Tag Archives: content strategy

content strategy techpubs work writing

Tools and skills in the red

If this isn’t a snapshot of our industry, I don’t know what is.

A couple of observations:

  • “Documentations” [sic] to me indicates an English-second-language speaker. Members listing that term as a skill is 245K, larger than the 107K “Technical Documentation”.
  • Looks like it’s an easy popularity contest winner for “Technical Documentation” over “Technical Communication” with nearly 5 times as many LinkedIn members citing “Technical Documentation” as a Skill.
  • Content strategy as a Skill listing is growing 16% year over year.

Fascinating snapshot. What do you think of this data capture at this point in time?

community techpubs work writing

Community Content Strategist

I’m considering a request. It’s a request for a new branch in content strategy. Now it’s odd to even start such a fork when content strategy itself is so new, so nascent that its molds are barely even formed much less any cookie cutting going on. But I think it’s needed.

My request is that we have a branch of content strategy that centers on community.

1. Give us a specialty focus on building community through the expert and strategic use of content.

2. Produce analytical methods that look at requirements for each community persona using content for their goals.

3. Enable the community members to become content strategists themselves, creating, maintaining, and designing killer content in such a way that it grows the community and builds the community and accomplishes the goals the community sets forth.

What’s the business case for a position like this in your company? Let’s start with business case for content strategy:

  • A repeatable process for content creation, publication, maintenance, governance, and careful deletion.
  • Methods for tying content effectiveness to business goals.
  • Measures for people who do this work, based on effectiveness of their techniques in practice.
  • Disciplines to avoid regression and stop old bad habits.

What do I do if I want to call myself a community content strategist?

Let’s start with what I do. I have a pretty unique job here at Rackspace. I coordinate documentation efforts and stack content into meaningful bundles across multiple “core” projects that help organizations adopt OpenStack as consumers or deployers. I manage the documentation project just like a core code project including doc bugs, task tracking, build tool debugging, translation efforts, and all continuous integration aspects of keeping up with a fast-paced software project. I support the wiki, support developers sites that publish doc strings embedded with the code, customize the search engine, seek new content and new contributors, run a monthly doc meeting, participate in all in-person Design Summits held every six months, and ensure the vision for the docs aligns with the vision of the project. The vision is to increase adoption for OpenStack to help Rackspace meet its strategic goals along with HP, IBM, RedHat, and many other member organizations investing in open strategies. I’m creating a repeatable process, and trying to make methods and design tools for content effectiveness. I’ve been doing a lot of work and research into collaborative methods and need to blog about the findings to share.


techpubs tools wiki

Must Help Pages Live Forever?

I’m pondering the 1998 article, Pages Must Live Forever (from Jakob Nielson’s Alertbox) while documenting the content aging report in MindTouch 2010 (Read the spec here, read the user guide here).

With redirects helping stave off link rot, it seems that we can fulfill the wish behind Kristina Halvorson’s plea not to allow the web become like the junk-filled planet in Wall-E. Instead of piling up old versions of pages, the links stay fresh while the content might age a bit, like a fine wine.

For help content, I can list reasons that older content might be just fine, no need to send off alarms.

  • Software that has classic features that were well documented in the first place, those pages can be static.
  • Pages that haven’t been updated but are still oft-visited I would consider to be fresh, not stale. As long as the comments don’t indicate a problem with the content, it can be considered fresh.
  • Depending on how well it’s resourced or energetic it is, your writing staff and community can only add a finite amount of content per week (or month). So the percentage of old content may be higher than the percentage of new content. That ratio is probably okay as your site ages. The mark the report sets is two years (24 months), then the content might be “old.”
  • Depending on the scope of the aging report, an older product would have older help pages. Filtering helps you tune in the grouping of pages where you might be concerned about stale pages.

Two years would be a long time in a web application’s life, but perhaps not so long for an enterprise application. As usual, the answer to “Must Help Pages Live Forever?” is “It depends.” The real question that I’m trying to answer is “When are Help Pages Stale?” I believe two years is a valid and reasonable line to draw. What do you think?

What traditions would you give up?

Wow, Pepsi is not going to air an advertisement during the Super Bowl for the first time in 23 years, according to the Financial Times. They say, “With a major digital campaign that features its own website and a heavy presence on Facebook, PepsiCo is betting that a more interactive approach will resonate with consumers in the always-on age of social networking sites.”

So, Pepsi is willing to give up an expensive ad campaign and forgo celebrities for everyday people. What are you willing to give up from your traditional technical communication deliverables? With whom will you collaborate to make this shift happen?

Two Sun Microsystems technical writers wrestled with the same issues, trading time and effort for the payoff. They had surveyed their audience and found that they wanted screencasts, overviews, and tutorials. They rolled up their sleeves and ruthlessly slashed the “Duh” material from their traditional docs. Readers still wanted books to learn at their own pace, but they also wanted new media to enhance their learning experience.

Josh Bernoff just posted a new survey tool to help people understand what they are facing when embarking in new media territory – is that iPhone app idea worthwhile? Should we be taking on another social platform? From his post, he states, “It’s not just the value for customers that’s in question, and it’s not just the technical effort. It’s the political effort — all the people who have a stake and try to stop you or help you (or “help” you).”

We all have to analyze the value and effort and payoff. It’s great to have a survey tool that will help you navigate the waters.

Context and behavior

I appreciated SocialText’s Ross Mayfield describing the various levels of interaction in his One on One interview with Fierce Content Management. The interview reminds me that social context alters behavior and motivations. Think of an intranet situation, where interactions are between bosses, colleagues, direct reports, and coworkers. The goals in this context are to increase productivity and collaboration speed, but corporate culture changes motivations. Then consider the context of an internet site, where interactions and customer relationships can be deepened and enhanced while providing customer service. Contributors to a wiki or any online content management system will certainly vary their behavior in accordance with the offline expectations of them.

I think it was in the book Groundswell that I read a case study where a company brought in a wiki, thinking that Generation Y employees would embrace it. But Generation Y wisely stayed away, because they didn’t have the authority required to make the system work well. Since the higher-ups stayed away from the new system, there was no leading by example, nor was there incentive for the newest, less tenured employees to use the system.

Patrick Davison is a digital artist living in NYC, and he designed the cover for my book. His Ignite talk has a similar theme – considering how your reasons for using a particular site or application (such as Second Life) shapes how you act there. The title is “The Plight of the Digital Chickens” and I think you’ll enjoy it as much as I do.

What are other examples of context shaping online behavior? I’m sure danah boyd has great examples in her papers.

Technical writers, web writers, jobs, and employers

I’m returning to and rereading Violaine Truck’s post to the STC France site of a review of Content Strategy for the Web. Before you read this post, it might make more sense if you go read hers. Take your time, I’ll wait. 🙂 After reading her post and then writing an overly long comment, I decided to turn my response into a blog post.

It all started with Twitter. Destry Wion’s tweet is how I found the book review, where he said, “Interesting review of @halvorson‘s book. As much an analysis of #contentstrategy in France as anything.” I am intrigued about the job market and the book itself, so I clicked through to the review.

Amazon tells me that my book, Conversation and Community, sells side by side with Content Strategy for the Web quite often. I am reading Content Strategy for myself and finding it complementary, with some concepts that are essential to understanding what is going on with the web. Thinking of a content audit on a single-sourced helpsite with 4,000 topics makes me want to cry inside a little. I say that only half-jokingly. 🙂

I read the review and my curiosity was piqued when Violaine said she’s a technical writer turned web content manager (with French job titles, naturellement). She asks in the introduction, “I hoped to find an answer in Kristina’s book to a prevailing question I (and presumably others) in France have: Is the title—Content Strategist—just a fancy name for one or more roles that already exist in the French job market…?”

I haven’t seen a job market yet where there is direct crossover between technical writing and web content jobs, yet in my book I believe in the future trends I see in technical writing and how we should be delivering our content with web content strategies adding value, especially for the social web.

Where are the jobs?

I have heard, “Where are the jobs that your book describes?” a few times since my book was published. I found one posting for a wiki writer that I blogged about previously. But I couldn’t directly point to specific job listings that combine all the skills and values my book describes.  I went to lunch with a community college professor here in Austin a few weeks ago. He is so inspired by my book that he wants to write curriculum around it, yet he correctly hesitates and waits to find the right job description to teach. At a community college, their professors know that you don’t propose curriculum until there are job descriptions in the market. It’s wise to do this in the community college setting so that their degrees match the demand for workers.

I think Violaine’s post helps us all get the perspective of a working technical writer. It’s a tough market out there. And it’s only getting tougher to prove value – no matter what your job description or title, or location, I’d say. Here’s my take from where I sit in the job market in Austin, Texas. There are plenty of technical writer jobs where a doing good, quality job is undervalued. There are plenty of web content creator jobs where good content is undervalued. Seems like everyone has to prove their value.

Consultants have this viewpoint all the time, that they must prove their value through metrics, return on investment, and so forth. It’s extremely difficult to act like a consultant in many jobs. If I’m reading between the lines of her post, it’s tough to be strategic when you’re copying and pasting, right? 🙂 I recently read a book called Corporate Confidential: 50 Secrets Your Company Doesn’t Want You to Know—and What to Do About Them. One mindshift that author tells you to do is to act like everyone is a client. You are the consultant.

Violaine has armed herself with the books that help prove a point – that a specialty does have value. It seems that’s only half the battle. The other half of the battle is to figure out where the value lies. Is it in business-to-customer interactions? Business-to-business? Is there a risk of inaction?

What are these jobs?

Finally, what are these jobs combining technical writing, content strategy, and web content? Colleges have web programmer classes and web design classes, because there is employer demand for those skill sets. I think there is an uncovered demand for web publishing and social web skill sets. In fact, I guess wrote an entire book about these skills. But just like technical writing, it’s difficult to teach, tough to evaluate, and often unfairly interpreted or undervalued in the marketplace. I think there are many job titles that fit that description. Community manager. Information architect. Technical editor. Program manager. Technical communicator. Business analyst. Web content manager. Web editor. We are not alone in this regard.

A fellow STC member, during an interview, asked, “In response to the current economic downturn, how do you think your book helps technical communicators weather the storm?” Thing is, unless you know the right keywords to enter into the job listings page, you won’t find the jobs, right? Do you search for “social media” – will that give you a lot of PR and marketing listings? Do you search for “web content” – perhaps, but again, will you find only ad agencies and newspapers using that term? If your specialty is technical writing, producing targeted documentation for a particular audience, what is your role in the web content arena? I think we’re inventing it in the jobs we hold today. Tom Johnson is doing so in the posts he’s writing now, in 2009. Rahel Bailie started the STC Content Strategy special interest group this fall. There are other examples of strategic moves in our field to deliver the right content in the right manner as the web and the social web change the rules, change the contributors, and change us.

But that’s just my viewpoint – what do you see from where you are around the world?