One postscript to my last post, a review of Li and Bernoff’s “Groundswell, Winning in a World Transformed by Social Technologies”, involves the section, “Internal Groundswell Benefits Touch on Many Objectives” (p. 219).
Though the authors were referring to a different scenario (having multiple social objectives, within the enterprise, versus a single objective), the section really resonated with my issues as a technical writer, because it’s one of the few commentaries, where I’ve seen a multidimensional scenario (similar to the multiple objectives and audiences served via technical documentation), discussed.
Addressing objectives for social technologies within the enterprise, Li and Bernoff note:
In chapter 4 we told you to build applications with a single objective in mind: listening, talking, energizing, supporting, or embracing. This approach also applies within the enterprise, but…these objectives tend to blend together in internal applications. Management’s relationships with employees—and employees’ relationships with each other—are multidimensional (p. 219).
Then, Li and Bernoff go on to illustrate how Best Buy’s Blue Shirt Nation accomplishes all five of the objectives for an internal social strategy, including listening to the groundswell, talking to the groundswell, energizing the groundswell, supporting the groundswell, and embracing the groundswell…
Earlier, in the business to business section, Li and Bernoff recommended focusing on a single external objective, mainly for measurement purposes:
…But your strategy should be designed from the start to focus on a primary objective, and its progress toward that objective that you should measure. Then you will be able to measure the return of your groundswell investment. And that, based on our experience, is the path most likely to lead to success…(p. 70).
In Bernoff and Li’s description of the internal groundswell scenario, I see so many parallels to the multidimensional nature of technical writing deliverables. One likely reason for the parallels is that technical documentation often supports other in-house objectives, with Quality Assurance, Marketing|Sales, and Customer Support as unofficial, but important secondary audiences. If there is a multidimensional “feel” to the doc objectives, it may be because these internal audiences and objectives are far more important to the organization than traditionally recognized.
The multidimensional nature of technical documentation doesn’t stop there. Externally, technical documentation traditionally serves multiple objectives as well. In my ten plus years as a technical writer, I’ve reported to Development, Quality Assurance, Marketing, and Tech Support/Professional Services, because in the various organizations I’ve worked at, the technical documentation function has aligned most with the external business goals, served by these respective business functions.
In reality, the technical documentation always serves all these functions to some degree, which makes measuring the full range of its value more difficult.
If technical writers take Bernoff and Li’s recommendations to heart, we would narrow our objectives to a single focus, to better measure success. But does that really make sense for such a multidimensional function? And for that matter, especially when applied to social technologies, is it ever really possible to separate listening to, talking to, energizing, helping, or embracing customers? To me, this approach to measurement seems to only reinforce the silo culture. Isn’t there a more sophisticated way to measure multidimensional business functions?