In my last post How to Deploy Social Media ~ a Call to Arms, I promised to explore the activities and social media tools that as a technical communicator, I can use at each stage of the product development life cycle to collaborate with members of my user community, as we develop audience-centered content for the social web.
The stages that I am using as a writing framework are “awareness, attention, engagement, execution, and extension” (as described in Chris Brogan’s post: Pirate Moves-From Awareness to Extended Action.) I am also using as a model the five stages that apply to almost all software usage: unaware, interested, first-time use, regular use, and passionate use”(see Joshua Porter’s Designing for the Social Web: The Usage Lifecycle).
Both Brogan’s “continuum” of relationship-building stages” and Porter’s “Usage Life-Cycle” mirror the five traditional stages of the writing process: prewriting, drafting, revising, editing, and submitting. In the sections that follow, I interweave these related processes, providing specific examples of how I would use social media tools for collaboration, at each stage of the life-cycle. I also incorporate examples of how Charlene Li and Josh Bernoff used social media tools in their collaborative writing process, drafting the BusinessWeek Bestseller, Groundswell.
According to Brogan, “If you’re selling the coolest software [or Peg’s note: software documentation] in the world, but no one knows that, how are you going to sell it? [or Peg’s note: get someone to follow your instructions?] What comes first is awareness.” For Porter, this is the Unaware stage in the usage life-cycle: “This isn’t so much a stage as it is a starting point.”
Here are some ways technical communicators can use social media tools to increase awareness of their documentation initiatives and to encourage collaboration with their primary and secondary audiences:
- In addition to traditional Release Notes (the documentation users are most likely to refer to), use podcast or video to highlight information about new features, guidelines for use, inter-operability issues, operational notes and restrictions, and software problem reports.
- Use podcast or video to supplement the How-To Use this Doc Set (a guide that often accompanies lengthier doc sets).
- Use a blog or forum to make users aware of legacy docs and to solicit feedback for improvements, recommendations on how to organize the doc set, and input on the preferred medium for delivering online help.
- Use a combination of social media tools (including the blog, wiki, forum, mini social network, and twitter) to complete an audience analysis & gain more detailed understanding of primary and secondary audiences, as well as the purpose of all content deliverables.
- Distribute a documentation plan, via a wiki, so community members can anticipate exactly what deliverables you plan on providing content for and can provide input on what types of content they would most prefer.
- Welcome community members and ask for their help collaborating on content, by revising content via the wiki, adding new content, and helping to edit content.
- Use Twitter to announce when you’ve posted any new content, podcasts, or video to your blog, forum, doc wiki, or company website.
Brogan describes the Attention stage as “a bit more than awareness. It means that people are giving you a little bit more of their time. They expect something back for this, be that entertainment, or a perception of value, or a sense of participation.” Porter describes this usage stage as ‘Interested: These people are interested in your product, but are not yet users. They have lots of questions about how it works and what value it provides.”
Here are some ways technical communicators can use social media tool to increase attention and participation from their content collaborators:
- Post early outlines of the content and solicit feedback on the doc blog, wiki, and user forum.
- Include “talk pages” parallel to each wiki page, where contributors discuss (and sometimes fight over) what ought to be included (Groundswell, p. 25).
- Ask users for real-world examples or scenarios that they want the doc to help them solve.
- Share any bookmarks, related to background research on the technology or product you are documenting, through social bookmarking sites. Authors Charlene Li and Josh Bernoff, of Groundswell, used social bookmarking in this manner to share links about their research and book on Del.icio.us. [del.icio.us/the groundswell].
- Ask your community members (reviewers and co-authors in the next two stages) to share their technology and product-related bookmarks, allowing them to become collaborators with the technical communicator, not just in the writing, but also in the research stage, of the writing process.
Engagement, to Brogan, is ‘the sustained interaction between you (or your product or brand or service) and your buyer [again for the technical communicator, the doc user]. Use tools to maintain two-way interactions. Look for ways to engage in a participatory way.’ For Porter, ‘First-Time Use’ involves “people using your software for the first time, a crucial moment in their progression.”
Here are some ways technical communicators can “capture, maintain, and manage collective knowledge” (Technical Communication in a Social Media World) and use social media tools to further engage their content collaborators:
- Post complete drafts to the wiki and solicit comments.
- Use discussion boards, based on primary & secondary audiences, as a way to discuss topic threads in greater detail. For example: Intuit’s quickbookgroup.com forum for small business owners, using its QuickBooks product (Groundswell, p. 26).
As Li and Bernoff suggest, provide users a place to provide tips, similar to www.ebaywiki.com. (Groundswell, p. 26).
Collaborate with users to develop a glossary, for example: glossary.reuters.com (Groundswell, p. 26).
In the Execution stage, Brogan states “we’re talking about the actual event, or the purchase, or the delivery of information.” Porter describes this stage as “Regular Use”: “These people are those who use your software regularly and perhaps pay for the privilege.”
Here are some ways that technical communicators can use social media tools to execute their content delivery:
- Incorporate all review comments from the community and post a completed draft to the doc wiki.
- Transition into a more moderator-like role, facilitating as community members rewrite the content and directing members to appropriate content.
- Organize content on the social web through tagging, enabling others to more easily locate the documentation. For example, when creating Groundswell, Li & Bernoff organized the web using delicious “to create a set of tags for each chapter, neatly organizing Web sites and articles we’d found.” [del.icio.us/the groundswell].
- Use RSS and widgets to inform your community members of significant updates to the audience-centered content. According to Li and Bernoff, RSS and widgets “give people the ability to consume and process more social content” (Groundswell ,p. 32).
Chris Brogan describes Extension as “a way of moving from what happened to what happens next” and “the feeling that your buyer was part of something.” Porter calls this stage Passionate Use: “These people are the ultimate goal: passionate users who spread their passion and build a community around your software.”
Here are some ways that technical communicators can use social media tools to extend their community-building efforts and to make an impact, not just on the next iteration of the content, but on improving the product:
- Continue to revise and fine-tune the content, acting in a more editorial role.
- Continue to use the blog, user forums, and doc wiki, as a place to receive documentation feed-back.
- Actively solicit customer feedback through surveys and follow-up calls.
- Complete usability tests of the doc with members of the community, showing the live testing process through podcasts, to heighten a sense of participation and investment in the product.
- Report back to Product Management what documentation topics are most active on the social web and consider those as likely places to review, improve, or add-on to the product’s functionality.
In summary, the life-cycle approach for designing audience-centered content for the social web could work this way for technical communicators (or any collaborative writer):
- During the Attention and Interest stages, convince community members to locate, follow, and contribute to the user instructions.
- During the Engagement stage,”capture, maintain, and manage collective knowledge,” enabling the community to rewrite the content later (see Technical Communication in a Social Media World).
- During the Extension stage, reinforce passionate usage of both the content and more importantly, the product.
- Though I propose these examples from the perspective of a technical communicator, the same life-cycle approach applies to most other software development disciplines and is the best framework for deploying social media in the large enterprise.
What are your thoughts on the collaborative activities that I propose for technical communicators, at each stage of the usage life-cycle? If you represent a different discipline, what social media tools would you use at each stage, as relates to your different goals? Would this collaborative writing approach still apply in agile development settings, where both the product and documentation are delivered by module, in short, iterative cycles?