How Social Media Will Make You A Better Technical Writer

by Ivan Walsh

twitterGina Blednyh launched the Technical Communication 2.0 group in Facebook in 2009. It explores the interplay between Web 2.0 and technical communication. It’s a terrific place to exchange ideas about collaborative technologies and new approaches to delivering information.

In this interview, I ask her how Technical Writers can use Social Media and the types of content they are likely to deliver.

How Social Media Will Make You A Better Technical Writer

Ivan: Could you tell us about how you got started in technical writing?

Gina: I majored in English, but prior to that I worked for a software company. The field just seemed like an excellent fit for me.

Ivan: You’ve setup a new group for technical writers on Facebook. Could you tell us about this group? How does it differ from a BBS, for example?

Gina: Truthfully, I never participated in a BBS, though I used to lurk. For me, one of the primary differences is the openness and ease of use of a Facebook group–it’s not “just for geeks.”

Since I just began the Technical Communication 2.0 group recently, I’m not sure yet if it’s the best way to go. For example, perhaps a group on another social networking site would be more effective. But we’ve had some good discussions already and people are posting useful information.

Ivan: Brian Solis recently said that Social Media will soon become Media. It will no longer be seen as a fad. What impact will Social Media have on how technical writer work?
Gina: Wow–this is a big question! And folks far more knowledgeable than me can provide a better answer. My take is that we technical writers might need to abandon certain ideas of who participates in developing good documentation.

We might also need to expand our ideas of where technical documentation resides.  For example, a community centered around a product might include documentation, conversations between users, and feedback (positive and negative) from these users about the documentation. I don’t see this as “bad” for technical writers, however.

If a community includes both positive and negative comments and is well managed, the result can be more customer satisfaction and far better material. I don’t believe that traditional Help systems and documentation will go away entirely, though.

Ivan: What other technical writers inspire you or help give direction to the way you work?

Gina: I’ve been lucky to work with some wonderful writers and mentors! The ones who inspire me actively engage with the profession but also think about opportunities outside of it.

They embrace change and think about ways that technical communicators can better partner with other departments. Basically, they look forward and don’t waste time reminiscing about how things were done “back in the day.”

Ivan: Looking into your crystal ball, how do you see technical writing changing in the next five years?

Gina: Oy Vey! Another big question! I do see technical communicators producing more videos. And in general, I think that we will need to embrace the “technical” part of our job titles more than ever. Offering specialized knowledge will likely be an important quality to offer employers.

Technical Communication 2.0

You can find Gina in the Technical Communication 2.0 group in Facebook. http://www.facebook.com/group.php?gid=208713908443

Your Thoughts?

What do you think? Does Social Media pose a threat to the future of technical writers or can we use it to our advantage? Share your thoughts below.

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{ 5 comments }

Vinish February 23, 2010 at 5:20 pm

Ivan

Personally, I feel that Social Media can make the technical writers' job more interesting. Rather than traditional Help systems and user manuals, it calls for interactive documentation and even customer-participation in documentation.

I agree with Gina that businesses are more inclined to have Video Tutorials or tours *along with* the traditional documentation, which is a good sign for our community. Writers would have more involvement with actual users of system, and as Gina said, user feedback should make the job more interesting and of course challenging as well.

BR
Vinish

Ivan Walsh February 24, 2010 at 12:31 am

Social Media can make the technical writers' job more interesting. Rather than traditional Help systems and user manuals, it calls for interactive documentation

Me to, Vinsih!

The move towards video, coupled with the availability of broadband, should see documentation move beyond words and into other media such as streaming media and video blogs.

I find this very exciting as it lets you show people how something works, rather than just describing.

Re facebook, for example, I think there are ways to use this channel to build ‘bodies of knowledge’ where technical writers and consumers can learn/exchange ideas. Twitter is fine for link sharing and quick tips but Facebook allows me to go a bit deeper.

If search was better across Facebook, then it could be really useful. Right now, I feel a bit limited by the ways groups are structured (i.e. to see what’s going on within a group you have to join first) whereas BBSs are often more open.

<businesses are more inclined to have Video Tutorials or tours *along with* the traditional documentation, which is a good sign for our community.

We’re using video blogs over here to show employees how internal processes work (as an example) and the feedback is very positive. They can also download them as MP4s and take them home or watch on the metro.
I also can see how video with help reduce costs, such as tech support, as consumers can learn from the videos and then try the product.

Stats show that very few people (less than 4% I think) read the user guide before calling tech support.

Which begs the question, ‘why are we even writing it?’

Larry Kunz February 24, 2010 at 2:45 pm

I think that Gina has it exactly right. We (technical writers) need to change our ideas about who participates in developing documentation and about where technical documentation resides — as well as where it comes from.

Many writers (I think Kristina Halvorson might've been the first) have described a new role: the content curator, who aggregates all of the content, filters it, and sends it out using a variety of media. Anne Gentle, in Conversation and Community, mentions another new role: the community manager, who gathers all of those new participants and makes sure they understand their roles.

Ivan Walsh February 25, 2010 at 1:16 am

Technical writers need to change our ideas about who participates in developing documentation and about where technical documentation resides — as well as where it comes from.

Hi Larry,

I've seen projects, where users were encourage to write their own documents. Not sure how it panned out, to be honest. I think the aim was to bring users into the content creation lifecycle so they would flag/prioritize material that may have been overlooked.

<Many writers (I think Kristina Halvorson might've been the first) have described a new role: the content curator, who aggregates all of the content, filters it, and sends it out using a variety of media.

I think this type of role will be central to how companies distribute content, especially when documents are written/updated in real-time and getting delivered to multiple devices.

Not sure about the name curator though. Dunno why. I guess this reminds me of librarians somehow whereas this role (to me) is more like a Control Tower role, i.e. like at airports, bringing docs in and out of the system when and as needed.

<Anne Gentle, in Conversation and Community, mentions another new role: the community manager, who gathers all of those new participants and makes sure they understand their roles.

Yep, Anne does a great job.

Think technical writers can offer a lot to Social Media as they understand how to distill information and stay focused, whereas others such as sales writers can be guilty of rambling a little and waffling on.

Debbie Weil also does some great work re Corporate Blogging, another largely untapped area.

ginablednyh March 1, 2010 at 8:27 pm

Hi there all,

“We’re using video blogs over here to show employees how internal processes work (as an example) and the feedback is very positive.” This is encouraging to hear. It also indicates that the videos blogs you created are useful and concise. I've heard mixed reviews on some videos at a place I worked, but honestly I think it had to do with them being overly lengthy for the topic at hand (and also somewhat poorly done). People do like to “be shown,” how to do something–and videos are great for this!

Thank you Larry for the kind words! It seems that flexibility in our field is a job requirement and becoming more crucial for success.

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