Tag Archives: social media

Choose Conversation and Community

We’re closing in on the second edition of my book being released and available! I’m super excited about it. I can’t stop thinking about it. On the way back from the O’Reilly Open Source Convention, I started doodling in a new notebook when all “items with an on/off switch” had to be off, and came up with this diagram for what the social web means to me.

The terms social relevance, social networking, and social media, as a triad for explaining the social web became very clear to me after reading this rather complex title: Enterprise Social Technology: Helping organizations harness the power of Social Media Social Networking Social Relevance by Scott Klososky.

Social Web

You see, these three social powers offer us content folks an entry to the strategic playing field of the social web.

What I realized is that there’s a stream of conversation and community throughout all these social threads. I hope that the second edition of my book connects these threads with more clarity than ever. I hope the long title doesn’t prevent you from tweeting about it. And I hope we all can relate our stories to each other to keep learning about the social web and growing our field’s influence on it. Let’s choose conversation and community as a strategic benefit to all our documentation efforts.

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.

Going into Listening Phase

I’m going into a listening phase for a client, where I observe their customers and partners habits online.

I thought I’d write up some of my techniques. The overarching task is listed as “Set up a monitoring system for “listening” to the social media participation by customers or partners.” The deliverable for this monitoring system is in the form of a report. But I’m also thinking of ways to set up a Google account so their technical writers can continue to monitor for months and years to come.

For starters, though, I’m going with who I know as much as what I know, picking the online brains of people who are close to this type of product. First, I searched through the archives of a blog of an industry analyst. I found a great post about a set of opposing videos the company had responded to when they were called out by a larger company (my client is the small company). What a find! Definitely set the tone for what they had recently gone through on the social web.

Next, I set up Google Alerts for the company name and two or three keyword phrases that relate to their products. I found a small group of blogs and bloggers dedicated to discussions about the technology behind the products, but not the product itself. There is also some standards work related to the product, which is good to know.

I also searched on LinkedIn for people’s profiles that have this company’s products listed. Then I made a list of their job titles. This client is already providing me with personas, which is great, but I want to add on more information if needed.

I searched on Indeed.com for jobs in high-tech metro areas where the job description contains some of the key skills the product requires as well as the product name itself. This search also reveals job titles.

I also set up a Twitter search that summarizes keywords and the company name, mimicking the Google Alerts. This search yielded more news and marketing information than I expected, which I could interpret as users aren’t on Twitter, but the companies are on Twitter.

Finally, I want to segment the customers by demographics, such as men in the U.S. aged 35-44, to see what their tendencies are for using online information based on the latest Groundswell Social Technographics ladder and data.

I’m also going to revisit the user assistance research that Scott Deloach put together, assembling best practices for user assistance.

Advocate for Community Documentation

“Anne, I see you as an advocate for community documentation” – what a great compliment. I was so pleased with the response to my STC Summit talk last week, Strategies for the Social Web for Documentation. Here’s the short description of the talk:

Let’s say that the most driven and driving developer on your team, who also happens to be a popular blogger, comes to you and asks why your end-user documentation doesn’t allow comments or ratings. Rather than stammering something about Wikipedia’s latest scandal, or reaching for imperfect responses that sound like lame excuses, do your homework and learn best practices from others who are implementing social web content that is conversational or based on community goals. Along the way you may realize there are good reasons not to implement a social media strategy, based on studying the potential community and time you’d spend in arbitration with community members on contentious issues, or you may discover that you can borrow from benefits of a single approach while still meeting business goals.


  1. Identify specific types of tools on the social web, such as tags, blogs, wikis.
  2. List risk areas and pitfalls.
  3. Identify writers’ roles with social media (instigator or enabler).
  4. Plan a strategy of listening, participating, building and then offering a platform or community.

I’ve also posted the slides on Slideshare for all to see and share with others.

While talking to technical writers who are struggling to find the vocabulary to describe their new way of working in a content curator or community role, I got the sense that we’re all trying to reinvent our approach to traditional documentation. Coming together at a real-time, in-person event helped me focus my thinking and I appreciate all the dedication that went into the event.

Social media, conversation, and writing style

What are some pointers for developing a style guide for writing on the social web or for certain social mediums? I discuss style guidance at length in chapter 7 in my book, which is titled Finding Your Voice. In fact, I read from chapter 7 for my book reading at South By Southwest Interactive last week! Definitely finding my voice on the couch on stage.

If you’re working on a style guide for social media, you might find this collection of links that are all the footnotes from that chapter from my book, Conversation and Community: The Social Web for Documentation. All the references from that chapter are on delicous.com/annegentle/chapter7, but I think the most relevant are the ones I bookmarked very early on:

  • A List Apart: Style Guide – Be concise, reader-centered, and seek clarity. One quotable line from it is “You need to get in, score, and get out.”
  • Writing for the Social Media Everyman | Copyblogger – “The social media everyman is looking for an entertaining diversion, while being receptive to learning something new if presented in an “edutainment” format that ties the lesson into popular culture.”

I think the main points to remember when developing a style guide are to value highly clear, concise, to the point, honest, and attention-getting writing. Social media seekers read and scan quickly and the payment in the web economy is via links which translate to attention.

The Elements of Style turned 50 years old last year, and has sold 10 million copies. Nearly all our copywriting guidelines could be traced back to that original “little” book, an “attempt to cut the vast tangle of English rhetoric down to size and write its rules and principles on the head of a pin.” (Quote from an article in The New Yorker in 1957)

Web writing hasn’t changed the basics, rather, the web has increased style’s relevance to successful communication.

Wow, oh Wow – Book Reading at SXSW Interactive!

I’ve been given a 20-minute book reading opportunity at SXSWi! I’ve been to SXSW Interactive at least three times over the past five years, and I’m a huge fan of the conference. So, when I saw an email in my inbox from Hugh Forrest, the organizer, I ran around my (home) office with glee!

Here’s a description of the reading, which is scheduled for Tuesday, March 16th at 12:30.

A reading by the author of Conversation and Community: The Social Web for Documentation. This book brings together the worlds of technical communication and social media. It shows how technical communicators can effectively use social media, and describes why quality technical content is essential to a successful social media strategy.

You can add it to your schedule using this link. I’d love to meet you there, and would love your suggestions for what to read from my book. I’m just amazed to have this opportunity and can’t wait to hear questions and comments about the social web for documentation.

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.

Language and socializing online

Lionbridge (a translation and localization firm), is conducting a survey to learn which social networking sites people around the world use the most, whether they’re using them for business or personal use, and in which languages.

They’re trying to get as many people as possible, regardless of industry, organization type, geographic location, to complete the survey to learn more. Lionbridge localized the survey into 18 languages.

Feel free to forward these links to your global neighbors. The survey will take a maximum of 5 minutes to complete. Responses are kept confidential. Only people directly involved with this project will have access to the individual surveys and data collected.

You can receive a summary of the results by providing an email address at the end of the survey.

Survey Link: http://www.lionbridge.com/lionbridge/en-us/kc/globalization/social-media-survey.htm

Talkin’ ’bout a revolution at the STC Summit 2010

I don’t know if it’ll sound like a whisper, but I am excited that my proposal was accepted for the 2010 STC Summit in Dallas! Here’s what I’ll be presenting:

I’m participating in a Content Strategy Progression as described on the STC Content Strategy Special Interest Group blog entry on said progression. I’ll talk about content that is “Shareable, Searchable, Sociable, and Don’t Forget Syndicated.” That should be a fun session, and I’m just sad I won’t be able to wander around the room myself and soak in the Content Strategy goodness!

My proposal for a presentation titled, “Strategies for the Social Web for Documentation” was accepted, hurrah. Here’s what I have as learning objectives for the session, but I’d love to hear your questions as well before I prepare all the slidedeck. What would you want to learn?

Session Objectives:

  1. Identify specific types of tools on the social web, such as tags, blogs, and wikis
  2. List risk areas and pitfalls
  3. Identify writers’ roles with social media (instigator or enabler)
  4. Plan a strategy of listening, participating, building and then offering a platform or community

Session Description:
Let’s say that the most driven and driving developer on your team, who also happens to be a popular blogger, comes to you and asks why your end-user documentation doesn’t allow comments or ratings. Rather than stammering something about Wikipedia’s latest scandal, or reaching for imperfect responses that sound like lame excuses, do your homework and learn best practices from others who are implementing social web content that is conversational or based on community goals. Along the way you may realize there are good reasons not to implement a social media strategy, based on studying the potential community and time you’d spend in arbitration with community members on contentious issues, or you may discover that you can borrow from benefits of a single approach while still meeting business goals.

(Kudos if you recognize the song lyrics to which the title and lead refer.)

DITA tools wiki writing

Notes from WebWorks RoundUp 2009

I attended two days of the WebWorks Roundup here in Austin this week and served on a few panels. I enjoyed signing books as every attendee got copies of books from XML Press. It had featured speakers like Tom Johnson and Stewart Mader as well as sessions with Lisa Dyer and Alan Porter to name a few. Here are my summary take aways from the sessions.

Wiki adoption

Stewart Mader is a wiki consultant, probably the most experienced, practical, and sensible wiki adoption expert available today. His message about wiki adoption resonated with me as I look for collaborative authoring solutions for our Agile teams. He said, if you look around the enterprise, people have high adoption of email for their daily business tasks. In the adoption phase for a wiki or collaboration system, you can tie a wiki to email conceptually as this ubiquitous useful way to get work done. If you think about it, more complex systems have a higher learning curve, so people default back to email to get into their comfort zone. But, sending email messages is an isolating experience – email doesn’t let you work together collectively like a wiki does.

For example, working in the shared space of a wiki is like using light rail to get to work. He has made friends on the train he took each day years ago and he’s still friends with them today. In other words, being in an environment that enables social interaction is more powerful. He says to think about the business process a wiki affects – do not just apply what the Internet says to do with a wiki. The biggest and most powerful collaboration going on with wikis in the enterprise is group collaboration – small groups. You don’t want one-off contributions once, you want repeated collaboration and repeated use, as frequent as email and as a simple core tool that they use for everyday business. Preach it, brother!

He also talked about measurements to indicate that adoption is successful. One of the biggest dangers he sees is counting the number of pages created when adopting a wiki. Don’t do it! Better metrics are measure per time period or per some other unit:

Views                    Day
Revisions      per       Page
Comments                 Unit
Tags                     Type

Automation – 1001 Nightly Builds

Some of WebWorks’ customers gave talks and a panel discussion about automating software builds using WebWorks Automap. These were great eye-openers and my ears perked up because they were writers working in Agile environments. They have to release in tandem with internal development cycles, so they automated as much as they could. One doc group used to have a 15 page document on how to create a PDF complete with screenshots for all the settings. Mary Anthony from Palantir said their writers have to document 4 user interfaces, 3 admin GUIs, more than 12 servers and an API, and they used advanced techniques such as text insets in FrameMaker. Using WebWorks, another writing group had automated PDF generation, wiki output, plus HTML output, all from Framemaker source files.

This was interesting to me – they found there was a true documentation domain and it was hard for someone who usually builds software for them to put together docs. Terms like cross references, text inserts, and so on, were foreign to their build engineers. They don’t even have the concept of “book” as a collection of chapters with a TOC in Framemaker. Even using a Windows server to automate builds was outside of the build engineer’s knowledge.

I learned about a tool called Apache Ivy, which is an agile dependency manager. Using this manager helped them integrate their documentation builds with the product builds. Mary Anthony explained that Ivy waits for the outcome of another build – like a refrigerator holding chocolate pudding, Ivy opens the fridge door and gives the build process what it wants (the chocolate pudding, or the fine documentation).

Overall a great couple of presentations about automation from which I learned a lot.

Blogging and Web 2.0

Tom Johnson is a blogger and technical writer and likely the most subscribed-to blogger in our particular tech comm niche. He gave a great talk based on his blog series, Seven Deadly Sins of Blogging. In case you’re curious, the sins are being Fake, Irrelevant, Boring, Unreadable, Irresponsible, Unfindable, Inattentive. (I’ll link to the rest once he has the blog posts finished.)

He had great pictures representing each sin. My favorite quotes were from Penelope Trunk (The Brazen Careerist, Blogs without topics are a waste of time) and Stephen Fry’s blog entry, “Don’t Quote Me“.

This session was a great starting point for our next panel about Web 2.0, although we mostly talked about blogging. The Technorati State of the Blogsphere 2009 report came out yesterday, so it was useful to talk about some of the findings from it (73% of bloggers use Twitter as compared to 14% of the general population, for one.) I enjoyed talking with Alan Porter and Tom on this panel and I may have asked as many questions as I answered. All in all, a great two days of discussion and presentations.