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How to run a business as a technical communicator

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

Keep busy with social media

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

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

Stay positive and audience-centered

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

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

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

Conclusion

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

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Communicating virtually through virtual communities

 

As I think about the idea of communities, I think about growing up and the vast array of community-based arenas I found myself to be a part of including, 4-H, FFA, my local church affiliate, softball team, basketball team, and so on.  Each of these organizations provided me with a different community and each had different, unified goals.  But more importantly, these communities allowed me to network, coordinate, cooperate, and collaborate.  What is important to highlight is: these four qualities you can find through in-person community based situations are the same qualities that drive virtual communities, in which we are all interconnected through like-minded goals and commonalities.

virtual community

Graphic courtesy of newmediastudies401

In my previous blog entries, I have at times referred to the work I am currently doing in my organization in order to develop an internal employee blog for my Information Technology (IT) department.  This blog, in and of itself, is a form of a virtual community designed to bring like-minded professionals together in order to acquire information.  And at the crux of virtual community development is this idea of collaboration, which, as Rheingold puts it, “has transformed not only the way people use the Internet but also how information is found” (2014).
The idea for developing this internal blog as a way to improve staff communication with each other, initially spawned from the excessive time it took to develop an employee newsletter (which I was the only one writing).  However, through the development of a blog, I would (in theory) have the opportunity to invite blog authors and co-contributors on board to create content.  As a lone communications role in my department, I can tell you it is difficult to build a community of trust and engagement if you’re the only one contributing.

rheingold quote

One of the most interesting things that Rheingold discusses in his book Net Smart, How To Thrive Online, is this idea of “collective intelligence” that can be pertinent in order to make an online community successful.  The tips he provided are as following (Rheingold, 2014):

  1. In order to build trust in an online network, foster conversations
  2. Ensure there is a diversity of participants within your community
  3. Provide continual options to for all community members to collaborate
  4. Offer this community as a place to share knowledge and make it easy for people to share

As we think about designing and establishing new online communities, understanding these types of drivers for a virtual community can help us to shape the community group and to foster more of those four qualities I previously referred to:  Networking, Coordination, Cooperation, and Collaboration (Rheingold, 2014).

Have you ever participated in online/virtual communities?  As a participant what are some of the expectations you have in these communities?

The Circle of Trust

This week’s readings deal with privacy, trust, and ethics in the digital world. The Schofield and Joinson piece, “Privacy, Trust, and Disclosure Online,” and the Katz and Rhodes piece in Rachel Spilka’s Digital Literacy for Technical Communication, “Beyond Ethical Frames of Technical Relations,” really approach the same question from different directions. What does it take to gain user trust and maintain integrity in an increasingly digital world?

Schofield and Joinson (2008) argue that privacy and trust “interact in determining online behavior” (p. 24). They discuss multiple dimensions of both privacy and trust, and they suggest that users often rely on some combination of these components of privacy and trust to guide their purchasing decisions and online behavior.

As digital communities grow, members look for ways to verify that other members are who they say they are. Schofield and Joinson (2008) point out that there are many ways to build trust online such as use of profiles, photographs, media switching, and linguistic cues (p. 21). Individuals use these tactics to build trust among other individuals, but how do companies gain the trust of their customers?   The below comic strip is a good example of how companies do not gain customer trust:

Schofield and Joinson suggest that assuring customers that the information they disclose and the transactions they conduct will be dealt with appropriately and competently is an important building block for user trust. Also important is the company’s reputation; if people believe that they can trust a name, this belief can be more influential on purchasing behavior than trust building techniques such as privacy seals and statements.

While conducting business online might require disclosure of more personal information than it does in person, it also offers benefits such as “personalized service, convenience, improved efficiency” (p. 17). As online business continues to grow, this is evidently an acceptable tradeoff to many users. I know that when I am faced with the choice of going on a retail hunt for vacuum cleaner bags in the rain or giving Amazon my address and credit card number and having the vacuum cleaner bags delivered to my door, I almost always choose the latter.

Similarly, many users appreciate the personalized aspects and conveniences of online shopping, which are enabled by user tracking. Schofield and Joinson (2008) assert that users who maintain the same pseudonym in multiple online arenas can be tracked more effectively than users who switch pseudonyms from site to site (p. 26). As pseudonyms protect a person’s identity, I’m not sure why it’s beneficial for a person to have multiple pseudonyms. I tend to think consumers benefit more from enabling companies to track their usage in order to provide them with better products, recommendations, and customer service than from maintaining multiple pseudonyms in order to inhibit user tracking and preserve the notion of privacy.

Katz and Rhodes (2010) argue that “to stay competitive, as well as avoid potential crises, organizations and the professionals within them must both acknowledge and actively engage in multiple ethical frames of technical relations” (p. 230). Essentially, this is also an argument about establishing and maintaining trust and identity through a digital medium.

The 6 ethical frames Katz and Rhodes present explain how we use technical relations to achieve certain goals. Rhodes’ study, in which she examines Email as A Tool and an End, Email as Values and Thought, and Email as a Way of Being, demonstrates that depending on how we use it, email technology can be: both a means and an end, a value system, a method of rational calculation, and an extension of individual consciousness- or some combination of these. Even in the lowest common denominator of these ethical frames, where email is considered a tool, email is the mechanism that facilitates achieving a common goal through a digital medium, which requires at least some notion of trust and integrity.

Katz and Rhodes (2010) offer, “In delineating the ethical frames of technical relations that define human-machine interactions, we therefore recognize the socially dynamic and constructed nature of ethics; indeed because we do, we hold that technology both instantiates and helps construct social and moral values” (p. 231). This statement illustrates the bidirectional relationship between technology and social and moral values; ethics is a fluid concept that changes as social norms change. Social norms are changing as a result of technology, and thus the ethical frames of technical relations offer us a way to correlate the changing use of technology with corresponding ethical implications.