STC Summit day 2 – Global, mobile, social: Surfing the perfect storm

It’s day 2 at the STC 2012, the annual conference of the Society for Technical Communication. I’m attending a session called “Surfing the perfect storm”, by Tristan Bishop.

I’ve always wanted to meet Tristan. We’ve swapped many a tweet. So I was really looking forward to this session, and Tristan met my expectations and more.

Tristan’s presentation was about the alarming rate at which communication methods are changing, and how technical writers can keep up.

What is “the perfect storm”?

A perfect storm happens when three storms come together. Bringing the metaphor to our world: three major things are happening at the moment:

  • Global (Only 12% of web users are in North America. Asia has more than three times the number of web users than in North America. Our content needs to be available in all languages.)
  • Mobile (Global mobile adoption grew from 16% to 87% in the last 10 years.)
  • Social (The percentage of social users in each country is in the high eighties to nineties (apart from China).)


  • Hardcopy is dying.
  • Data growth is exploding. As a result, the likelihood of people finding your content is decreasing.
  • Promoting content on the Google+ network increases the page ranking in the Google search results. If you want people to find your content, you need a Google+ account and you need to mention the content on Google+.

In a nutshell

The above trends are going to change the way we work. Why not be the one who goes to your boss and says, “I know how to do this”?

More stats

Interesting stats about mobile self service:

  • 86% of smartphone users say they use their devices for just-in-time help.
  • 35% of US smartphone users have used their device to solve an unexpected problem in the last month.

Tristan showed us some stats of the number of pieces of content shared on Google, Facebook, Twitter and YouTube. Billions per day! A reasonable percentage (about 10% on Facebook, says Tristan) is user assistance content.

The rise of text

Things are moving to text, away from voice. For example, technical support channels are moving to text. Teenagers don’t spend time talking on the phone any more. They’re online or texting.

Guess who’s good at writing text? Technical writers. The new channels all require people who can translate unintelligible answers into concise, understandable text.

We will no longer be writing manuals. Instead, we must move to where the work is, such as the text-based support channels.

Video is also crucial. People are increasingly using video to find out how to do something. YouTube is the place people go when they’re looking for guidelines.

What we should do

Our content should:

  • Be available in all languages.
  • Be optimised for mobile platforms.
  • Be shareable in social networks.
  • Give our companies a competitive advantage by being global, mobile and social.

Preparing for globalisation

We need to standardise our content for translation, and focus on efficiency and process improvement. Use automation and machine translation as much as possible.

It doesn’t matter what tool you use. What matters is: Are you doing things consistently, and can you automate it. This is essential when you are doing everything in a number of languages.

Preparing for mobile delivery

Our content must be short and simple. It must be modular, and optimised for search.

Preparing for social delivery

We need to…

At this point, Tristan burst into song. Yes really! “Somewhere over the rainbow”, by audience request. It was awesome.

We need to increase customers’ loyalty, which will make us money. The technical communication team can do this. We can listen to what people are saying about our products on the social networks. We can classify what they’re saying, and use it. For example, if they’re asking for help we can make sure the technical support team answers their questions. If they’re ranting, we can ask what the problem is and see if we can help the customer. If they’re saying nice things, we can let the marketing team know that there’s something they can use in product promotion.

Sometimes they’re asking a question that doesn’t need a technical support engineer. We can point them to the documentation.

The key is to communicate with people in the channel of their choice.

The key is also to show to our managers that technical writers can give value in this area, because we read, analyse, and respond clearly. In Tristan’s company (Symantec), the technical writers play a huge role in managing customer relationships and coordinating responses, via the social media.

Thank you Tristan for a highly entertaining, energetic and informative talk!


About Sarah Maddox

Technical writer, author and blogger in Sydney

Posted on 23 May 2012, in STC, technical writing and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 4 Comments.

  1. Thanks, Sarah. You’ve written a great summary of a great, great session. I’ve always appreciated Tristan’s positive outlook. He reminded us that these changes, although they sound daunting, actually play to our strengths as technical communicators.

    • Hallo Larry
      That’s a great point.We have the skills. Sometimes it’s easy to forget that. Tristan’s own career and passion are inspiring.
      Cheers, Sarah

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