Recently, I’ve been exploring the need for writing procedures in real-time, focusing on Twitter in particular. This is the fourth post in the series. In my last post, I was asked by Larry Kunz in a comment for thoughts on situations in which one might write procedures in Twitter. Five come to mind; I’ve described them below.
Update: This post was recently included as a Holy Kaw item on Alltop.com.
The beauty of Twitter is that you can quickly disseminate information to a large, targeted audience. Initially, it would, of course, be followers of the feed in question. Retweeting then magnifies that distribution, possibly exponentially. In classic online docs (help, websites, knowledgebases, and the like), we wait for users to come to us. By using Twitter, we can go to them.
This puts an entirely different spin on the whole question of doc development. When planning a content strategy, consider this: what might you want to hand-deliver to your users vs. requiring them to come to you to find?
Let’s say, for example, that you have a procedure regarding a fix that’s needed immediately. If one user has a question about it and asks a question on a Twitter support feed, you can be sure that there are many that have the same question. So if a person retweets a procedure, it could possibly travel far. If there’s a negative comment (e.g., something along the lines of “this app doesn’t work, it’s awful”) it might compel a company to get out a fix or explanation, or a quick procedure to quell disruptions.
Example: late last year there were there hacking attacks that affected WordPress sites that hadn’t been upgraded to the newest version. Site managers that had not yet upgraded needed to act immediately to fend off an attack on their sites. News came through Twitter. It was retweeted everywhere. That’s how I found out about it. In such a case, you could write a quick procedure about the upgrade requirements as well as other information. Who knows how far a procedure might travel? I think that tweets pointed people to blogs and sites that had procedures or information about how to address the situation – which in itself is another excellent example.
WordPress is updated frequently. There are docs and blog posts in existence that describe how to upgrade to the latest version. It doesn’t matter what version; the same basic procedures apply to any upgrade. (That’s the beauty of WordPress. There’s so much information out there, and the open-source community is so helpful and collaborative. It’s wonderful.)
If you have an app that has regular updates (as WordPress does), or just has an impending release, why not have something written beforehand that you could point to when necessary? When I ran my Twitter procedure experiment on 12/29/09, Larry Kunz (@larry_kunz) made this suggestion:
“Also, and I know this is a lot harder than it sounds: anticipate the situation, and have responses pre-written, ready to go.”
This is exactly the type of situation that fits Larry’s suggestion. Anything that occurs on at least a periodic basis (such as app updates) should have some docs already written somewhere. Plus, said docs should be written in a generic fashion that would be applicable to any upgrade situation (content management in action) – not just one in particular. You can always address particulars, but have some clean generic docs ready at all times.
Product Launches and New Features
If a company has an app revision or new feature and wants to get the news out, a related procedure in Twitter might support marketing efforts. (As in, here’s our new feature; here’s how to use it.) It also never hurts a company to promote visibility of their products, keeping the company in mind. Pointing out features that would help users and save them time is always a good idea.
People are growing accustomed to getting information right now. They may not have the patience to look through online docs to find it. I cannot emphasize real-time considerations enough. There’s also always the possibility that one of your tweets will be picked up and distributed immediately once it hits the airwaves.
Either put a quick procedure in Twitter, or put in one tweet that links to the appropriate location in online docs or some other location, such as a SharePoint portal. Help your users. Answer their questions before they know they need them. Fix their problems. Monitor support questions and get something out there once in a while. Why not put a short FAQ in your support feed, particularly if it’s asked regularly?
After all, excellent customer service is always a good idea. Given that tech writers must perpetually sell their worth to a company, it sure can’t hurt to help customers.
Go Where Your Users Are
If users are scanning Twitter regularly or using Facebook, that’s where some of your docs should be. If they’re reading your blogs, think about adding procedures there. You can embed Twitter feeds in multiple places: WordPress sites, Facebook, LinkedIn, and Google Wave. Also, in Facebook, people can leave comments for each tweet that becomes a status item in Facebook. Look at the Mashable page for an example.
Remember: social media is a primary mode of communication these days. Start using it, if you’re not already. If nothing else, mentions of detailed docs and links to them can easily be integrated into these locations.
If your users are all at Twitter, Facebook, blogs, and the like much of the time, why not go there? If not, you may find yourself standing at an empty storefront.