DocTrain West 2008 – Darren Barefoot – Social Media 101: Now Everyone’s a Technical Writer

Here are my notes from Darren Barefoot’s talk, a self-described recovering technical writer.

He leads with what defines social media? Create your own definition around these concepts:

  • Conversation – comments on large media sites allow ayone to speak to the media person keeping on the pedestal
  • Collaboration – 7 million people collaborating on wikipedia, likely the largest collaboration in human history
  • Sharing – some sort of microbroadcasting is built into every type of website
  • Scope – there are no longer 42-minute hours on televisions. Your buckets of stuff and time are sliced and diced. Ebooks can be 10 pages to 1000 pages.
  • Community – constructing affinity groups is easy, accessible
  • Transparency – blogging encourages transparency – medium is the message
  • Authenticity – example of knowing it’s fake is, Lonelygirl15 is an example of outed fakery

42% of Chinese internet users have a blog

“The people formerly known as the audience”The people formerly known as your audience

Survey of 1200 bloggers – why do you create content, do social media? Talk to friends and family first, Keep personal history, Emote top three. But make money bottom response.

How to use a Wiki – video showing how to collaborate without using email (yay).

Updated to add: How to use Twitter – video showing how friends use twitter to keep up with each other between blog posts (these are awesome videos, I now love commoncraft)

An excellent, engaging talk, with the conclusion being, there’s no way to relinquish control, it is already too late.

Here are the takeaways he left us with:

  • Relinquish control – realize that the best documentation for your product is already not on your website.
  • Users will help each other – put screenshots in Flickr to make it easy for your users to grab them and use them in their own doc
  • Empower your most passionate users – for example, the Red Room Chronicles created by a Marriot business traveller. He must be the most passionate hotel user known. Offer those users previews, invite them to focus groups, make them feel special.
  • Think outside the page – Twitter troubleshooting tips, and of course, remember video and photos.
  • Go where your users are – find their community spaces, be present as needed.
  • Relinquish control – again. ๐Ÿ™‚


  • Cat
    May 8, 2008 - 10:26 pm | Permalink

    I admit that I haven’t been to a conference in many years. But do modern technical writers really walk into the VP’s office and say, “Let’s relinquish control”?

    Am I the only one still up against marketing departments that won’t let me describe our products without burying them in nonsense adjectives? Support managers who think allowing public comments on a blog is too risky? Masses of customers in Europe who aren’t allowed on the web while they’re at work?

    The only way we’ll get wiki documentation is if we write/vet it ourselves, and then provide a localized pdf version …

    I love, love, love the vision, but feel so behind.

    (I’m lying a little bit here. My company just got bought and I think the new guys might be more open minded. )

  • May 8, 2008 - 10:52 pm | Permalink

    Thanks for the great write-up–glad you enjoyed the talk. Thanks, also, for the great panel moderation yesterday.

  • May 9, 2008 - 1:23 am | Permalink

    Thanks for the mention. The event was a BIG success. Thanks to you and Darren and the other not-so-typical technical communicators for showing us what is possible when you throw out the rule book and think differently.

    For those of you who would like copies of the slide decks from DocTrain West, they can be found here:

  • May 9, 2008 - 9:25 am | Permalink

    Hi Cat – I agree, and I even had a conversation with another attendee who said “The presenters are preaching at us, but they really should be preaching the word to the vendors who are here, so that we can get the tools we need to make the deliverables our users supposedly want.” (Jason, please correct me if I’m off base with that paraphrasing. ๐Ÿ™‚ )

    From my current limited view, I personally don’t think that the tools are the limiter here, it’s the communities and the tech writer’s limited time for infusing themselves into the community.
    There is still a lot of fear and trepidation around social tools. And the scenarios and responses you describe are right on in many company’s cultures.

    My takeaway from Darren’s talk – and his Many-armed starfish talk later in the afternoon – is that these are early, early times and we’re just starting to figure out how to introduce social technologies into all communications. He also does not speak to or for Enterprise 2.0 initiatives, which are much more aligned with the types of business goals many of us have as modern, paid-with-money, technical writers.

  • May 9, 2008 - 9:27 am | Permalink

    Hi Darren – thanks for being a great panelist at the Meet the bloggers session, and for disagreeing with Scott Abel which was entirely educational AND entertaining. ๐Ÿ™‚ That was a blast!

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  • May 16, 2008 - 4:19 pm | Permalink

    While the YouTube quality videos are great, I see that CommonCraft also licenses high quality WMV and Quicktime MOV versions of their videos for corporate viewing. Here is a l ink to the “Social Media Six Pack”, that explains wikis, podcasting, blogging, twitter, rss, and social bookmarking, all in plain English.

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