[Ryan Weber] Welcome to 10-Minute Tech Comm. I’m your host Ryan Weber from the University of Alabama in Huntsville and I’m excited to interview Danielle Villegas today. She is the blogger at Tech Comm Geek Mom and she also has a master’s from NJIT in Professional and Technical Communication and currently works as a web publishing consultant at BASF Norht America. She’ll be talking with us today about the ways that technical communicators can use social media to engage users and improve customer satisfaction.
[Weber] Welcome to the podcast Danielle. I really appreciate you joining us today. I’m excited to talk about social media and you make a lot of interesting points on your blog about social media and tech comm and I’m wondering, you say that social media is about starting the conversation with your readers through the use of meaningful content. What do you mean by this and then how does a writer start these conversations?
[Danielle Villegas] Well I think we have to take a couple of steps back and just understanding what social media is to begin with.
[Villegas] And one of the things I learned when I was in grad school myself for technical communications. I had a great teacher who taught a social media course, named Andrew Klobucar, at NJIT and I’ve always gone back to this one point that he had about social media’s, it’s basically try to settle on one to four things. It-usually when you post something to social media, it’s about the self. You know just think selfies, that’s probably the most obvious. It’s about netizenry, trying to reach out, communities trying to reach out to their citizens and get feedback. Maybe something like a recycling program and they’re trying to get everyone to participate and then they can get feedback on you know, “How should we do this?” And getting you know people involved within their community. Related to that is getting involved for participatory culture. This could be a sport, a hobby, the one that dragged me in was technical communications itself. So, think about the idea of like with Twitter, with hashtags, if you search something on-based ona hashtag, you’re participating in something that’s very specific. For me it was tech comm, it could be for somebody else surfing, for somebody else it could be knitting, it could be almost anything. The last one is social media related to labor or the factory or you know basically corporations and businesses. So, people sometimes use that as a means of trying to get in touch with other people you know with their business, either the worker and the company or even just the worker out, or the company out to the consumer or to business to business. So there’s that to start with. So, before that you’ve always had one-way dialogue. If you are a technical communicator you’re usually writing tech manuals, things like that, and it’s just a one-way conversation, “Here’s how you do it.” With social media and even with other you know basically almost any social media, especially with blogs you have a chance to have more of that back and forth, “Well what do you mean by this,” or you know “I-I found that this worked instead,” and you’re able to start that conversation. And when you think of businesses or a lot of what’s been going on, especially in digital marketing, is trying to get that conversation going. In marketing, it’s always been one directional and now people are starting to realize, “Oh wait, we have an opportunity to get a dialogue started so we really know what our consumers want instead of us telling them what they want, we can actually find out what they really do want.” So, part of that and what-what prompted that-that particular blog is I’m actually taking a digital marketing course myself and I could relate it a lot to content strategy because what I’ve been told through this digital marketing course, I’ve already been learning through content strategy, is that you’re not going to have that dialogue unless you have something really valid to say. It’s like having a throw-away commercial, where like “Yeah that was cool,” but was that commercial even related to the product? You know that sort of a thing. So as people are going to the web looking for information on a particular product, a particular service, they’re looking for something that’s going to answer their question and get right to the point. They’re not looking for the bells and the whistles and the bling, they’re looking for relevant content. Content strategists know how to do that well already. Marketers are starting to kind of get the idea, “Oh this is what we need to do. This is why we need to talk to content strategists because they-they already understand this and we-we need to kind of combine our efforts to make that happen.” So, that’s kind of what I mean by the idea of social media is a means of not only starting the two-way conversation but making it meaningful if we could really dig down to the real meat of everything.
[Weber] So there’s this relationship between the conversation and the content?
[Villegas] Right, right, and-and that perspective makes it a more personal experience for everyone.
[Weber] You talk in your blog that social media is not just another type of media like you know radio or print and that it’s this sort of two-way street, this conversation that you’re talking about, and you mention that you have struggled in some ways to get corporations to understand these changes that social media brings to marketing and content management. What are they struggling to understand and why have they maybe been a little bit slower to adapt in some cases?
[Villegas] Well to answer the last part of that, I think companies are slower to adapt because nobody likes change, and you know as simple as that.
[Villegas] A lot of companies, especially ones that have been around for a long time, are set in their ways and they think that there’s only one way to do things. As we know technology is just going so quickly at this point that it’s almost hard to keep up with it, if at all. You know just as soon as you’ve figured out how to do, let’s see SEO searches on Google one-way, they switch up the logarithm and you have to learn another way. So, after a while you kind of just say, “Forget it. I’ll just make sure I’ve got some good stuff on there,” and nowadays from what I understand Google and Bing actually will search more on the relevancy and how people respond to it, so it’s not on keywords and things like that quite so much anymore. But even so I think it’s a matter of just being stubborn and not really understanding that it needs to come from the top down and people at the top usually are not the ones who are as deeply rooted into what’s going on. They’re not necessarily the marketers. The CEO of a company would say, “Okay let the marketing team take care of it,” but he doesn’t, he or she doesn’t understand necessarily what’s going on with social media. They may not be so deeply involved because they may not do it themselves and not really understand that-that relationship. So what I have found in my own experience is-is there’s thing where I would say, “You know this isn’t the way people are doing it anymore. This is what you really should be concentrating on and we don’t have to do it the bleeding edge way, but we should get at least this far in keeping up,” and they’re like, “No, no, no. This is the way we’ve always done it. If it isn’t broken, let’s not fix it.” I’m like, “Nah that doesn’t work that way,” but it’s hard when you’re at the bottom to be able to push those changes upwards. It’s really something where people from the top have to start having an understanding and be able to set that example and push that change downward instead. So that’s part of the problem that we generally have these days. It varies from company to company of course.
[Villegas] But you know that-that seems to be my understanding as well.
[Weber] You’ve had a long-standing focus on customer satisfaction.
[Weber] And you really identify social media as a tool for enhancing customer satisfaction.
[Villegas] Oh yeah.
[Weber] Can you talk about some ways that technical communicators can use social media to increase customer satisfaction?
[Villegas] A lot of it is just doing your job. If you think about it, part of what our jobs are as technical communicators is to write very clear, concise content. You know whether it’s a tech manual, whether it’s a blog, whether it’s a press release, it doesn’t matter what it is, just doing that within your job is probably ninety percent right there.
[Villegas] With social media, again it’s trying to remember, and again this is where sometimes corporations don’t understand how to truly use social media, is using all of those tools as a means, again to-to start a conversation. To-to garner comments, to get a reaction from others and to find out what that reaction is instead oflet’s say a press release doesn’t have to be just a press release. It could be something where there’s a little bit of an idea and people would come back and try to retweet it by saying, “Hey this is a cool idea,” or “Ooh this is really cool,” or “Oh these people crazy to put out a promotion like this.” So, there’s things like that and sometimes companies think that social media is just another channel, like TV or a billboard, or something like that, to put up a press release or to put up some sort of a graphic or put up some catchphrase or something like that and it’s really not that at all. So again, a blog is a great example of that. You know a lot of companies will just put up, “Oh here’s some pictures of what we’re doing,” and “Oh here’s our latest campaign,” and you know I think consumers on the other end are just saying, “Well that’s nice but what does that mean to me?” So I know that there’s companies that will put something out like for instance, the company that I’m consulting at right now, BASF, has a campaign right now called Creator Space, where they’re actually trying to say, “Hey we’re involved in chemicals,” and usually that just says, “Ooh you know chemicals,” but they’re actually trying to do some green environmental things that are out there. “And we want to have you part of the conversation. What would you like to see with let’s say solar technology? Or what would you like to see with compostable ingredients or materials? How would you like to see more agriculturally friendly pesticides, and things like this?” So, they’re trying to get people involved and you know they mention things on their blog and they put things on social media and try to draw them into this website, so they can start a conversation that way. And you know there’s other companies I’m sure that do things like that too, but they’re kind of far and few between so I think that’s part of it, is it’s not just blasting out, “Here’s our new product. This is what we do.” It’s like, “Hey you know you’re a business that we work with or our consumer we work with and in the end we want to make you happy. How can we do that?” And if they can get that feedback you know everybody’s happy, it’s a win-win situation.
[Weber] Great and it seems like an engaged customer’s going to be a more satisfied customer because they’re invested in the company.
[Weber] They’re engaged in what’s going on and they feel like their voice is being heard.
[Villegas] Exactly, exactly and then in the end it’s kind of it’s-it’s-I would say it’s tricky but it’s not really tricky it’s just smart, if you’ve got the customer engaged, they’re more likely, even if they don’t buy another one of your products for five years, they may come back in five years and buy like the latest and greatest update to your product again. So, it’s a matter of fostering customer loyalty right there and getting more you know customer word of mouth is usually a bigger advertiser than let’s say even just putting ads out. It’s part of where social media really makes a big impact and some companies are starting to figure that out or still trying to get on the ball with that.
[Weber] Right, right. Well that’s interesting you know I think you’ve really identified some key ways that technical communicators can engage their customers and provide different avenues for engaging people with content. So, I look forward to seeing what’s next on your blog and I really thank you for joining us today.
[Villegas] Oh thanks for having me. It’s been a pleasure.
[Weber] Thanks so much.
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