few years ago, I received harassing legal threats, sent from a supposed lawyer, threatening legal action.  The initial communication was sent through the mail.  He demanded I respond via email.  As the “lawyer’s” address turned out to fictitious, but they personal details of mine, I wanted to report it. I contacted the The Federal Bureau of Investigation Internet Crime Center.  They sent me to my local law enforcement.  The local police department sent me to The Federal Law Enforcement and Security Arm of the U.S Postal Servicewho also said it was not their jurisdiction.

In my situation, law enforcement was so busy identifying which “community” had responsibility that I wasn’t protected like a citizen of any of them.  When the majority–those who connect via the internet and in-person–stops diminishing their voices by endlessly discussing user responsibility and the futility of trying to protect our internet “neighborhood”–than the agencies set in place to protect us, will be compelled to evolve as well.  Then they can share responsibility for protecting citizens that are part of multiple neighborhoods.

Mapping Life

My house, could be run by librarians.  I have always had a little bit of insanity when it comes to cataloging information and trying to make it easy for others to access.  For instance, once upon a time, all of my household manuals were kept in one location.  Trial and error made me realize that this didn’t make sense.  The kitchen appliances seemed to have a greater need for me to be able to quickly access the manuals.  I moved them all to a special location in my kitchen and the rest of the manuals go in my laundry room.

And, if you don’t think that is particular enough, I have a sitemap.  In the event that a family member is watching my child, I don’t want them hopelessly frustrated trying to figure out the dust-vac.  I have a “map” of every appliance and the room where someone would need it.  It then cross-references where the accessories are for that appliance and where the instructions are.  Weird.  I know.

When I was younger, I actually thought I may need some sort of intervention because of how specific my brain was in categorizing the information that came into my house.  I used to file every article that crossed the threshold.  That got to be exhausting.  I literally had giant binders for topics.  It was a bit OCD.  I now realize that I don’t need to retain all information I come across as the internet is able to relocate almost all of it.  I have to keep myself away from magazines and let the internet (and the document designers) do what they do best, catalog the information for retrieval.

As I read chapter 4, I was all over it.  I have been doing most of it for years, even if I didn’t realize it.  My binders of information actually take a lot of work to cross-references.  While I know that I will only need some information, like when I’m cleaning or in the kitchen, for instance, I know my parents will access it randomly when watching my child.  I make sure that they can find the vacuum manual more readily than I would require it.  It is the first manual in my household binder.

This is much like the approach for structuring a website.  I know my audience.  I know what they need and I know where they will get lost trying to find it.

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.

My goal is to be unemployed

I work for a company that provides outsourced employees for a variety of industries.  I report to one company, but I represent another.  I am comfortable with this.  My loyalty can be bought for the price of my paycheck.  I can assume the culture, goals and procedures of the company that I represent, although ultimately I am not their “employee.”

My long-term goal in becoming a technical communicator is to be an outsourced employee, but without a larger “umbrella” company sending me my W-2’s each year.  I want to dictate the companies I work for and have some control over the projects I accept.  I am comfortable putting on that “company’s uniform” for a temporary time and then moving on.

I felt such joy when I read R. Stanley Dicks discuss the prediction that “many more technical communicators will be officially unemployed but constantly working.  They will be following the consulting/temp agency model that already characterizes the work of many communicators (Digital Literacy for Technical Communication, p. 59)”.  I am hoping to open a fortune cookie with just that prediction for my future:  “You will soon find yourself unemployed, but always working.”

The expansion of telecommuting opportunities is, in part, one of the catalysts that finally pushed me back into school.  I currently follow several job sites that focus on home-based and freelance work. Flexjobs.com and ratracerebellion.com consistently have an extensive list of job opportunities for telecommuters in all aspects of the technical writing field, primarily ones with technological competencies.

In 2001, I was on the verge of enrolling in a “technical writing” program, when a job offer–in an unrelated field–removed me from that path.  I went to work for a company I loved and put that plan on the “back burner.”

While I am disappointed that I allowed so much time to lapse before entering a graduate program, I am grateful for that derailment.  The technical writing program I was set to enter was very solid and respected.  But in 2001, it wasn’t very focused on digital media.  Within a few short years, their “technical writing” program became their “Technical Communications” program. It was completely revamped several times over the next few years, as they slowly began to focus the program more on the emerging use of technology.

Had I enrolled back in 2001, I would have been “getting to the party a little too early.”  Now, I don’t know that a 14 year lapse between degrees was quite necessary but…. At any rate, I cringe to think of how many competencies I would have been scrambling to learn within a year or two (maybe less) of earning that degree.

As I do work-from-home and spend a lot of time following web sites and blogs devoted to such work, I have come across many people who are constantly working as technical communicators, but as independent contractors.  I see a flood of freelance job openings in the field.  I have yet to find one person that lacks or job that doesn’t require technical skill.

I feel certain that the degree I was going to begin in 2001, is not the same degree that I will be getting now.  This is what gave me the final push to go back.  As I researched schools this time around, it was interesting to see how every strong program focused on digital media.

As R. Stanley Dicks pointed out in Digital Literacy for Technical Communication (p.52):  “It is important to remember, when discussing current and coming trends in the discipline, that they largely have to do with the tools and technologies associated with the discipline, and not the core competency skills that the discipline continues to require; that is using words and images to inform, instruct, or persuade an audience Schriver’s (1997).”  That program I was set to start 14 years ago would have given me “core competency skills,” but not what I needed to achieve my current goals.  Of course, I realize with the constantly evolving landscape of technology, there will always be new things that I need to learn to “stay on top” of the field.  I am reassured, though, that the evolution in technical communication as a whole, and the changes that have occurred in academia as a result, will enable me to start with the foundation I need.

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.

Writers, writiN & d NXT gnr8n n social media :P

text slang, emojis

In their article “The Rhetoric of Reach: Preparing Students for Tech Comm in the Age of Social Media” Hurley and Hea asked college student to reflect on the extent that social media influences writers and writing. As a whole, students were able to identity social media’s positive aspects such as staying connected to family and friends and its ability to generate hype over new products. On the other hand, students also agreed that social media generally influences writers to write carelessly and unfinished.

While I was not an English major, I do have an appreciation for good writing. Seeing postings with no particular point that incorporate emojis and shorthand slang make me cringe. Despite this, I agree with the article in that a thoughtful and active presence on social media can be beneficial and bolster careers. However, it made me question what implications will this type of writing have on our younger generations who have grown up with these types of communications?  

Besides proper spelling and grammar, penmanship is a concern of mine. I distinctly remember learning cursive in elementary school and laboring over a capital “Z” so I could write my crushes initials next to mine in the margins of my notebook. (For all of you who are wondering it would be SKJ + ZBS). While I eventually was able to master this skill and fill every space I could with our initials surrounded by a bubbly heart, it took time and perseverance.

Largely due to the excessive nature of my “doodling”, one of my friends told Zach and soon everybody in the class knew. To my disappointment, Zach did not share my feelings and that was the end of my third grade crush. While the love between us didn’t pan out, my love of cursive and penmanship did. My handwriting, (most of which is cursive) is something I pride myself on to this day. After a quick Google search, I discovered that many states are no longer are teaching cursive in elementary schools. While its not completely shocking, it is slightly disappointing to learn that good handwriting is no longer a vital form of commutation.

At the same time, I wouldn’t say that computers and our use of social media are entirely to blame. I simply find it interesting how communication has progressed and the effects it has and will have on writers of future generations. The digital landscape is evolving, and if we want to survive we have to keep up– emojis, shrt& & aL 🙂

Vacations from Technology

For workers, the Internet and its supporting technologies have changed the way businesses are run. With all the benefits, there are also drawbacks. The work/family borders can easily blur, as employees can be accessible throughout the entire waking hours, both during work and family times. This paper aims to analyze the expectations of digital technology, and specifically, how we define a successful work/family dynamic, best communication methods, and examples of planning for a vacation from technology. It also attempts to examine the broader implications of always being tethered to the workplace.

The value of a writer

Zachry and Ferro’s article, Technical Communication Unbound, helped me organize my thoughts on a topic that has been circulating in my mind for some time: the value of a writer.

This particular part of their article was the source of inspiration for the topic of this post:

“..it now appears that the tasks of those working in the profession are necessarily expanding to include such concerns as real-time monitoring of texts and other communicative performances that circulate in the network of social media.”

Since the responsibilities of a writer are evolving and expanding, I would hope that this means that the respect and appreciation for tech writers is increasing with it.

In my own personal experience, this is not so.  At my place of employment, more importance is placed on skills such as design or coding, which has been made completely clear to me from recent conversations with my boss.  In fact, I’ve been told that my position as a content writer, “requires no real skills.”

With the emergence of social media and its emphasis on shorthand writing forms, it is easy for one to think less of writing or not even think of it as a useful skill at all.

I suppose that I worry that, with the increase of responsibilities, tech writers will be thought of more as an administrative assistant with a laundry lists of tasks to accomplish and less like a professional with useful skills.

Digital Communication: Accomodate differences or establish a universal standard?

Barry Thatcher’s article, Understanding Digital Literacy Across Cultures, brings up one of the most important, but rarely discussed aspect of digital communication: cultural differences.  No matter where we are in the world, we can access the Internet from the same types of devices, but not always the same websites.  Or, sometimes one website is adapted to display differently according to region and native language.  We are using the same Internet, but not always viewing, absorbing and processing the same things.

I work for an ecommerce web design company that is based in the US but works with several contractors in Pakistan and India.  Aside from working with people overseas on a regular basis, we get clients from all over the world.  Lately, I have been noticing that a lot of our clients want bi or multilingual websites, which, from a coding and design standpoint, can be complicated and ultimately expensive.  Additionally, a lot of the major ecommerce platforms we work with will allow multi-language support, but only with a lot of custom coding, which, again, can be quite expensive.

One of the most complex problems we have yet to find a solution to is the ability to create a bi or multilingual ecommerce store with the checkout process to be in the language of the shoppers’ choosing.  Yes, even with custom-coding and advanced functionality, it is incredibly difficult to translate the checkout process in a language other than English with a hosted ecommerce platform.

Thatcher’s article had me thinking of this particular issue because we are able to translate every part of the online shopping experience except for the most important: the checkout.  This is where actual money is exchanged and people want this to feel the most comfortable, but we are unable to do that for them.  I’ve been doing some research on this for work and I have discovered that many international shoppers simply accept this as the norm, but I feel like it is unfair for this to be so.

Ultimately, cultural differences on the Internet have led me to contemplate the benefits and downfalls of ignoring cultural norms an instead create a universal, digital culture with its own set of beliefs, language and functions.  Some may argue that this already exists, but as Thatcher has us realize, we have only been viewing the Internet through a North American lens.  The Internet is different everywhere and we need to take that into consideration more often.

Task-based communication: Should we change the online infrastructure?

Where do we come off knowing how a user will access the web? With Google, I can find something that’s deep within a site, and avoid all the crumbs to get to the page I wanted. In Spilka’s book, Ann Blakeslee makes the good point that technical communicators need to shift from “developing documentation based on what writers think their readers need,” to how they “will actually use the information to complete a task” (p. 216). Luckily, we expect repetition in both communication and online. So we can have the same information on more than one page on a website to make sure someone sees it, even if they skipped the two pages leading up to the page they sought.

That is the science. The art is how much to say and what to omit so as to keep the added value of visiting the site (so it’s not just ten pages of the same information over and over again). But, I think that’s a secondary concern. The first concern is to have a task-based infrastructure so that the audience can find what they’re looking for, and not have to sift through paragraphs of information. About the ‘how much to add where’ question, I think it’s a constant challenge to keep tweaking. From my personal experience, I’d rather have a straightforward answer to my query, and then I can dive into the hyperlink tunnel to find more answers if I so wish. That way I do get to know what the website has to offer, just not in a linear manner.

So should we change to a task-based communication? Yes. If you think not, I’d love to hear why; I am open to changing my mind on this if I hear a compelling reason.

Frames and Ethical Implications in a Digital Being World

This week, I was really into reading about “The Digital Being” as discussed in regards to the Being Frame.

I became engrossed in the idea of how ever-growing and expanding ranges of technologies “continue to sweep over culture and into our organizations” so much that as noted, practitioners and scholars must learn to understand and address the ethical implications (241).  One way, according to Digital Literacy this week, is to understand the ethical frames of technical relations.   And I could not help but think here about Mr. Clinton for some reason, denying any “relations” with that woman, Monica Lewinsky.   It is just where my mind unexpectedly wandered when I read the word relations.   I suppose in the context of living in a world where we now must consider our technical relations in addition to our personal relations, it does seem appropriate to connect to the idea of ethics and how this inevitably will always come back to any relationship we have.

One of the most powerful ideas, for me, was this about our digital being from Katz and Rhodes: “Digital being has enabled us to forget that our values, our thinking, and our work are heavily defined by our technology, and that much of our life now exists outside our flesh, essentially in digital bodies” (239).   Suddenly, just after reading this, I had a vision of my family, friends, and colleagues as these digital beings, and then I thought, how much of their real selves do I really know?  What ethical implications does this have on my relationships and the way we might treat each other?  Do their digital beings treat others differently than their flesh selves?   I basically sat with lots of questions on my mind, and I saw the world almost in a very Matrix-like fashion where I am not sure who the real person is when I meet someone compared to the digital person.

Another idea developed under this one is that the digital being has now taken over in a way that we are not as capable as people of the past, and our “digital machines have literally replaced our ‘mental storage’ of ‘information’…” (239), especially when it comes to the workplace and writing.  The specific example was how new employees struggle with writing and spelling because we are so programmed to use spell-check and grammar check systems that we no longer store the necessary information to become efficient writers.  I see this with students, also.  I also see it in math with the use of calculators.  I have a friend who teaches math prep courses, and she tells me often of students who do not know their multiplication tables without the use of a calculator (these are adult learners.)   And so now, I see that their digital being has learned these skills in a digital fashion, and when stripped of the technology tool, they are left lacking fundamental skills to survive in the work world and world in general.  Are we to expect that is okay because it is the way they have learned?   I find a little bit of an ethical struggle right here alone.  What is the responsibility of humans today in these contexts?

The other ethical frame I want to address briefly here is the Thought Frame and quickly tie it into the Digital Being.  The last questioning thoughts from the section on “Thought  Frame” really had me thinking about my organization: “Does your organization conceptualize or refer to communication as a transmission of information from sender to receiver? Does it regard emotional response in the workplace as noise in the system?” (237).    If we are very much defined by our digital beings in the workplace, and we communicate via email, videos,  webinars, podcasts, social media, and texting more than we do f2f, isn’t it much easier to become just a receiver in the system?   When our authentic selves present an emotional response to something, do we just become noise that interrupts the system?  When are we allowed to present our deep, meaningful self versus our digital being?  Is there a more appropriate time for one than the other?  I find that I am weighing heavily how technology has changed relations and ethics together on a very basic human level: how we see how our selves and how we then communicate with each other.

Too Much Technology Creates Communication Problems

According to Bernadette Longo, everyone has a voice, but we do not hear some voices in the digital world.  So who determines which voices we hear?  I thought this was a great conversation starter.  I consider the World Wide Web a place where anyone can say anything, although we do not always hear the people with the best voices, but instead the people with the most popular voices.  In our culture, people expect to be able to say whatever they would like freely.  People promote the ideas they like the most, which is why we hear the most popular voices.  Thus far, I have used the term “voice” to represent a person’s digital thoughts, opinions, and ideas.   However, perhaps a little ironic, I think our ability to use our “voice” to communicate with another digital has led to the decline in our ability to communicate with each other in the physical world.  I believe that too much technology has created a community of people who feel comfortable enough to hide behind their computers and use their voices, but uncomfortable or intimidated in real communication settings.  Is technology creating social barriers or social connections?

Dating.  Over the past 10 years, the stigma of online dating has worn off as people are warming up to the concept.  But has starting an online dating profile affected our ability to communicate with one another?  Perhaps.  Online dating may hinder our ability to notice social cues and judge someone’s body language.  Quoted in a CNN article, Blake Eastman, a body language expert said, “People have an easier time picking out an emoticon to display the emotion they are feeling rather than actually showing it on their face” (Strickland, 2013).  Also quoted in the same article, dating coach Adam LaDolce says that people are fearful of rejection and, as a result, look to hide behind the computer screen instead of seeking organic relationships.  In my opinion, online dating can be useful for people who may having trouble meeting a mate in their daily life, but I am definitely a proponent for emerging from a hermit crab shell, venturing out in public, and striking up a conversation with a real person.  I think so much of communication, body language for instance, happens when we are with another person, and that aspect of communication is impossible to achieve through online dating.

Job Recruiting.  Qualman mentions the increase in online job recruiting.  Previously, employers paid big bucks to a “middleman,” such as a headhunter or agency, to seek out potential employees.  However, online job recruiting has eliminated the need to hire or pay for such services.  Now, websites such as a LinkedIn, enable employers and employees to directly contact one another.  Unlike Facebook or a similar social network, LinkedIn is strictly professional and allows users to post resume-like information on their profiles.  Users can also directly look at job postings and reach the hiring contact with the company.  LinkedIn can be a great tool for all parties.  However, does online job recruiting affect real life communication?  I think it can have an impact.  Before, professional social networking websites became popular, people contacted potential employers through written and verbal communication.  Today, people still do.  However, I think literacy skills as a whole are declining, and now the quality of the information people transmit to potential employers had decreased.  Especially if people are using sites like LinkedIn as their sole form of communication.  Furthermore, the quantity of information has decreased.  As mentioned in a previous week’s readings, people now seek speedy, truncated answers and do not spend time writing well-developed, quality responses.

Although I think human-machine relationships deteriorate human communication skills, I do not think they are entirely bad.  I believe that online communication can greatly affect our ability to communicate in person.  If we constantly meet people online, we will eventually lose our ability to interact in person and social skills will become nonexistent.  People need to use their “voices” to help, not hinder, their personal relationships with one another so that they do not ruin their real “voices.”

References

Strickland, A. (2013, Feb 12). The lost art of offline dating. Retrieved from http://www.cnn.com/2013/02/12/living/lost-art-offline-dating/

Bungee Jumping and Other Acts of Agility

The theme of this week’s readings, for me, was “be nimble!”

The rather sobering cautionary tale, “The Effects of Digital Literacy on the Nature of Technical Communication Work” by Stanley Dicks suggests that technical communicators must reposition, redefine, and sometimes re-educate themselves to become symbolic-analytic workers instead of commodity workers if they are to survive and thrive in the new post-industrial, globalized economy. Chapters 4 and 6 of Socialnomics suggests the same about companies and organizations who want to survive and thrive in the new marketplace.

Dicks’ discussion of the move to a support economy where the “customer will become the center of the support economy universe” (56) helped me to understand better the implications of the Web 2.0 technologies.  The customized, transparent, interactive world that customers and consumers are become accustomed to and indeed, are starting to expect, is driving the nature of work in many fields and determining what is and will be valued in the workplace.  Technical communicators have to determine and communicate how they are adding value to an organizations’ main mission.  They can do this by showing how they contribute to cost reduction, cost avoidance, revenue enhancement, and intangible values, none of which have traditionally been easy for technical communicators to do (61-62).

Another value of this weeks’ readings for me is Dicks’ discussion of management principles.  Although I’d heard about most of these principles, either formally or by osmosis, I hadn’t ever considered the degree to which they would affect the profession of technical communicators.  (I was a little thrown off by his explanation of the benefits to “employees” at the bottom of p. 64 until I realized this had to be a typo and meant “employers” – how could these benefit employees, I wondered!).

Probably the most interesting and enlightening discussion in Dicks was the explanation and implications of single sourcing work for technical communicators. I could see that this work could remove the “sense of accomplishment and pride that, for many technical communicators, is practically their only job satisfaction” (69).  I was thinking as I read it that creating the framework for all those “chunks” of information could be considered symbolic-analytic work and should contribute greatly to the value of the core mission, and it seems like Dicks did suggest some optimism on that point (69).

The Qualman chapters, as always, made for lively and engaging readings, and along with the supplemental site, are still very relevant.  I think he is most astute when discussing case histories such as the 2008 Obama campaign and making the case that Obama wouldn’t be president without social media.  Obama had such huge advantage over McCain in terms leveraging social media engagement―3.1 million vs. 614,000 fans on FB; 883,161 vs. 217,811 friends on MySpace, and 113,00 Twitter followers compared to 4,650 (62-63).  On the other hand, I would have liked to see more on his site discussing the 2012 election, but I only saw one article from March 29 asking “Who’s winning the social media race – Obama or the Republicans?”  It had a lot of numbers, but very little analysis, which was maybe the point.

The site features a lot of other content, and I bookmarked it to stay in touch.  My favorite this week is “Jimmy John’s: Serving Up Freaky Fast Tweets,”  by Kevin O’Connell.  Read it here: http://www.socialnomics.net/2013/09/27/jimmy-johns-serving-up-freaky-fast-tweets/. I’m mulling over how to enhance my “digital voice,” which I’d never even heard of just a few weeks ago…

On the other hand, the subject about which I find Qualman least persuasive, and this has come up in previous chapters, is that the digital world is making it possible for people to live their own lives rather than living vicariously through someone else’s:  “It is without question ‘cooler’ to say you are bungee jumping off a remote mountain pass overhang in New Mexico than updating your status with ‘I’m watching the latest adventure reality series’ “(122).  Anecdotally, I don’t see that at all.  In fact, according to a study last July, “Overall, we here in the U.S. spend roughly 20 percent of our time on personal computers liking, tweeting, pinning, whatever it is we do on Tumblr and other stuff on social media, and 30 percent of our time on our mobile devices doing the same” (Popkin).  Now, for all I know that is just replacing the television-watching, time-wasting black hole of the old days, but it doesn’t make me too optimistic about bungee-jumping.

bungee jumping

You can get this bungee-jumping simulator from Layernet.com on Amazon for 9.99 and avoid finding the nearest cliff to jump off of, which would be my preference, since I have a rather inordinate fear of heights.  Will “simulating” life go out with the brave new Internet world? Qualman optimistically hopes so. (http://www.amazon.com/Layernet-40394ping-Simulator-Jumping-Download/dp/B003YDXF2A)

As usual, I find him most persuasive when analyzing business and marketing strategies of the old versus new media, such as the “Referral Program on Steroids” (129).  His example of Amazon’s “network universe” versus the network of one’s preferred social media network was enlightening in showing how the “referral floodgates have been opened” (132).  So, I think that is my challenge in becoming “nimble” in my current workplace – how can I open the referral floodgates using social media?  And, how will I become nimble enough to enter the symbolic analytic technical communicator workforce of tomorrow (which was actually yesterday)?

References

Popkin, H.S. (4 Dec. 2012). “We spent 230,060 years on social media in one month.” CNBC.com. http://www.cnbc.com/id/100275798

Is the Internet Considered Real World?

A little funny story about technology before I get started on my reaction to this week’s readings. My sister attends UW-Stout and her boyfriend lives in Minneapolis. They use Skype every night to talk to one another, however, the internet was out for 4 days at her boyfriend’s apartment and I got a text at 10 PM at night asking if he could come over to use our internet so he could Skype my sister. I told him sorry and that I was going to sleep and I found out the next day that they had actually gotten in a fight because “talking on the phone is not the same as Skype-ing” and he felt that they weren’t able to connect in the same way! It’s interesting to think that technology has hindered our ability to be flexible. It’s as if we’ve come to expect certain things from our technology and when it fails, we don’t know what to do! Just something interesting to think about!

Chapter 9

“As an ethnical frame of being in this world, it is not only natural to us, but also transparent and invisible.”

At the beginning of the chapter, Katz and Rhodes talk about whether or not it’s hypocritical to refers to their clients in a different way in internal or external communication. When I worked for Target as an assistant manager, they referred to their employees as “team members” and the customers as “guests.” Early on in the training process, I was actually corrected by an intern from corporate for using the incorrect terms. ha! My point is, Target used these terms internally and externally, which I appreciated for consistency, even if it did seem a little (okay, a LOT) like corporate fluff.

“…the virtual reality of media has become as real as, or more real to us than the tangible world” (p. 238). That’s a pretty bold statement that would be interesting to research. For me, I don’t think that’s the case at all. Granted, I don’t participate in too many forms of social networking and I’m far from being plugged in all the time (except for at work, when I stare at a computer screen for the majority of the day…blah!) and it would be interesting to know how many people do feel that way.

Katz and Rhodes talk about how the words and structure we use in email reveal our relationship with the person we’re sending the email to. For me, in the work place, this is very true. There are some co-workers I can write an email to in 10 seconds and not give it a second thought, while there are others, I have really think about how I structure sentences and word things, not to mention re-reading it over and over before I hit send, because of the nature of the subject and who it’s being sent to. Another factor that causes me to pause is the fact that emails are permanent to some degree, so what you type can be forwarded, printed and passed on, so if there’s something really sensitive, it’s sometimes best to pick up the phone or talk to someone face-to-face.