In yesterday’s post, How technical content on the Web is turning traditional marketing strategy on its head, we discussed the importance of technical content to today’s marketing funnel. You might be thinking, show me more evidence.
Kathy Sierra famously summed up most marketing departments’ approach to content in this slide:
To paraphrase her, the website and brochure are a thing of beauty, while the user manual is a thing of boredom.
Today, the way people use the Internet means this approach to marketing needs to change
There’s been an interesting series of posts recently by Tom Johnson on enabling users to navigate through content in lots of ways (instead of just providing them with a Table of Contents and a search box).
It’s the type of approach used by sites such as Ravelry.com. Ravelry is a popular social networking site, with over 3 million users, for people who like to knit. It has sophisticated faceted navigation and search capabilities that mean users can search for the ideal knitting project in lots of different way.
You can search by type of pattern: cardigan, socks, dress, and so on. You can also search by type of yarn. For example, if you have 4 metres of two ply lace, it will show you the patterns which require that type and length of yarn. In fact, you can search by lots of different factors, such as the type of knitting needles you have, the level of difficulty and the users’ ratings of each patterns.
This approach works well if you have content that follows a predictable structure: if your content could be entered by filling in fields in a form or a database.
Doctor Who is a popular British TV science fiction series that is celebrating its 50th anniversary later this year. So why is it like your Web content? Let us explain.
Regeneration is a part of life
One of the reasons why Doctor Who has managed to be popular for so long is due to the ability of the Doctor to regenerate: if he is old or mortally wounded, he can transform into a new physical form with a slightly different personality.
Similarly, your content may need to take on different forms over time. You may need to change the way it looks to suit different devices, or modify its personality (the tone of voice).
The basic fundamental story, or content, probably doesn’t not need to change greatly, as its purpose is likely to stay the same. However, it’s important to recognise and accept changes to the presentation format are now a fact of life for your Web content.
The Doctor’s companion
In most Doctor Who stories, the Doctor has a companion who travels with him and shares his adventures. The companion asks questions, often gets into trouble, helps the Doctor, and on occasions, rescues or challenges the Doctor.
The companion shows the importance of explanation – acting as the surrogate audience, asking the questions they may have, giving them important information and providing a persona they can relate to.
The readers of your Web content may also need a companion – someone who can assist them, enable them to have their questions answered. In the world of technical communication, we call this “User Assistance” or “online Help”.
Even the Doctor, one of the most expert of people needs an assistant. There are many times when he is overconfident, makes the wrong assumption, and is helped out of his predicament by his companion. This is also true for your expert users.
The sonic screwdriver
Whenever the Doctor wants to learn about a new world, a new creature or machine, he whips out his trusty sonic screwdriver. It gives him data that helps him understand how to solve his current problem. We need our own sonic screwdriver for our Web content – ways to measure its performance (i.e. if it’s meeting the users’ requirements), discover where the problems lie, and so on.
The Tardis of content
The Tardis, as nearly everyone knows, is bigger on the inside than it is on the outside.
Unfortunately, only the Doctor knows where everything is located, and we generally only see a glimpse of what’s inside. We know there’s a swimming pool and a library, but often people get lost within the Tardis and end up where back they began. There’s no official map of the Tardis, as far as we know, and it seems like there’s no logical structure to the corridors and rooms.
This is often the case with your web content. There’s lots of information, but it can be hard to find. If you know it’s there, you can search for it, but often you need a person to guide you to it.
Access to the Tardis is generally limited to those the Doctor invites in (or to those who are given a key). Many organisations take the same attitude to their online Help content: they hide it away from public view and, as a consequence, prospective customers.
Whovians is the name given to fans of Doctor Who. Doctor Who has a huge and passionate following, which means they, in a way, “own” Doctor Who has much as the BBC and its writers.
Today, Doctor Who is a “Second Screen” experience: as people watch the TV show, they also converse on Twitter and Tumblr. The user generated content is an important reason why Doctor Who is so popular today. This can be true for your website as well: your users are part owners of your site and its content; their user generated content can be as important as the content you provide.
What have we missed?
Let us know if we’ve missed out any other links between Doctor Who and your Web content.
(Doctor Who fans Flickr image by Jason Riedy)
This is an opportunity to join a technical writing team within a fast-growing, independent software company. Our client develops Web-based financial trading software for the world’s largest financial institutions. They have an immediate vacancy for a Junior Technical Author/API Documentation Writer with a passion for technical communication.
You will developing end-user documentation for a range of products, producing user manuals, online Help and API documentation.
You need to have one years experience working in an IT environment, and some experience of writing technical documentation. You also need to be able to demonstrate you have excellent verbal and written communication skills, and outstanding attention to detail.
You will have:
- experience of writing technical documentation from scratch
- familiarity with Agile development approaches
- some knowledge of Java, C, C# or C++
- an understanding of Web application development tools and methods: HTML, DOM, CSS
We’ve been asked by a number of people if we could offer our Trends in Technical Communication Workshop – Advanced Technical Writing Techniques course to delegates outside of Europe. We would love to deliver classroom courses overseas, but the practicalities of visa restrictions and the logistics of organising a public course mean it’s very difficult to do.
As a way of delivering the course to delegates in the USA and elsewhere, we’ve decided to offer this course, in a “live and online” format over the Web. Using Google+ Hangouts, the one day course will be spread over three days (3 x 2 hours):
- 1st July 10am EST -12 PM EST, followed by
- 2nd July 10am EST-12 PM EST, followed by
- 3rd July 10am EST-12 PM EST
EST = Eastern Standard Time. (3pm-5pm UK time). The course is live, not recorded, with delegates completing exercises and able to ask questions during the course.
The first course is limited to just 5 delegates, and it is for non-UK based delegates only.
For details, including how to book on this course, see Trends in Technical Communication Workshop – Advanced Technical Writing Techniques course.
Adrian Baniak has written an article (3 Ways to Engage with Today’s Empowered Consumer) about how brands can “cut through the clutter” and communicate with their customers and prospect. He states one of the key ways to do this is “Write Your Own Tale, Or Someone Else Will Do It First”.
This mantra was originally made by Lisa Shalett, a partner at Goldman Sachs, and the global head of brand marketing and digital strategy. Continue reading
Google has updated Chrome in build 27 to include conversational voice search, and this feature extends to the Help pages.
According to TechCrunch, it transcribes your queries in real time. It also lets you use natural language, asking Google straightforward questions and getting straightforward answers, both read back to you by dictation and in actual Google search results.
Based on a few initial tests, for South East English accents, it works really well.