Using Web 2.0 To Improve Documentation

By BroadVision on July 14, 2010

In an article published last year titled Convergence Technical Communication: Strategies for Incorporating Web 2.0, Nicky Bleiel discussed techniques for using Web 2.0 to help make the user experience a better one. The topic of wanting users to have a positive experience is not a new one for technical communicators. As the mediators between those developing technologies and the audience who must use them, we want users to comprehend key concepts in a manner that results in the least amount of effort and the most success. When we prevail, we add value by reducing the amount of support calls received and by helping to leave a positive impression of the organization with the customer. In the best scenario we contribute to a customer’s desire to return and purchase more products or services.

How does Web 2.0 encourage users to comprehend ideas and more easily find success, though? In itself, I don’t believe it can. Embracing a technology without considering user needs can result in wasted effort. For example, using DITA might not be the best choice for a small documentation team with a tight budget and little need for single-sourcing. Similarly, in the Web 2.0 world, creating a corporate account on a traditional social networking site without planning doesn’t seem like an astute move. Applying Web 2.0 technologies wisely, though, can help your team become more valuable to both customers and management. In the article, Bleiel mentions four best practices to employ; below I describe how we apply her suggestions.

Analyze often. Analyzing our needs helps us to determine what types of Web 2.0 tools to incorporate into our documentation strategy. For instance, does it make sense to use several tools so that we can microblog and create a video? Or is it better to use a product designed to deliver information in multiple formats? Enterprise Social Networking tools today offer many features—several of which can assist documentation teams in offering their audiences many choices. Analyzing our needs has helped us to make wise decisions.

Know your audience. For example, before employing the use of videos, we talk to folks and see if it makes sense to use this delivery mechanism based on audience needs. Maybe a short blog about some product updates makes more sense than a video. Sometimes multiple formats can really help users by offering them a choice in the manner in which to receive information. With proper tools, we found that we can use multiple formats easily to better help our audience.

Keep up with trends. This one might be my personal favorite—it’s a lot of fun to monitor what’s going on in technology. However, I’m not instilling any new wisdom when I write that adopting trends depends on your needs. It seems prudent to know what the trends are, though, so that you can effectively evaluate your choices.

Tie your traditional documentation efforts with your Web 2.0 efforts. We found that a cohesive plan can result in a well-rounded documentation selection for users. For example, we still publish some documents in traditional formats—it makes sense for certain products. For other products, we use a combination of help files, blogs, forums, and so on.

When using Web 2.0, we still want users to enjoy a good experience and to encourage customers to return. In fact, during the most highly competitive market in decades, it seems that helping customers to return is a mandate for technical communicators today, not an option. I think that properly selecting Web 2.0 tools can help with this mandate.