Listening to Social Media to Improve Technical Content

Listening to Social Media to Improve Technical Content

Source: TC World

Technical writers can no longer ignore social media. Valuable (and not so valuable) information about your company, its products and possibly even its instruction manuals is being exchanged here on a daily basis. So how can you extract the clues from the chatter?

In Likeable Social Media, Dave Kerpen underscored the most important rule in engaging any type of audience: “Listen first, and always!” Social media isn’t always an obvious information pool for technical communication purposes. Maybe you’re in a specialized business-to-business market, or your company isn’t too keen on maintaining an active presence in social media. Whatever the case, it doesn’t mean that you can’t use social media to funnel back the questions, problems, and user-generated tips that your customers talk about online.

Social media listening should be part of any technical communication team’s content strategy. However, a recent survey by the Center for Information-Development Management reveals that less than half of respondents do so. Are you still thinking about business objectives that could justify time spent on the effort? Listen to this: the majority of users would rather search online for quick answers than press F1 to find official Help content. Ensuring that your customers’ voice is considered in your authoring process could boost your content’s potential to help resolve pain points, reduce call center costs, and double as a brand asset and touchpoint.

Here are some suggestions on how to establish a social media listening program for your team.

Identify channels for monitoring feedback

Remember that you should be more concerned with conversations around your company’s product and not just focused on the technical content you produce. Any social media listening program should start with your own company resources, such as a Facebook fan page, YouTube channel, or corporate blog. But what if your company hasn’t realized the benefit of such accounts yet? You can check out related social networks, forums, and other resources that directly or indirectly touch on your product, service, or industry. You can also use competitors’ sites to dig deeper to what you could be missing out on. Make an initial list of around 20 social media sites that you find worthwhile to monitor, and then split the responsibility within your team.

Design a mechanism for recording feedback

Research and choose the right online tools for social media monitoring. Free tools such as Google Alerts or HootSuite are good places to start for finding user-generated content. You can then later assess if you need to budget for advanced tools or outsource the function.

To help with initial content analysis, you can create a simple online form that your team can use to log actionable feedback from social media. You don’t need to copy-paste entire threads of conversations – just pick relevant extracts to record and keep the URL to review the original context later. One hard area to track is user-to-user replies in the comments section, but this is where some of the most interesting details thrive.

Provide a means to classify the type of user-generated content that is recorded: question, complaint, tip, use case scenario, or troubleshooting information? Once you move on to examining feedback that can be repurposed in your content, it will be a godsend to be able to filter the collected logs.

Mine and analyze the collected feedback

As social media feedback pours in, plan on when to hold your initial review of the collected logs. You can time it so that you can triage items that are worthwhile to include in your next major content development cycle. When the volume is rather overwhelming, it doesn’t mean that you have to apply all or most of the feedback you got. Decide and prioritize with your team on items that serve most value to customers.

Most of the collected feedback will be related to how the product functions itself. Be sure to pass this critical information along to product groups, and share any action you’re planning to implement on the content side. From a technical communication perspective, it’s one way to advocate for your users and to also contribute proactively to the R&D process.

Turn feedback into useful content

Social media feedback will hopefully surface ideas for content that you haven’t produced yet, and ideas that could be improved. Concept and task topics could very well be inspired by third-party blogs. A forum reply can be considered as an additional tip to an existing tutorial. Or maybe a Facebook comment could make you rethink how you deliver content on the Web. Also, since the collected logs would indicate how your target audience phrases questions and uses key terms, you can learn from their vocabulary and add their “words” in certain topics to increase searchability.

Technical communicators must recognize that their professionally packaged and vetted content faces a huge challenge in the “unofficial” knowledge thriving in online forums, blogs, and social networking sites. As we’re seeing now, users themselves are starting the conversation, figuring out alternate ways for getting tasks done, and troubleshooting issues that they encounter. And, they’re sharing their experience and expertise without expecting anything in return.

Instead of fearing that the profession would go into obsolescence, technical communicators must listen to social media and respond to it by developing user-centered content. Better yet, technical communicators should use these same social media channels to deliver content and to start engaging in online conversations. By doing so, there’s going to be a stronger case for technical communication as an indispensable part of the customer experience.