WritersUA 2011 Sunday – Social media for the technical communicator

This week I’m attending the WritersUA 2011 Conference for Software User Assistance in Long Beach, California. Today is Sunday but, true to form, this conference has kicked off to a great start already. The first session I attended was “Social Media for the Technical Communicator”, presented by Jack Molisani. These are my notes from the session. If you find any inaccuracies, they’ll be mine.

Jack is organiser of the Lavacon Conference on Digital Media and Content Strategies, which I would love to attend. He’s also hooked into the power of the crowd, especially when gathering ideas for topics for Lavacon. Having seen his unique method of putting the conference programme together (propose an idea in the form of a diagram, then ask the whole wide world to comment) I decided it would be great to hear his session on social media.

Acknowledging the existence of and power of social media

Jack’s session was very interactive, with many comments and questions from the audience. I have not tried to note down everything that people said. Instead, here are a few of the points that struck me in particular.

Jack pointed out that in the early days of the web, you needed a company website because that’s where people were looking for you. The same thing is now happening with social media.

It’s not just a fad, but a new way of communicating. Jack mentioned that he has recently cut down the amount of time he is spending online, because it just got to be too much. But his usage of social media has not gone away. It has just changed.

Jack gave many statistics that show how social media sites are growing.

What about the possibility of negative comments? How do you control the message in social media? You don’t. It’s not yours to control. But you can give people something positive to talk about.

Experiment, learn and change as you go

Jack talked about his own experiences when he first converted the Lavacon website to “Web 2.0” (by making it a WordPress site) and gave it a Facebook page. He was disappointed, because very few people added comments to the website, and even though a number of attendees registered officially, very few of them noted their attendance on Facebook. This experiment backfired, because other people were put off by the fact that so few people seemed to be attending.

He learned from this experience. During the conference itself, he recorded attendees reporting what they had learned at LavaCon. Then he posted the videos on YouTube. He found that people watched and responded to the videos. He had discovered the medium that technical writers respond to. He could take down the Facebook page, because it did not suit the people he was talking to. They were not looking for Lavacon on Facebook.

This is the big thing that Jack learned: The difference between advertising to and engaging your customers. Twitter is not a channel for advertising. The message is: Find out what works for you, throw away what doesn’t and keep what does. Use social media to listen to your audience, rather than to talk to them. Use social media to give them something to talk about.

The development of the Lavacon website

Jack gave us some great examples from his LavaCon website, showing how the various stages of the website’s development reflect the process he has followed in learning about social media.

He also showed us a very cool new, interactive model that he has developed to show the content management lifecycle in three dimensions. The model takes the form of a coffee pot (yes, that’s right, a coffee pot), with a guiding hand to represent project management, and mugs to represent the output formats. Using your mouse, you can tip and turn the diagram to see it from all angles.You can download the PDF file from the Lavacon programme page. (A note of caution: At the moment the PDF file is slow to load and play. Jack is working on a way to reduce download and processing time.)

Jack is very excited about this model. It resulted from the comments that people made on the LavaCon website, suggesting the parts of the content management lifecycle and thus the potential topics for the LavaCon conference. Jack will also be publishing an article about the model, and how he arrived at it, in the May issue of Intercom.

Intercom recently published another article of Jack’s. The PDF file is currently available on the ProSpring resources page: Is Social Networking for You.

In conclusion

Thank you Jack for a lively, interactive session with some great stories of personal experiences with social media to back up the ideas.

To the reader of this post: Would you like to tweet at Jack, telling him that you’ve read this post and perhaps asking him a question? Click this link: Compose me a tweet.

The link will put some suggested text into your Twitter status box. It will not tweet it automatically. You can change the text, perhaps add a question, or even choose not to tweet at all. The suggested text is: @JackMolisani Cool! Saw a post by @sarahmaddox about your WritersUA session on social media for techcomm http://tinyurl.com/64v57nx

About Sarah Maddox

Technical writer, author and blogger in Sydney

Posted on 14 March 2011, in technical writing, WritersUA and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 2 Comments.

  1. Love your blog – and thanks for sharing this with us.

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