tcworld interview: Technical Communication and social media

tcworld maagxine 2013The July 2013 edition of tcworld magazine contains an interview with Cherryleaf’s Ellis Pratt on technical communication and social media.

The magazine also includes an article by Sarah Maddox (now at Google) on how technical communicators can use Twitter in technical communication.

We’re not certain when/if the online version will be uploaded to the tcworld site, but we’ll add a link to the article as soon as we can.

Update: You can view it online.

Unifying conversation and instruction in business communication

One of the challenges organisations face is how to create a system that unifies all the different ways its staff communicate information. That’s because conversation (written and oral) can be very different from instructional information.

For example, conversations are often reflective, insightful and repetitive, whereas instructions are typically results-driven, concise and commanding.

We can see from the video clip below, by storyteller Daniel Morden, how the nature of oral storytelling differs from the written word:

If we cannot access both forms of communication, we’re getting an incomplete picture. Somehow an organisation needs to provide the correct form of communication to staff and end users at the right time.

Although Search can provide part of the answer, there’s also a need to provide links to the different “channels”. This means, in addition to technical solutions (which look to unify different forms of information), someone needs to curate and edit the content.

I’m not sure this challenge will ever be fully resolved, but it’s a goal worth pursuing in nearly every organisation.

Report reveals Cherryleaf has Europe’s most influential blog on technical communication

Mindtouch has published a report on the Most Influential Technical Communicator Bloggers. Cherryleaf’s blog, managed by Cherryleaf’s Sales and Marketing director Ellis Pratt, comes in at No.5, and is the highest ranking blog located outside of the USA.

The purpose of this blog is to explore the value of technical documentation in all its forms. We’re asking “how we can be more effective and more efficient in what we deliver for our customers and their users?”, and “how can we best demonstrate and measure the value of what we do?”. Judging by this report, these issues are of interest to others as well.

Fitting technical documentation into a Social Web strategy

Social Media experts, such as David Armano, of Dachis Corp, are proposing new business measures for assessing the effectiveness of social media marketing. Armano is proposing five key measurement factors:

  1. Attention: how many people are clicking on your site, blogs or tweets?
  2. Engagement: how much interaction there is between the community and you?
  3. Authority: your influence in the community and on the Web?
  4. Virality: how your information spreads by digital word of mouth?
  5. Health: the strength of the community and your online presence?

His slideshow covers this in more detail:

 

So can technical documentation be “re-framed” to meet these criteria? If so, will its value to the business become clearer?

I would suggest the most Documentation Managers would see these measurement factors playing to the strengths of technical documentation.

It wouldn’t take a great deal of effort to incorporate these factors into a documentation strategy. Be doing this, the efforts of the Technical Publications department would assist in maximising an organisation’s Social Web marketing efforts.

As a side effect, it could also move technical publications towards the centre of many modern organisations’ core activities.

The “Beyond Documentation” Webinar videos

Scriptorium Inc has uploaded the “Beyond Documentation” Webinar Ellis delivered back in August 2009. In this session he looked at the future of technical writing and likely changes to the ways in which user assistance is delivered.

We asked:

  • Are we moving beyond documents?
  • If so, what does this mean for technical communicators?

Part 1:


Part 2:

Part 3:

Part 4:

Part 5:

You can see more videos on Cherryleaf’s YouTube channel.

 

Your future as a republisher

Visualisation Magazine has created a diagram showing how you can use Web 2.0 tools to increase the number of readers of your content – “building an online presence”. It shows the extent to which content can be republished today, through free sites, Web feeds and embedded content. It also shows how you can monitor and receive statistical information on its progress.

So why keep your content tucked away in a Help file, when it can be republished in some many other places as well?

Link to an explanation of the diagram.

Transatlantic video interview with Anne Gentle on the Social Web for Documentation

We’ve just uploaded a 15 minute extract from a transatlantic video interview I recently conducted with Anne Gentle, where we talked about The Social Web for Documentation

The sound is a little patchy on the first slide, but it improves afterwards.

A longer, 37 minute, version will be available to anyone who purchases the Cherryleaf Learning Zone service.

Is search dying? Your manual within 140 characters?

Internet Psychologist Graham Jones wrote an article last week, in which he stated, search is dying, and is being replaced by sharing information socially.

“So worried is Microsoft about Google that they haven’t realised that Google is not their real competition any more. It is the likes of Twitter and Ecademy…Google already knows this. Much of their labs work and their adaptations of what they already offer are geared to sharing information socially. They realise that search as we know it is dying. Microsoft is so focused on fighting Google, they haven’t realised they are on the wrong battlefield.”

Let’s assume Graham is correct. Where does this leave online user assistance?

Since Online Help was introduced, technical communicators have provided hypertext links, key word search and an index to help users find information.

Today, there is greater emphasis on key word search (finding stuff via Google), and we’ve seen a few authors add tag clouds too.

So how could online user assistance (“Help”) be shared socially? Is it likely that someone will respond to each question by tweeting a link to a particular page in a Help file?

That’s incredibly labour-intensive. For Support teams to answer queries via Twitter might be less time-intensive than responding to emails, but it may be difficult to provide an answer within 140 characters. Most likely, they could provide to links to places where the question is answered.

We’ve talked about the emergence of “landing pages” in Web based Help (so have Michael Hughes and Matthew Ellison),  and that may be a less intensive way to guide people to the information they need. By this I mean, point people towards say 6 landing pages, from which they can be guided quickly to the information they need.

It may also be difficult for users to pose their questions within the limitations of Twitter.

A more likely scenario, I believe, would be to create Twitter avatars. The fictional characters from “Mad Men” post regular tweets about their imaginary lives. If Don Draper and Peggy Olsen can tweet, then why not create a personas for your customers and let them do the same? Billy the Beginner and Patty the Power user, for example? Their posts could guide customers through the key tasks via a series of daily Twitter posts. 

Of course, this is more than about how to best use Twitter. It’s about social networks, the ideas from the Cluetrain Manifesto and Web 2.0 ideas of syndicating content, collaborating with your user base and aggregating content.

Graham Jones concluded by saying “just concentrate on providing and sharing good material”.  Technical Authors can help the organisation provide good material. What we may all have to work out is how we can share this material in more effective ways.