Technical Communication in 140 Characters or Less

While it is easy to get sucked into following your favorite celebrities on Twitter, the truth is that Twitter is a valuable tool for both personal and professional social awareness. Not only can one share what they had for breakfast, but read about world events and even find a job. For any non-tweeps, technical writer Sarah Maddox gives a great introduction on how to use Twitter in her article, “Twitter as a Medium for Release Notes.” She goes on to suggest the use of Twitter to supply technical product documentation/marketing known as release notes.

So, how does a technical communicator use Twitter? Alan J. Porter’s article, “Tweet Me This,” is a great resource for how to start on Twitter, when and how to post, who to follow, and how to manage a corporate Twitter account. What struck me the most useful was Porter’s simple reminder: “Twitter is not a platform for just marketing tag lines and slogans; it’s about listening and engagement.”

According to Anne Gentle in her article, “Focus on Twitter for Technical Documentation,” before you send a single tweet, you should determine exactly who your audience is, their needs and interests related to your business, and the character (persona) that you wish to convey to that audience. While my first impulse is to say that Twitter uses far less posturing than, for example, Facebook, I think that a more accurate view would be that Twitter requires a consistent character. In order to maintain your following, you must meet the expectations of your audience (whether that is a conservative approach or a continually ranting one).

Still, no matter how good they are or how many followers you have, your tweets are not going to be read by the majority of your intended audience. Rich Maggiani explains why in his Intercom article, “Your Flowing Tweet Stream.”

So, now that you know how to start, how do you continue to manage the flow? You can use apps such as TweetDeck to monitor your tweets on your phone or desktop. RSS (Really Simple Syndication) feeds are also a way to automatically receive tweets from your followers and those you are following, without having to be on the website 24/7. You can also use RSS feeds to subscribe to news sites, notify you of updates to your favorite websites, and channel new blog entries into your chosen RSS aggregator (like Google Reader or FeedDemon). An aggregator functions like an email service, providing you with a list of notifications of these feeds so you can choose what you want to read. It’s like having someone surf the web for you, so you can waste more time on reddit or pinterest.

Professional Blogs: Connecting Writers and Readers

There are few mediums for communication that can provide the dichotomies that blogging does: the instantaneous, yet permanent; the individual, yet corporate; the focused, yet far-reaching. A professional blog can distribute information, marketing, branding, media, and commentary. Delivering content that is both useful and relevant takes constant attention to the trends in your profession and the needs of your readership.

A blog also provides a direct channel for interaction between the writer and the audience. Blogs are, by their nature, social tools. It is important to remember that you are not the only participant in the activity. By incorporating interactive surveys or quizzes and even simple offerings like a comment section, you are allowing your readers to participate in building your blog. Adding special topics, guest writers, and promotional links on other sites can also bring traffic to your site.

As a technical communicator, the spotlight is not only on what you say, but how you say it. You can easily provide instruction on the latest authoring tool or wiki; however, if you do not allow your personality to show through the content, your blog will become nothing more than a help file. Find your voice, and use it build a relationship with your readers. Create a resource for your audience that gives them information and inspiration.

I’d Rather Be Writing is a great blog written by technical writer, Tom Johnson. An older, yet still highly relevant entry gives great insight into creating and maintaining a professional blog.

Additional technical communication blogs worth perusing:

A Techie Tech Writer Blog
Every Page is Page One
ffeathers — a technical writer’s blog
HelpScribe Technical Writing
Intext Writing
Just Write Click
Kai’s Tech Writing Blog
one man writes
The Content Wrangler

Need a site to host your blog? If you have never visited Technical Writing World, you should head there now. This self-proclaimed “Social Network for Technical Communicators” is a great place for sharing information, asking questions, and professional collaboration.

Know of any technical communication blogs worth reading? Have a blog that you would like to share? Spread the word in the comments.

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