Anne Gentle

Anne Gentle is the author of Conversation and Community: The Social Web for Documentation. She writes a blog at www.justwriteclick.com.

Focus on Twitter for Technical Documentation

Every new car has a manual in its glove compartment. Software applications have a help link when you get stuck or want to learn more about a feature. User assistance is part of our web and so is Twitter. How can Twitter can be useful for technical writers, trainers, or web publishers who provide customer support or technical education?

Monitor and Listen First
Perform searches to find out which of your audience members and readers are on Twitter. Follow them and “listen” for places where technical documentation solves something they’re working on. I wouldn’t suggest that you interrupt conversations as they happen just yet, though. Don’t be the automatic tweeter who says “You were just talking about my company’s software? Check out my company’s help site!” Try to monitor just to get a sense of your readers and who might potentially follow you. After you set up notifications for keywords on search.twitter.com, read through what is being said about either your company, your products, or the subject matter related to your business. Listen, understand the overall sentiment, and then form an idea of who your audience could be. You can’t formulate what you want to say on Twitter until you can hear others first, and understand the flow of information and conversation there.

Play your Part
As a technical communication pro, are you a conversationalist or a guide? On Inc.com you can read about the 8 types of people who belong on Twitter. These types are: personality, guide, brand watchdog, customer support rep, publisher, promotion channel, conversationalist, and finally, the curious.

Only a subset of those types match the job description for most technical communicators. I would suggest customer support representative, guide, conversationalist, the curious and the publisher make sense for technical writers. The brand watchdog and personality considerations may belong in other areas for your company. Your company may already be monitoring and responding to customer support or service requests that come in through Twitter, and you don’t want to over step your bounds into the harshtag area (such as #fail)!

Give More than You Get
Use Twitter posts to link to documentation with longer explanations for a new feature. Basically tweet out the release notes, one feature at a time. Use hash tags to indicate the product name and version. Refer to “Twitter as a medium for release notes“, an experiment by Sarah Maddox, a technical writer with Atlassian. She walks through their process and the results.
Timing and the correct amount of “pause” between posts are relevant decisions here. Do not “flood” a hashtag with tweets about your release notes – readers don’t necessarily want to be overwhelmed with messages.

Be a guide to the overall architecture of your help system by tweeting not just links, but how to find the information they need. Don’t just feed followers, teach them to fish.
Tweet about tutorials on the site and also offer to answer questions about a tutorial.
Be a point of contact for answering questions. If you get stuck, refer to a customer support rep who knows how to properly deflect conflict and answer questions.

Measure
How will you know if your Twitter techniques are working? You should see a steady growth of followers. You want to also monitor the amount of direct messages, @ messages, and general updates you send to gage the right mix of content for the Twitter account. You can measure your responsiveness if you’re in an area like customer support or troubleshooting. You could measure the number of thank yous or appreciative tweets if your goal is to instruct or teach. You can measure the number of retweets or mentions if your role is like a publisher and you want to increase the amount of hits that your content gets. Twitter measurements should tie directly to the goals you have for technical communication.

Try It
Experiment with Twitter for a while and see if there’s a match for your technical communication goals. We’d love to hear how it turns out!

Comments

  • March 10, 2010

    This post is an extensive one and the way you have explained this is just amazing. It is really important to monitor on Twitter.

  • March 10, 2010

    Thanks for your comment – agreed, it is important to monitor online activities, and Twitter is a good place to start a search.

  • March 17, 2010

    Great post, Anne. Correlates with a recent one of mine in which I recommend to new tech writers to get a Twitter account:
    http://writetrends.wordpress.com/

    I also suggested newbies follow both you and Sarah.

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