Content tidbits from a Community Roundtable report

Photo courtesy M i x y on Flickr using the CC By 2.0 licenseI’m reading (with vigor!) the The State of Community Management Report: Best Practices from Community Practitioners
from the Community Roundtable
, and finding so many wonderful tips about content from people who are community managers. I had to start a list of items that are relevant to technical communication and web writing to share. I naturally tend to target technical communications when I interpret the report, but this report is rife with content strategy.

I agree with this statement, and I think it means a positive impact on technical writers and web writers who are paid to create content by businesses.

The percentage of content that is desirable and
feasible to be formally produced versus community-generated
will have a big impact on resource and
budget planning. This aspect is likely to change – often
dramatically – over time, although it should not be
assumed that content should ever be exclusively
community-generated.

I personally haven’t found that completely community-generated documentation will serve most business goals. In the case of FLOSS Manuals, though, the community-generated content meets the main purpose of supporting and documenting  open source software. Still, hiring professional writers makes sense when you need to create content that meets very specific goals for a community, whether your goals are raising awareness, troubleshooting, or learning.

Now, this particular comment puts a bit of a stake in the heart of technical communication’s beloved single sourcing. I like the idea of associated content for technical writers to create. It’s branching into new media, such as audio or video, while still valuing the technical content that you work so hard to create. It’s not that one births the other, but rather the two types can compliment each other.

Instead of directly repurposing content from one format to another, create
associated content. For example, instead of turning a white paper into an
audio transcript, create a podcast discussion about it with the author.

Another line that causes me to press pause and ponder for a bit:

People seldom form relationships with text alone.

Instead, offer images, video, or music as part of the user experience in order to grow relationships. Fascinating.

And finally, the one that might be the toughest for professional writers, copy editors, and technical communicators to accept:

Learn to accept imperfection. Concentrate on making content interesting
and relevant rather than perfect. Imperfection actually allows community
members to better relate to it and engage with it.

And with striving towards imperfection as my excuse, I’ll close out this blog entry and encourage you to read the report for yourself, drawing your own arrows from the quiver and targeting what is important to you.

3 Comments

  • March 4, 2010 - 8:45 am | Permalink

    Thanks for reading (and writing about) @TheCR report. We had a great time putting it together and found many nuggets of wisdom in the process. I love how you’ve focused on the content strategy angle. IMO, it’s a subtle transition for professional writers – one from creator to curator. It’ll always be important for them to create, but helping surface content from others will gain prominence.

    On the topic of perfection, this post from Hildy Gottlieb came across my desk this morning. It’s far more eloquent than I could ever be in explaining that imperfection creates interest (friction?) that encourages engagement. I wonder if you agree with her on that?
    http://hildygottlieb.com/2007/10/16/community-engagement-gardening-in-the-front-yard/

    Thanks again. It’s posts like yours, riffing on the original content that really push how we’re thinking about all this. :-)

    Jim | @jimstorer

  • March 4, 2010 - 5:12 pm | Permalink

    Jim – Thanks for sharing the front-yard garden story! What a lovely metaphor for community content. Though she has the luxury of showing all the hard work and sweat that went into creating the garden, something that most writers would have a hard time making transparent without sounding whiney. Or plainly unhealthy. “I smoked a pack of cigs and a 2 liter of Dr. Pepper to write that 6,000 word article!” :) I’m joking, but one transparent method that we’ve used at FLOSS Manuals is to hold a content barn raising called a book sprint (see http://justwriteclick.com/2008/09/01/booksprint-results/ and http://justwriteclick.com/2008/09/10/booksprint-laps/). Invitees and remote participants could see the energy and dedication that writers have through IRC channel discussions, phone calls, and photos of the event. We had a great time and created and curated over 200 pages of manuals in a week’s time.

    Gardening and community growing have such lovely stories. My stories have been about barn raising when it comes to content, but I will have to think about how to garden in the front yard now while creating content. Thanks for sharing!

  • March 5, 2010 - 7:57 pm | Permalink

    I’m a fan of the show 30-Rock and some of the best scenes (IMHO) are in the writers room, brainstorming ideas. Yeah, it’s just a tv show, but you might find people are interested in getting behind the scenes of the writing process. It probably depends on what you’re writing, but you get the idea.

    I’m going to try to make it to your book reading next week in Austin. It’d be nice to meet you.

    Have a great weekend!

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