Social Support and Documentation Communities

Stories of Social Media Sticking in Unlikely Places
Saying, “No one reads the manual” just doesn’t hold water any more. Social technology has intersected even the classic user manual. There’s always someone who will read a book. But their true motivation may be a desire to become an expert on a forum or on Twitter, building an expert’s reputation or reciprocating assistance because they know they can rely on the social web to pay it forward.

The way to amplify knowledge is through social media, social networking, and social relevance tools, gathering a wider audience and working in an economy whose payment is in links and more links. To find a fix for a problem with a cell phone, some chose to go to the phone’s web site and download a manual. Others naturally search on YouTube for troubleshooting hints.

Social media for troubleshooting, training, or trying software or gadgets? Sure. Does this scenario sound familiar?

“The darn thing won’t sync up again,” she grumbled as she tried to unload the latest running data from a sensor in her shoe. The data should travel from the shoe to the iTunes software through her iPod which was connected to her computer so that the data would be uploaded to a third-party website. As you might guess, her first troubleshooting attempt started with the error message within iTunes itself, but after seeing a message from iTunes that told her to reboot the router, she instead opened up a browser window. Without even opening a new window, she searched on Google in a browser plugin. A helpful community posting from a year ago helped her get the data about her five mile run from her shoe to the website.

Google is a new entry point to every help system that is, well, helpful. From Google users can view videos, download PDF files of the manual, and read forum posts from people who have come across this problem before. Sometimes Google links go directly to a company’s set of manuals, but more often than not, Google is the entry point to user-generated or community-collected content from blogs, forums, or wikis.

Bloggers who build a reputation as an expert in Adobe products can now be found even more easily with the Community Help search tool, which is a curated collection of blogs, video tutorial sites, and other social media-centered sites. Searching within the Community Help on keywords such as “footnotes” offers up a list of links to Indesign experts who maintain blogs and offer how-to tips and advice.

If people are listening on Twitter to come to other user’s aid, even microblogging and instant messaging applies to the new aggregate troubleshooting guide. Social support communities crop up when social media tools are used to collect questions and answer them or point people on the social network to others who can answer their questions.

Documentation communities are built upon content systems such as wikis that lower the barrier to contribution by giving any page an Edit button. Rather than waiting for a long publishing process to finish, readers can be come authors and editors at the click of a button. And the publishing system itself notifies users when new content is brought on board.

Social and community techniques are a sensation everywhere, even for the boring, unsexy systems applied to customer support and technical documentation. You’ll be glad for it the next time your favorite portable gadget does an unfamiliar flip flop.

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