As someone who uses social networking in a limited and more focused fashion than most, I was interested in a entry called “Social Web for Documentation” on CherryLeafs’ blog. It features Ellis Pratt interviewing Anne Gentle. In it Anne uncovers how social networking sites can be used to provide a level of user assistance and how changes in the way users interact with documentation means we Technical Writers may need to adapt. It also uncovers some of the potential pitfalls of using these new media. Altogether an interesting 10-15 minutes.
If I’m honest, I have until recently looked on from the sidelines when it comes to using social networking professionally mainly because I failed to see a use for it. After all a recent survey revealed that 40% of tweets were meaningless cyber babble of little use to a wider audience. All that changed last March when I saw an example of how it can influence and educate others. I was at a conference for a national charity I am involved with where it was demonstrated how a campaign message had been widely disseminated throughout the media. Supporters had been asked to tweet on it at the same date and time. The success of the action was unprecedented and achieved the desired aim.
Like most things in life, the key is ensuring a strong focus and key deliverable. A good example of this is Adobe’s Senior Product Evangelist R J Jacquez. If you use any Adobe product as part of the Technical Communications Suite or RoboHelp, Captivate, FrameMaker, Photoshop individually, and don’t follow him on Twitter, you need your head examined. His tweets are a classic example of how social networking can be used to add value to the user documentation experience. If you don’t use Adobe products, you should still follow him (even briefly) to get an idea of how it could work for you.
I suppose the purists could argue that using social networking site in this manner is more marketing than documentation. There is more than an element of truth in this but does that matter? Isn’t it more grist to the mill? In the modern business world we are all busy people and will use whatever method is available or easily to hand to find out what we need. This could be Google, LinkedIn, Twitter, web based help files, local help files or a printed document. A documentation strategy that includes web based movies, help files on a PC hard drive and peer to peer product forums is perfectly acceptable. So is a wiki with links to other resources. But what really adds value is the ability to tie all these elements together. For example links to associated articles, product news or requesting feedback. All are just a few of the uses of social networking and as Technical Writers can often work inside a corporate bubble with little user contact, this has to be encouraged.
In my opinion, one of the most interesting advances in recent years has been the Googleisation of user help experience. Whether this is good or bad, the fact remains that millions of people go to Google first when searching the internet. Whilst a good help file or document index is still necessary, the inexorable move towards searching for keywords must not be ignored, particularly when directing documentation to a younger, web savvy audience. What is more, the search algorithm deployed by Google (and other search engines) is more likely to display blogs and wikis above other articles. If that doesn’t help make up your mind, I don’t know what will!