Part I: Social Media, Open Architecture & Mobile Devices : Social Media
   
Social Media
The Internet has evolved from a collection of databases and brochure pages to fast-paced digital human interactions that have created a second universe for both business and personal users. It is dominated by websites and forums where users share opinions with one another on any variety of topics. Savvy businesses are capitalizing on the basic human need for communication and engagement. The functionality to easily comment upon, share or rate a point of interest is producing a long tail effect, giving content virtual legs that take it to previously unknown communities. “Virality”, even on a small scale, helps to create conversation and community around even the most mundane topics.
As a result of this trend, users now demand that content is a two –sided conversation. It has become a basic tenet of the Internet experience to be able to easily share experiences with your network. Industries and companies that remain closed lip will find it increasingly difficult to engage today’s prospects and customers. Technical communication is an example of an industry that is too slowly executing on the need to give the end user a voice.
Help documentation is traditionally created behind a company firewall, most commonly developed by technical communicators and other qualified groups within the company. Once content is published to traditional online help systems using standard HATs there is little opportunity for the end user to provide feedback or comments to the company or other users. The company has missed a valuable opportunity to allow end users or subject matter experts (SME) to create rich conversations and community surrounding their product or service.
Disqus,
Facebook,
& Twitter
Social networking services such as Twitter, Facebook and Disqus have emerged in the past decade and revolutionized the Internet, as well as nearly all forms of commerce. Facebook currently has over five hundred million users, 50% of which are logging in every day. Business professionals and personal users alike utilize these services on a daily basis to keep connected with friends and business contacts, share information and communicate with other users. It is very rare in 2011 to find a person who is not familiar with at least a few various social networking mediums. Open APIs and simple plugins make using these services simple when using a browser-based help system that supports open collaboration.
Creating an internal feedback loop for your users can be a difficult task for technical communicators, but it is essential to building excellent documentation. Various points of view and feedback from end users and subject matter experts can prompt internal responses and updates to future versions of help content or even the product itself.
By integrating your help documentation with social networking mediums organizations can allow their end users to easily interact with their documentation every day. This ability to have a steady flow of updated help content (even in the form of Disqus comments, Facebook Likes or Twitter Tweets) will ensure that the product or service being sold appears credible, with up-to-date sources of information and an engaged user base.