Social media as we know it has blossomed from the early days of Friendster and Bebo to the ever-present Facebook and Twitter. It’s important for every technical writer to take advantage of tools that can help your output and productivity. Here, I run through the reasons why you should embrace and learn to make the most of social media.
Improve Your Knowledge
You don’t need to jump through massive hoops to get the latest information nowadays. Information has never been as accessible as it is now, with up-to-date news coming directly to you through smartphones and tablets. Ever since the likes of Facebook rose to prominence, the way that people digest information has changed dramatically. There has been a shift away from traditional news outlets such as radio, rolling TV news channels and newspapers towards social platforms like Twitter. Why? Well, a large part of it is that humans are social beings. Information spreads quickly and freely between individuals on a public forum.
- Follow respected individuals and news agencies to improve your understanding of the industry and subject matter.
- Search using hashtags to find out details of latest releases and versions.
- Find hints, tips and secret features through other people’s posts and use these to test your documentation.
Social media will help you gain the knowledge you need to expand and improve your documentation.
Build Customer Relations
Social media offers companies a unique way of interacting with their client or customer base. I often hear how customers tweet or message companies to get a more direct and quicker response. Equally, companies respond to their customers to provide help succinctly and improve their relationship. It’s fair to say that a good technical writer understands their subject matter as if they developed it themselves. So why not share your knowledge with the end user?
- Add pictures to help your followers visualise solutions to problems.
- Create polls to gather opinions.
- Feature posts that elaborate on the most popular issues.
Social media interaction eliminates the need for the user to search through endless documentation to get the help they need. The easier it is for the user to find the right answer, the happier they will be (and a happy user means a happy technical writer).
Understand Your Audience
Social media is rife with everyone’s opinions about everything. Use that to your advantage by learning what your users like and don’t like. Social media gives you an updated view of what users are discussing. It’s important to understand what your user base is thinking, because a smart technical writer will always cater to the needs of the user. Analysing social media trends makes it easier to figure out what needs to be changed, updated or documented. The benefit of this is that you can still shape the next version of your documentation with user feedback, even if users don’t always like to go directly to the company to air their feelings.
Form a User Base
Fan pages and company profiles have rocketed in number and popularity over the last few years. The benefits of having a centralised page is that your end users are aggregated with each other. This makes it easy for you to engage with them. You can then target users with the right content relevant for your industry, service and social media platform. For example, don’t post pictures of cats if you’re part of a software company (and especially, don’t post them on LinkedIn!).
- Keep your page updated by augmenting company news bulletins with relevant content such as help articles and blog posts. The variety of content keeps your users interested and lets them know that you are active.
- You can also use pages and groups to create discussions with and between your users that may become useful for future revisions of your user guides.
Our role as technical writers should always start with understanding what the user wants and needs to know. Get ahead of the game and improve your documentation with social media.