After an energetic first presentation by Scott Abel, second presenter Sarah O’Keefe, author of Content Strategy 101 and founder of Scriptorium Publishing, talked about “Developing a Technical Communication Content Strategy.”
Sarah started by telling us that many companies don’t understand the value of technical communication, so technical communicators need to justify their approach. When writing up business cases for these justifications, technical communicators need to include what the current situation is, recommendations to improve the situation, costs associated with those recommendations, as well as the benefits and risks of taking the actions recommended. If there are regulatory and legal requirements, then there is the need to build a case for more efficient compliance in order to avoid legal complications.
Sarah expounded on how technical communication departments should talk to management about how technical communications can control costs. She explained that there is a myth that cheap documentation can be done. She busted that myth by explaining that cheap documentation is actually more expensive, as it can be limited in availability making it useless, it can be hard to understand and out of date, and it may not be translatable into other languages. The cost of bad content is high customer service volume, lost sales, content duplication, huge global costs, and it can contradict marketing communications.
The solution, she said, is efficient development involving the reuse of content, using single sourcing and cross-departmental reuse of content, only tweaking text that is already available. She stressed that formatting and production are important! Using templates and various structures are helpful. She encouraged using tools for creating the needed output. Sarah also said that localization is important as well, that translations are needed component of communication documentation. All these can help bring costs down significantly! Sarah gave an example of how a common obstacle to efficient customer service or tech phone support is often a monster-sized PDF that the support representatives need to read before providing service while on the phone! The process of having to read the long document while online with a customer is time consuming and not cost efficient.
Sarah encouraged technical communicators to work on collaborating and creating better working relationships with other business departments such as tech support, training and marketing with technical content, as this will help to support those departments with pertinent information as well as help them to streamline information. Technical communication can be used to support sales–read documentation before you buy! Technical communication content also can help to increase visibility by creating searchable, findable and discoverable documentation, especially for Google or SEO purposes. Sarah recommended building user communities with technical communication documentation, and making sure that technical communications aligns with business needs.
Sarah has further information which goes into greater detail both in her book, and on the book’s website, which is found at: http://www.contentstrategy101.com .
Sarah’s presentation was really good, in my opinion, because coming from my own experiences, much of what she explained was true, and as she said, the biggest battle is making management understand the value of having solid content strategy. One of my biggest issues at my last consulting job was exactly the scenario that Sarah described; marketing was not taking proper advantage of the technical communication documentation available, nor was it sharing resources and creating reuseable content. As a result, in-house documentation was long and overly customized when much of the information was the same or very similar (needed few tweaks), and the sales advisors that needed the information rarely looked at it because it was too long. When I made the recommendations about reuse or editing from a technical communications standpoint, I was ignored. Of course, I was only a consultant, and I wasn’t privy to understanding the departmental costs, but it did not feel good to know that some of the issues could be fixed with the kind of collaboration that Sarah described. In this respect, I could associate with what she was saying.
An aside note is that Sarah is a self-confessed chocoholic, and a fun part of her presentation was that she incorporated chocolate production into her presentation. To verify her chocoholic status, I was out with Sarah after the event, and caught her in the act of buying more chocolate at one of Portland’s chocolate boutiques:
I do think Sarah’s message is very clear. Technical communications has a lot of value, especially with structured content and reusable content, and as technical communicators, we need to push that agenda to management so that we can provide a bigger service to our clients and companies that they currently realize.
(Sarah–feel free to correct any of my interpretations in the comments below!)