Daniel Mann on Technical Communication at Facebook

[Intro Music]

[Ryan Weber] Welcome to 10 Minute Tech Comm, coming to you from the University of Alabama at Huntsville. I’m your host Ryan Weber and today I’m pleased to welcome Daniel Mann. He’s a content specialist at Facebook and he’s going to tell us all about how his work impacts the user experience of millions of Facebook users. He’ll also tell us how he got into technical writing and the trends that he sees developing within the field. Enjoy the interview and you can check out other episodes on iTunes and also on uahtechcomm, c-o-m-m, dot com [uahtechcomm.com].Let’s go ahead and start the interview.

[Begin Interview]

[Weber] Welcome to the podcast Daniel Mann. We’re really excited to have you today. To get started, can you tell us just a little bit about how you got your start in technical communication?

[Daniel Mann] I would say that my start came while I was actually an undergraduate student at Ohio State University. I was a journalism major all throughout my junior, up until my junior year, and then at some point I woke up and I couldn’t see myself doing that anymore.

[Weber] Uh huh.

[Mann] Then I was kind of wondering, “Okay, what now?” So, I happen to see a flyer that was advertising the [unclear] for technical writing and there was also a course that was being offered through the English department. So, I thought I would check it out. I had never heard of technical writing before. It seemed interesting based on the buzzwords that they used on the flyer.

[Weber] Mhm hmm.

[Mann] So, I thought I would check it out to see if that would be a potential fit for my future career. I took that class and it really kind of taught me the fundamentals. The gist of it—it was more high level, but from what I could tell from that class, it was a field that I could see myself in. So I graduated, went into a master’s program in technical communication, and through the program I took two internships that really kind of laid the foundation for the rest of my career.

[Weber] Okay, terrific, and now that you’re at Facebook, what is your role as a technical writer? What does your day-to-day involve?

[Mann] Well it involves a lot. We track metrics around the content that we create.

[Weber] Okay.

[Mann] So, I’m a content specialist on the ad side of the Help Center within Facebook. So, it’s basically kind of the knowledge base where all of the documentation lives for how you do really anything on Facebook. But I’m on the team that focuses specially on ads, track metrics for our data satisfaction— there’s like a little button at the bottom. I think now there are two smiley faces or a smiley face and a sad face, and you hit the smiley face if you thought that the information provided was beneficial to you or not. Click the mad face if it wasn’t answering your question, and then we ask more information about that, what exactly were you expecting to hear about, things like that. And so that’s tracking the back end and we track our data weekly to kind of see where we stand with our content and we make improvements based upon that as products enhance and features are being added, we make updates that are in line with that. But aside from tracking data, we also use our internal CMS to author our content. In the Help Center, we attend various meetings with a lot of different cross functional stakeholders, from product management, engineering, to product marketing, [to SMBs]. So, we work across the company and we work with a lot of different teams to create content for our global audience.

[Weber] Besides these metrics that you mentioned, how do you understand who your audience is for you know something like Facebook that has such a massive audience? What tools do you use to know your audience?

[Mann] Well we use some of our stakeholders who are working more closely with people in different regions. So, we have a team called SMB, which stands for Small to Medium Businesses, but there’s— that’s the team that basically focuses on supporting those types of businesses and various regions. So, we have people who are located across the globe working for Facebook on that team who are really working hard to understand what those needs are that they have that are specific to their region and they triage that information, send it back to us and it’s the same for the content as it is for the product, that information gets triaged back to us, both on the content side and the engineering side. So product makes a lot of changes based on the feedback that they receive and we make content changes or create content that may be specific to those areas.

[Weber] You know I know you’re also a UX person, if I understand your—your LinkedIn, how do you see sort of the content that you create contributing to the user experience at Facebook?

[Mann] I would say that the content is very closely tied to the user experience. What it does is it creates that understanding and we make our content as interactive as possible as far as like creating visuals and having screenshots where necessary and screencasts where necessary. Without the Help Center I think a lot of people would be using Facebook and run into a lot of issues that they wouldn’t necessarily know how to solve. I see the content as just being very closely tied with the user experience and it’s very important.

[Weber] Yeah, well and I really like this stuff about you know tracking metrics, see how people like the content. What kinds of changes might you make based on user feedback to your content? If you have any particular examples or illustrations or anything like that.

[Mann] Sure. So, aside from just seeing a percentage, which is something that we see when we go and check our data, we’ll see the percentage marked helpful. So we might—like something is I don’t know thirty-two percent, that would mean that it’s doing really poorly, but you know aside from looking at that on the surface, you may not necessarily know what exactly you need to do to improve that.

[Weber] Mhm hmm.

[Mann] But we can also dig into the actual free form responses that we give to users once they do put that, the unhappy face.

[Weber] Yes.

[Mann] Then we will see more prompting to provide free form responses, so they can provide their exact feedback. What exactly it is that they were hoping to see and then we can actually see that, and based upon those free form responses, if they make sense, which they don’t always (chuckle). You know we’ll type random things like, “Sally, I love you,” and obviously that has nothing to do with our ads and products at Facebook, but we read through them but we see sometime we do receive a lot of helpful feedback in there—very actionable feedback and so when it’s that straightforward we can simply just make sure that we get that implemented in the content.

[Weber] Great, so listeners out there should know that people at Facebook are reading your comments, they are making changes. Well and lastly what kinds of trends do you see in the field of technical writing and content development?

[Mann] I would say a major trend that I am seeing is the use of DITA create content. We don’t use it at Facebook, but I have used it in prior roles at other companies and just the move to DITA, I think seems to be one that a lot of companies are adapting as a way to work, that makes sense for the business and makes things a lot easier as far as reusing content as well as exporting content to various outputs.

[Weber] Great, well thank you so much Daniel. I really appreciate you taking the time to talk with us today. Keep up the good work, keep telling us how to change our privacy settings and everything on Facebook so that we can get the most out of our user experience. I really appreciate you talking with us today.

[Mann] Thanks for having me.

[Weber] Alright, take care.

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Episode 13