Week 12 – Content Strategy for the Web

November 12, 2011

Halvorson, Kristina. “Content Strategy for the Web.” 5-42, 147-72: New Riders Press, 2009.

 

Halvorson begins “Content Strategy for the Web” with five suggestions to improve web content.  These include: 

  • Do less, not more – less content is easier to manage and is more user-friendly
  • Figure out what you have and where it’s coming from – conduct a content audit
  • Learn how to listen – find out from you customers what their true needs are
  • Put someone in charge – establish an editor-in-chief to maintain the content
  • Start asking, Why? – develop clear reasons for delivering content online (5-12)

One of the biggest problems with content strategies is that in most organizations, no one actually does own the content – this causes priorities to clash and compromises to be made (20).  Someone needs to be “in charge” of balancing all of the different priorities between different aspects of the organization in order for the content to actually be effective.  Halvorson goes on to emphasize that our standards for content are really low.  Too often, more time and effort have been invested in the flashy design and interface workings of a website, leaving content as a last-minute after-thought. 

Halvorson defines content strategy as a “holistic, well-considered plan for obtaining a specific goal or result” through the use of “text, data, graphics, video, audio, [and] countless [online] tools” (32).  A true content strategy plans for content’s creation, delivery, and governance (33).  In order to determine what angle to take on this strategy plan, web analytics must come into the mix into order to provide you with “hard data about how content efforts have impact on you business’s bottom line” (147).  One of the most difficult aspects of implementing a plan is to do so with a clear maintenance plan in place.  This can include both individual and team responsibilities including web editor-in-chief, web editor, web writer, search engine optimization strategist, reviewers, and approvers (160-161).  Some of the best companies who treat web content as a business asset that drives their success online include: 

  • Wells Fargo
  • IBM.com
  • REI
  • Mint.com

This whole balance of learning how to listen to actual, relevant needs and filtering out the immediate wants of an organization is a fine-tuned skill that can make the difference between an effective website and one that comes across as desperate to incorporate every new idea that happens to pop into someone’s head.  Along this same line of thought, it is important to look to the needs of the customer in addition to the desires of the organization as a whole; however, “just because an employee or a customer asks for something does not mean it should be automatically delivered upon” (11).  For example, in the reading for last week by Friess, participants in a study indicated that they wanted an index to help navigate the manual the participants were testing.  However, the organization was adamant that they were not going to pay to include an index – it was non-negotiable.  Eventually, the index did work its way into the final product but only because the organization realized its essential benefit to the participants in the study. 

The other aspect of content strategy that really clicked with me was the emphasis on clear business objectives and goals for an organization.  In curriculum planning, I often see too many teachers get hung-up on a particular novel that they just can’t bear to part with or a new technique or teaching strategy that they just have incorporate into the classroom; often, ideas and methods are implemented without pause to ask “Why?” Sure, new techniques and newer technology can be helpful with classroom engagement and variation in presenting information, but if they fail to contribute to the overall goal of teaching a concept or getting a skill across, how effective can they be?  The same premise is true for delivering effective web content.  Without a clear goal and purpose in mind, a website can be ineffective and fail to achieve its desired results despite its shiny new homepage and flashy icons.  What qualities and skills are necessary in an individual to oversee the creation and execution of an effective content strategy for an organization?


Week 11 – User-Centeredness in Computer Documentation

November 6, 2011

Johnson, Bob. “User-Centeredness, Situatedness, and Designing the Media of Computer Documentation.” In ACM Eighth International Conference on Systems Documentation, 55-61,1990.

 

Johnson’s article on user-centeredness in designing computer documentation begins with an emphasis on the danger of such a philosophy.  He suggests that the phrase “user-centeredness” could become “at best, empty rhetoric, and, at worst . . . could serve to undermine the humanitarian goals of a user-centered ethic” (55).  His dual purpose in writing the article is to:

1) focus on a clear understanding of what user-centeredness means in regards to

2) discuss how to design for the different media of computer documentation.

Johnson argues that “the ineffectiveness of systems lies in the miscalculations and poor planning of the designers” rather than a reflection on the competency of the consumers (56).  Much documentation is written to reflect “what the designer views as the important components” instead of taking the true user into account (56).  In regards to a text-centered approach as an option for good document design, Johnson comments that the chief drawback is that the approach focuses on “how well readers comprehend and follow printed text” which can limit the document’s effectiveness (57).  Rather, centering on the user’s situation focuses attention to the user and the user’s environment.  The user-centered view continues outward by then analyzing:  tasks and actions of the user, the user’s activity with the medium, and the design of the documentation (57-58).  Additionally, Johnson suggests representing the rhetorical framework of user-centered documentation (users, writers, and task/action) within the broader scope of global contexts and situations, thus “giv[ing] computer documentation a broader . . . and more relevant structure” (59).

Reading this article jogged mental connections between several pieces we have read so far this semester.  His emphasis on the ineffectiveness of some document designs reminded me of Cooper’s “Designing for Pleasure”; like Cooper, Johnson argues that when the specific user is “far removed from the central concerns of the system design, [the user] is left with the task of reconstructing the entire system into his or her own image of what has been passed on from the system image” (56).  Additionally, I found it important to remember that in today’s age of technical communication, much of our work will be formatted for web-based or screen-based viewing; factors such as “eye strain, impatience, poor resolutions, etc. all play a role in the difficulties of reading the computer screen” (57).  Therefore, the way content is managed for a website is directly correlated to whether users can easily “browse, access, skim and jump from screen to screen” or whether the content requires them the read large chunks of text for extended periods of time.  How would having a user-centered approach to computer documentation be effective in specific cultural situations which have technology constraints?


Week 10 – Exploring Social Media

October 30, 2011

Singleton, Meredith, and Lisa Meloncon. “A Social Media Primer for Technical Communicators.” Intercom,June 2011, 7-9.

Porter, Alan J. “Tweet Me This…” Intercom, June 2011, 10-13.

Molisani, Jack. “Creating a 3d Model of the Content Management Lifecycle.” Intercom, June 2011, 14-18.

 

Singleton and Meloncon’s article, “A Social Media Primer for Technical Communicators” focuses on how social media is relevant for technical communicators.  Indeed, they argue that “information can no longer only be provided as downloadable, static documents . . . and should now include forums, email options, and opportunities to message a help technician” (7).  This reminds me of how the UNT Library page has recently been updated to include several of these options.  Because of social media, the method and medium of communicating information is changing rapidly and technical communicators need to be up-to-date on how to adapt.  Singleton and Meloncon address this challenge by instructing technical communicators to 1) understand the social media landscape, 2) build a strategy, and 3) know your audience’s preferences, 4) interact, and 5) evaluate and adjust.

Focusing specifically on Twitter as a communication tool, Alan Porter defines Twitter as “a communication tool of the moment,” and emphasizes that “as professional communicators, we should . . . be in a position to use it to communicate not only among ourselves but also . . . with our customers” (10).  Porter defends Twitter use as a means of communication in a way that can influence a person’s profile in a particular community as well as help share information and knowledge (11).  However, Porter does emphasize that there are appropriate ways for communicating via Twitter.  Some of these recommendations include having separate accounts for work and private use, make decisions ahead of time about content that you will or will not ever discuss on Twitter, and to remember that it is not a requirement to follow everyone on Twitter who follows you.  He emphasizes that “it’s what you post and the way you interact that is important” (12).  I also appreciated how Porter mentions the responsibility of participating on Twitter that include being a gatekeeper, being responsive, and being friendly. 

Molisani’s article took a different spin from the first two as he discusses the process of developing a diagram of the content management lifecycle.  The beginning of his article reminded me of the “feedback” aspect discussed from the previous two articles in regards to his initial steps of developing the diagram.  Though he began with a very basic model of two adjoining lifecycles, the final result was a far more complex 3D model of a coffee pot to depict input and output (coffee beans to a coffee beverage); the stages of planning, developing, and deploying (layers of the pot); strategic planning and project management (coffee pot handle); and various localized content (coffee mugs) (18).  He emphasizes that the journey into social media needs this level of forethought – that good technical communicators need to “respond to market changes by asking . . . customers what they wanted and changing” to meet those needs (18). 

All three authors reminded me of the complexity of learning to operate in the realm of social media.  It is easy for me to simply wave social media away as being a time-waster, a replacement for real-life relationships, the reason why people have such short attention spans, or yet another example of information-overload at its finest.  However, these articles brought up some key aspects of social media in terms of practical, helpful, and ethical applications with which I need to familiarize myself. 

On the flip side, I also couldn’t help but wonder if there is a downside to investing so much time and energy into social media.  We’ve discussed in class how appealing to audience is a tricky line to walk, namely because we risk insulting the audience by attempting to appeal to a specific demographic.  Therefore, it is possible that appealing to audience needs through social media could backfire?  Or is this truly the direction we should take in order to stay current with customers?


Week 9 – Writing Web Content

October 24, 2011

Redish, Janice (Ginny). “Content! Content! Content!” In Letting Go of the Words: Writing Web Content That Works, 1-9: Morgan Kaufmann/ Elsevier, 2007. 

———. “Writing Information, Not Documents.” In Letting Go of the Words: Writing Web Content That Works, 69-92: Morgan Kaufmann/ Elsevier, 2007.

 

Redish’s chapter “Content! Content! Content!” introduces in book by focusing on how to write content for the web; she focuses on how the majority of web-users have a specific goal in mind when they approach the web and that we as writers need to construct web-content in a way to help them meet that goal.  Redish begins by emphasizing how most people “skim and scan” on the web in order to satisfy their goal which brought them to the web in the first place (2).  Good writing on the web is conversational, answers people’s questions, and let’s people “grab and go” (5).  She also promotes the idea that good writing for the web is about writing and design rather than technology, offers good examples, and is inherently user-centered in terms of design.

Chapter 5 of Redish’s book titled “Writing Information, Not Documents” focuses on the three issues of 1) breaking up large documents, 2) deciding how much to put on a web page, and 3) PDF – yes or no? (69).  Redish differentiates between information organized by topic and information organized within a book.  She gives the example of how books make sense in the “world of paper” but how on the web, “a separate page for each topic makes more sense than a book of many topics” (71).  Writers can accomplish this by breaking web content into topics and subtopics either by time or sequence, by task, by people (specific members of the audience), by types of information, or by questions people ask.

Redish highly discourages places large amounts of information on a web page which requires users to scroll indefinitely to the end of the information.  Overloading site visitors is a sure way of guaranteeing that the visitors to not return to that web site again.  Some other aspects of consideration for a web designer include debating the issue of download time and the question of whether or not users will want to print (or how much will they want to print) (84).  Finally, Redish details the positives and negative of including PDFs in web documents.  She emphasizes that PDF would be appropriate when the main purpose of the documents is mass distribution.  However, the general population would benefit far more from a well-designed web-page than from a PDF for numerous reasons.  Some of the reasons not to include a PDF emerge when the readers don’t want the whole document, when people want to read from the screen, and when the audience is not conformable with PDF files or with downloading software (87-88).

I found this chapter especially relevant in regards to some of the first pieces we read in this class by Giovanna and O’Keefe.  Both authors mentioned how technical writers of “the future” need to be able to do far more than simply “be good writers.”  Redish structures her entire chapter around this idea of taking far more into consideration when writing for the web versus writing for paper distribution.  I believe that these skills of knowing how and why to design web content in specific ways for specific audiences is essential for technical writers to continuously learn and modify as technology continues to change.  Being adept at taking a document and making it acceptable and usable on the web entails a skill-set that all technical communicators need.

It is becoming more common to people to browse the web on their iPhones and iPads rather than browsing on larger screen (laptop or computer monitor).  How could shift change the way we approach web design?

 


Week 3 – Jones’s Views on Rhetoric and Psychology: Her Approach to Audience Analysis

September 10, 2011

Jones, Colleen. “Psychology: The Science of Influence.” In Clout: The Art and Science of Influential Web Content, 81-104. Berkeley, CA: New Riders, 2011.

———. “Rhetoric: The Art of Influence.” In Clout: The Art and Science of Influential Web Content, 43-80. Berkley, CA: New Riders, 2011.

Understanding the power of rhetoric is a tremendous tool in developing skills as a technical communicator.  Colleen Jones breaks down her analysis of rhetoric into the four main principles of appeals, identification, repetition, and time.  The classical rhetorical strategies appeal to a person’s credibility, logic, and emotion.  Developing a neat framework of organizing these appeals in an easily searchable manner is at the heart of successful web design.  Jones highlights the importance of this skill by commenting that one of the best ways to build a reputation as a trusted resource is to “become known for a particular approach to content . . . if you publish consistently good content over time” (45).  The way in which someone selects the type, location, and purpose of a particular content type is defined as content strategy.  Jones highlights examples of content types throughout her “Rhetoric” chapter; these include blog posts, media articles/editorials, expert review, white papers, data visualizations, and testimonials.  After reading this chapter, I feel that maintaining credibility online is potentially one of the most difficult and most crucial points of interest for any company.  While maintaining credibility has always been important, the idea now carries more weight simply because a web presence must be maintained with more frequency than print information.  For example, user-generated content must be monitored in order to “facilitate discussion so it stays true to your brand your users” (60).  If well maintained, social networking from customers can be positive in terms of identifying with the target audience;  however, negligence on the part of such monitoring could prove detrimental to a company.

In Jones’s chapter, “Psychology,” she narrows her focus from the four main principles of rhetoric to the four principles important to web content.  These include framing, metaphor, social proof (referrals), and reciprocity.  Establishing a frame, or “set of expectations, values, and assumptions that acts like a filtering lens” directly reflects the audience at hand (82).  How someone chooses to deliver a message is largely influenced by the audience, and the type of audience will largely influence the types of appeals the speaker or writer employs; therefore, framing is closely tied to choices a technical writer makes in terms of word choice, tone, and timing.  Applying metaphors to content helps to expand on thought and language in a way that “resonates deeply” with the audience (90).  Metaphors are most often successful when they are able to connect directly with the company’s purpose or services they provide.  With metaphors, “less is more” to ensure that people don’t follow the metaphor too far and therefore succumb to believing a slippery-slope fallacy (91).  Social proof, such as case studies, quotes, testimonials, and reviews establish credibility by gathering support from both customers and experts (95).  Additionally, reciprocity helps a company become liked and trusted by delivering on promises and promising positive outcomes to customers.

How will the increased use of social media in the future change the focus of the three types of classical appeals?  Do you think that shifting from an emphasis on mass media to new media will create the need for greater attention to be placed on one of these three appeals over the rest?