Technical communication as a brand – The CEO and the technical communicator

The CEO and the technical communicator ebookSince I wrote the post on Technical communication as a brand, we’ve been working on an idea we had for promoting the profession. The end result is another story, another free graphic novel you can download, called The CEO and the technical communicator.

It’s published under a Creative Commons licence, so anyone can forward it on, as long as they don’t modify it or sell it.

There’s a lot of factual evidence about the value of technical communicators to an organisation (such as the ROI calculators on our website), so we thought we’d see if we could appeal to the heart as well as the head by using a story-based approach.

Technical communication comes in many forms, so there were some challenges in coming up with something that was representative of the whole profession. Partly to get around this, the document shows people’s reactions to the content created, rather than showing the content itself. It also uses the word “content’ as a catch-all for document, manual, book, Help file, Web page, illustration, and so on.

We’ve also developed an ISTC-branded version that the Institute for Technical Communicators could use itself to promote the profession. We’ve sent it to to the ISTC Council for their consideration and comments. The document might be modified if they ask for any changes to be made; for example, we’re wondering if there should be greater emphasis on the writing aspect of the role.

You can download the Cherryleaf version from our website. Let us know what you think, using the comments below or by email.

Technical communication as a brand

Flickr image by Ruper GanzerOne of the tea break discussions at the Congility conference I spoke at last month was over the need to improve the awareness of technical communicators and technical communication as a profession.

I suggested the profession would benefit from having (and promoting) a simple positioning statement that explains the profession as if it were a brand. This is something I believe Tekom, the German professional body, did in the early 2000s. Tekom carried out some research in Germany that suggested as many, if not more, people were carrying out a technical communication role as part of another job, and that they were not aware the profession of technical communicator existed. So they aimed some of their marketing efforts at these groups, to make them aware of the profession. They wanted to see if they could bring these people into the Tekom membership.

In fact, I think there should be two statements to improve awareness of the profession:

  1. One saying there are these people called technical communicators who could help your business.
  2. One aimed at people who are writing technical documentation, but don’t realise it is a profession, with a professional body, standards etc. that could help them do it better.

Looking at the STC and ISTC sites, there are some useful simple descriptions of the profession. I’ve used content from these two sites to come up with the following description for the first statement:

“Technical Communicators are professionals who take technical and complex information and make it clear to people who need to understand and use it.

They have skills in providing the right information to the right people, at the right time. They communicate by using technology such as Web pages, Help files or printed content.

Having clear instructions can make all the difference to users of products or staff carrying out tasks. That’s because the need for accurate and accessible content has never been greater.”

We hope to progress this idea a little bit further, and produce something that the ISTC, the professional body for UK technical communicators, and ourselves could use.

Do you think the description we’ve used could be improved? If so, please use the comment box below.

Changing times in technical communication

Deepak Chopra quotation Flickr image  Celestine ChuaWe’ve been on the road in recent days and weeks, visiting different documentation teams, and we’ve found there are distinct signs of change.

In previous years, most documentation managers have effectively been saying to us their organisations weren’t really clear about the value of documentation. As the Technical Publications team usually amounts to less than 5% of the IT budget, the successful companies have, in the past, not worried about this and left the documentation team to work out for themselves what they should be doing. However, for organisations that have been watching every percent in the budget, they’ve reduced the spend on technical documentation to the bare minimum. Of course, in a recession that’s been quite a few companies.

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Proving your technical content is the most important content on your website

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.

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How technical content on the Web is turning traditional marketing strategy on its head

Kathy Sierra famously summed up most marketing departments’ approach to content in this slide:
kathy sierra - How we treat customers

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

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Hyundai uses an iPad as a driver’s manual

According to Hyundai USA

There’s nothing worse than buying a new luxury car only to sit down and have to learn about it through a boring owner’s manual. Thankfully, every Equus comes with a 16GB WiFi Apple iPad, and instead of the boring owner’s manual, the Equus Owner’s Experience app teaches you everything you need to know through demonstration videos, interactive product and safety demonstrations.

Hopefully, you won’t ever need it when you have a flat battery.

Where does your Help sit on the technology adoption curve?

The technology adoption lifecycle model is a popular model for describing how products rise and fall in popularity over time. Many organisations use it to help them plan their position in the marketplace, as few can spread themselves successfully across the whole of the market.

If we look at the technology adoption curve for the different forms of User Assistance (UA), what would we put in each of the different stages? Additionally, what does this mean for the people producing it?

The four quadrant “wheel of sales” adaptation of this model, developed by Jeff Cox and Howard Stevens, is useful way to categorise these sectors:

Stage 1 – Birth

  • This is for organisations  who want to be first, who have bought into a dream, and who like being revolutionary.
  • The technology is new and revolutionary, yet primitive. Products are capable of only a few basic tasks. The appeal and value is limited, but if it is successful it will give its users a real advantage.

Which UA technologies fit into this stage: Augmented Reality, game-based Help and DITA, perhaps?

Stage 2 – Fast growth

  • This is for organisations who want a state-of-the-art solution. They want better performance and are willing to pay to get that.
  • The technology advances, often dramatically and in big jumps. These advancements increase the options and complexity. Implementation is often tailored to each situation. The technology still has many sceptics.

Which UA technologies fit into this stage: DITA, Affective Writing techniques, AirHelp, User Generated Content and Web 2.0 based Help, perhaps?

Stage 3 – Incremental Growth

  • This is for organisations who want a reliable, accepted product, and may want some adjustments to fit their situation. They have experience of using the technology and have definite opinions about what they need.
  • The technology is accepted by the majority and is in widespread use. Although it continues to advance, improvements come in small steps. Products become feature-rich.

Which UA technologies fit into this stage: Web-based online Help, collaboratively authored Help, adaptive Help and screencasts, perhaps?

Stage 4 – Maturity

  • This is for organisations who want a standard product at a great price. The want no hassle and a quick result.
  • The technology is standardised and has near-universal acceptance. Advancements are few and far between, and may be resisted.
  • The products are simplified, commoditised and the technology is frozen.

Which UA technologies fit into this stage: Windows-based Help, PDF manuals and FAQs, perhaps?

What does this mean for the people producing online Help?

If your interest lies in creating state-of-the-art solutions and you’re working for a company that wants basic online Help for the lowest cost, then there’s going to be some tension. If the organisation is creating something revolutionary, then perhaps so should the User Assistance. If an organisation is in stage three, then perhaps the User Assistance can give them an incremental edge over the competition.

Do you agree with those categorisations?

What have we missed? Let us know what you think.

Using the Wheel – a story

This is an adapted version of a story from Selling the Wheel, by Jeff Cox:

Once upon a time, long ago, a resourceful fellow named Max came up with a brilliant idea and invented the Wheel. He said to his wife, ‘you know what, the Wheel is going to make us lots of money’.

His wife replied, ‘it seems to me that if we’re going to get rich, you’re going to have to go out out and get people to buy and use these Wheels of yours’.

‘My dear wife, the Wheel is is a brilliant invention! One does not have to sell brilliant inventions; they sell themselves. One does not have to instruct people how to use brilliant inventions; they are so intuitive, anyone can use them.’

Can you guess how the story progresses?