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Online Student Again! Part 10: 5 Ideas to Transform Your Digital Marketing

Cat_McGonigle_HP
Professor McGonagall shows the simplicity of transformation when talking about digital marketing.
Get it right, Potter!

I’ve finally finished¬†the last module of the Rutgers online course on digital marketing! In some respects, it feels like I just got started, but in other respects, it feel like I’ve been doing this a LONG time, and I’ll be happy when my test and capstone project have been turned in so I can get my weekends back again! ūüėČ

This last module was taught by Mike Moran, who also taught the second module about SEO. The topic of this last module was five ideas to transform your digital marketing.

Mike started this module with a pep talk to the class by validating that the class would probably feel overwhelmed by the flurry of content that’s been thrown at us through all these modules so far (uh, yah, you think so?) and how transitioning from learning to actually doing will be¬†scary (no, Mike, it’s TERRIFYING!!). But Mike reassured us that we have learned plenty that we should be able to employ these new tools to be effective, and the best way to truly learn is to DO some of these actions to gain some confidence. (Well, I’m gonna try, no matter how terrified I am about all this!)

To prove his point, he said that it’s usually the CMOs (Chief Marketing Officers) and CIOs (Chief Information Officers) who usually have the shortest tenures as C-Level executives at an average of four years because they can get overwhelmed with this stuff, too! They both have digital marketing in common! So it’s okay to feel overwhelmed, but you shouldn’t run away from it, but rather face it head on! Mike said nobody’s an expert in digital marketing–not even any of the instructors from this whole course! (You could’ve had me fooled!) Things change so often that the instructors can’t keep up either, and so even they can be nervous about this stuff, too. “You will never learn enough to be comfortable. If you are looking for comfortable, then this is the wrong profession for you!” said Mike. (Sounds like a tech comm statement!) You can feel nervous and still do this! If you are doing this right, you will make mistakes, but the trick will be learning from them. Mike encouraged us that we are up to this, because this is not the hardest thing you’ve ever done in your life. (Good point, dude.) Make sure you share your fears so you don’t feel so alone. (Dude, have you read this blog?)

After this pep talk, Mike made a segueway into the five ideas that would transform digital marketing.

1) Big data is the biggest change in marketing

The world has changed from traditional media to social media in the last twenty years, and the contributors have grown exponentially, while the response time has shrunk from days to minutes. It happened because of Moore’s law–transistor density doubles every two years, and costs plummet even more sharply. This has¬†resulted in drastic changes in everything that technology touches, including marketing. So, theoretically in 5 years, today’s $500 iPad will cost $50–but that’s not what’s going to happen. We’ll have wearables that will be taking over.

Mike defines Big Data with the 4 “V”s:

  • Volume – The obvious large amount¬†of the data
  • Velocity – It’s up to the minute because it changes every minute
  • Variety – It drives the IT people nuts because you keep needing something new
  • Veracity – Nothing else matters if you can’t trust its accuracy

He then outlined that Google knows a lot about us, namely who we are, what we are interested in, what we buy, and who are friends are. Amazon knows a lot about us, too, when we are on its site, such as where we came from, which ads we’ve seen, which products we have already looked at, and it knows our previous purchases. ¬†Mike then extended it to what marketers know when we are at the mall. Soon enough, there will be face recognition which will tell¬†us gender, age, ethnicity, and maybe identity. Some of this is already in play with the use of free wifi in a store can happen because marketers can recognize your phone in that store.

It’s not just about how marketers are using technology with your phone. It can also be how consumers find out information about the products they buy. For example, in the near future, there can be RFID tags on a milk carton. An RFID tag can be on the milk jug when the cow is milked, then a new RFID tag is created when the milk is placed in the carton, then the dairy ships the carton to the store, and the consumer can see facts about the cow and its shipment to decide whether to buy the milk based on freshness, antibiotics use, and how the milk was cared for during shipment.

Mike continued by saying that Big Data is changing the market. He pointed out that according to IBM, 98% of the data in existence was created in the last two years. We think of that as e-mail, photos, and social media, but with omnipresent security cameras and sensors on almost every item in the supply chain, it’s not hard to conceive of the notion that in five years, 98% of the world’s data would have been created within the last two MONTHS. (Holy Big Brother!)

In the end, it’s still marketing! Mike said that you need to target your audience, understand what they care about, and connect with your message, because if you do, you improve your image and drive sales. The difference is how you do it! Digital marketing is actually good, because you can see the results of things instantly in such things as Google Ads and yank them quickly if they don’t work in a matter of hours instead of a much longer period of time like risky traditional marketing. The risk is much lower, and the ability to test more to find the right thing is much easier.

2) Your marketing must attract your market

Your target markets are ruled by the business that sees your ads, and you won’t even know how it happened. Attracting business is mostly about opting in. Mobile works the same way–coupons can be sent to people who are nearby searching for you, or who checks in, or becomes the Mayor on Foursquare. To target your message, digital marketing rewards pull over push, as Mike put it. More often, markets find you or you give your customer permission to search, download apps, opt-in for emails, subscribe to your blog, or follow you on Twitter to provide customers with a means to find you. Mobile makes the experience more interactive, because your customer might look at a review online before purchasing, or might write a review shortly after purchase. Because of these kinds of interaction, you need to be part of the conversation because things are so transparent now, and you need to be making sure that you are engaged and listening to what customers say. You can start to understand what customers want through digital marketing because digital marketing is direct marketing–you can see what your customers do when they interact with your marketing message and website. The customers vote with the click of a mouse or tap of their finger on a mobile device! Web marketing is the biggest opportunity of direct marketing you could have if you use your analytics tools. Websites are to sell stuff!

So, how can you drive demand for your products? Increase your conversion rate, increase your traffic, or better yet, both! Brand awareness is not the decisive factor here, it’s SALES, so sales¬†needs to be the focus.

You need to decide your conversions–would they be through online sales, making store, partner, or dealer location information available, making it easy for customers to make phone calls, create affiliate links, or allow customers to download a whitepaper, or even something as straightforward and simple as filling out a contact form?

To track offline conversions to the web is most easily done by contacting the customer. Mike advised that if the customer switches channels, it’s good to draw the customer back by doing things like offering a special phone number, providing a coupon that can be printed to present at the retailer, or make the product specifications available to print out and bring to the dealer.

Website visitors come to websites to learn (research products and services), shop (compare offerings and prices), buy (check out and purchase), get (check order status), and use (get technical and customer support) through the buyer journey. But you can look at this same journey path to measure value. Examples of this would be helping the customer find the right product during the learning stage, seeing how many customers that view a product actually put it in their cart during the shop stage, see how many actually check out during the buy stage, and the multiply the difference by your average revenue to see what the actually impact on revenue is. Each stage is a micro-conversion. You have to decide what your buyer’s journey is going to be and how you are going to adapt it for that journey. Some sites lead to offline activity, so you need to account for that.

3) Your marketing message must be welcomed

Mike asked, “How do you connect with your message?” His answer was that relevant content will be passed along by search engines, linked by other websites, and passed along by your customers in social media and mobile. It’s really that simple! You need to concentrate on creating high quality, truly informational content, because if you do, you will become influential. Influence marketing is a matter of identifying the most persuasive ideas, and getting your customers to, as Mike put it, “sing your song.” An example would be authors asking certain people to review their books to help promote it, like asking Oprah to feature it in her book club. Campaigns alone are costly with huge swings, but if you have a fan base, then with both campaigns and engagement, your consumer interest will go up.

To measure influence, you can look at a Klout score, but you look at how many people they influence and what they are influential about. If they don’t appeal to a group that you are targeting, then you don’t want to work with that person. Influencers have relationships with each other. Some players have a lot to say, but no influence, and others are quieter, but influence many. Mike calls targeting that influencer the “D-list approach”. ¬†He says to use the long tail for blogger outreach because A-listers are hard to reach who get dozens of pitches every day. Your pitch might not break through, but it would with a D-lister.

4) You must respond to your customers

To connect with your message, you must change your message in reponse to what your customers say (tweets, likes, comments, blogs, product ratings) and do (search, purchases, page views). ¬†If you’re unresponsive, customers will burn you publicly with the customer reviews. Your solution is to accept comments and trackbacks on your blogs, allow your products to be rated and reviewed, and staff your efforts with enough people to respond. Not taking these steps gives off the impression that the company doesn’t care, and any negative commentary must be true–this is anti-influential!

By responding to customers, you can change your products, your content, your prices, your policies, your experience, and then change them again as needed to help increase your conversions. It’s a great feedback loop! Part of that is testing, and seeing how customers respond, and then adjusting accordingly, like doing A/B testing on your website. The more you test, the more you can find what works and will create greater conversions. By doing all these things, you’ll be surprised at how smart you will look! Mike made the profound statement of, “The reason you’re not confident about how to start is because you think it’s on YOU to know what to do. What I’m saying is that if you set up the feedback loop, it isn’t on you, it’s on the feedback loop.” This relieves much of the pressure that you have to come up with the perfect idea.

One of the things that makes it hard is the speed expected to expedite things. The slower approach is typically the “waterfall” approach, in which requirements and structure is documented meticulously to get to the end, but it’s too slow because by the time you get to the end, the requirements have changed. Mike made the analogy that “waterfall” is like baking, because you know what you want up front, precise measurements and preparation are needed, and nothing is done until the end. It’s not as easy to do. In contrast, the Agile process is, Mike contends, is like making soup–you can experiment as you go, you can see what’s working and what doesn’t by adding ingredients as you go along, but it’s at its best at the end. This is more flexible and faster. So, marketing and IT should be soup–something you can change as you go along. (I guess the expression of “No soup for you!” doesn’t apply here!) Mike’s message was not to do everything at once. Start small, do a little at a time, like make only one YouTube video and see how it goes rather than decide to plan out and produce 10 videos at once that could flop. See how the first one goes, and adjust accordingly.

5) Marketing ain’t just for marketers anymore.

Customers don’t want to hear from marketers, so you need to get help. Customers aren’t looking for copy anymore, but rather for information from the experts in your company that can solve their problem, and that might not be you.¬†Marketers must teach people–namely those experts–how to operate in public. There will never be a blogging department, and the PR team must teach the rest of the company to do PR through social media. You can teach them what you know, let them do their thing, and mentor them when necessary. There will always be some element of risk involved in getting others involved, but there is risk even without getting others involved. Your job is to help set parameters to minimize the risk of errors as much as possible. These experts are a big asset and to use their expertise is free! It’s all about internal marketing as much as it is about external marketing.

Another overlooked segment is reverse mentoring–there are lots of people who understand traditional marketing but don’t understand how to use the digital tools, yet younger people understand those digital and social media tools, and¬†would benefit from learning more about traditional marketing. Traditional marketers should take advantage of learning from the digital literacy of the younger ones to start learning how to take better advantage of these tools. In fact, mutual mentoring is even better!

Another obstacle to tackle is how to persuade your colleagues into joining into this digital marketing mentality. Part of that will involve more of that internal marketing that you need to do as you do with your other company colleagues. ¬†One way is to work on getting the message to come from the top down, meaning an executive puts forth the idea of what needs to be done, but this can be difficult to implement consistently. The alternative is to get department heads to get together to find a common ground to implement actions, but that generally doesn’t work well either. The solution is that you have to admit that some business units are more important than others, and work with those. Mike gave the example of the Security Council of the United Nations enforcing rules on various countries, and targeting specific groups as needed. Using a scorecard to motivate teamwork and publicizing the results internally of how these things are implemented can be helpful in getting that cooperation, as it’s tangible and driven by data. You can slowly change organizational behavior by changing the rules, setting benchmarks, reviewing business unit scorecards, demand improvement, and repeat the process again with a new agenda or raising the standards of the one you are working on.

According to Mike, if these five ideas are implemented immediately, and things are put in place to start making it happen, you are much more likely to succeed. Take it one step at a time, but you need to act, or you won’t benefit from all the new information attained in this course. (Yes, all 10 modules!) You can’t run away from digital marketing, so it’s to our benefit to move forward with all this information and succeed!

Amazingly enough, this five-step summary was a good way to end things. Mike showed that digital marketing is not magic. (Now you get the Harry Potter image reference above?) It brought together all the main elements of all the rest of the modules together in a comprehensive way to implement them. Heck, I started using these steps immediately with some people I work with both inside and outside of my job, so I guess this course helped.

BUT WAIT–THAT’S IT! I GOT THROUGH ALL 10 MODULES!

I still have to take the final exam, as well as create and submit my capstone project, so I will be working on those for the next two weeks or so. Wish me luck, because my grade will depend on those! I’ll report on those as I complete them!

So what do you think? Do you think these five steps are the key, or is there more to consider? Comment below.

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Are technical communicators the “fall guys”?

Sometimes, I think being a stunt person would be easier than being a technical communicator.
Sometimes, I think being a stunt person would be easier than being a technical communicator.

While plugging away at the big project I’m doing for work, a problem arose from how some features worked, and developers cluttered up the CMS architecture of the site I’m working on. When I tried to clean it up, the developers rolled out more content¬†that either created duplicates, triplicates, and overwrote pages without my knowledge. This mucked up the whole thing even more, making¬†it worse.

I ended up having a call with my manager explaining the situation, and showed him what happened. He was aware of some of it, and he knew I was trying to fix things, but he was unaware that the latest roll-out complicated the situation. After a good discussion, he came to the same conclusion that I did–it’d be easier to start from scratch with this section of the website than to try to clean it up. I took responsibility for my part of the mess, and was more than willing to put the time in that’s needed to get it right again.

In order to do this, we’ve had to work with the people in the global corporate office to help us wipe the slate clean on that section and resend the new information. Well, this turns out to be easier said than done, due to system issues and communication issues (we’re not sure, even with images demonstrating the issue, if we are explaining what we need correctly to non-native English speaking people, and we are having some trouble understanding their replys). It’s turning into a sordid mess that I didn’t mean to happen. Some of this is my fault, doing some things unknowingly, but it’s also Corporate’s fault for not staying organized with¬†the information rolled out on the various servers and not informing me of these changes in a timely manner, as that’s what is complicating matters. My hands have not touched that section of the website for 2 days because I’m afraid of mucking up things even worse, and so I’m patiently waiting for the correct content¬†to be rolled out¬†so I can move forward.

In this type of instance, my experience has been that no matter what part I played, even a minor one, I needed to take the blame for the whole thing. I needed to fall on the knife for what’s happened, even if I’m actually the victim¬†in this instance. I’m fortunate that my manager hasn’t viewed this as something¬†that I needed to take the fall for, and he’s been incredibly supportive through this small ordeal. I¬†am¬†grateful to have him as a manager and it provides me with some relief.¬†But in past positions, even if I was correct¬†in the midst of something that had gone wrong, I’d have to take full responsibility even if full responsibility was not mine. I’m willing to take responsibility¬†if it is truly and completely my fault. Yet, I’ve had many instances where it wasn’t my fault at all, or I played a minor role, and I’d still be blamed entirely. And it would be one thing if I was a manager taking the blame for someone under me, but I’m always the gal at the bottom of the totem pole! If I stood up for myself in the past, I’d be severely reprimanded, even though I was justified in¬†standing up for myself. So, you can understand why I’ve developed a bit of a complex and learned to take the role of the scapegoat in these instances unwillingly yet necessarily.

It got me to thinking about technical communication and where technical communicators will be given the blame for something that’s gone wrong. ¬†Sometimes the blame is justified, and sometimes it isn’t. ¬†If a manual has incorrect information, is it the fault of the tech writer, or the SME who didn’t provide accurate information, or the editor? In my case, the developers were being sloppy. I¬†was¬†the one being responsible enough to realize there was a problem and clean it up, initially following their directions for the fix, and they made it more difficult adding a fix to my fix without communicating that they were going to make a fix on their part. So why am I feeling like I need to take responsibility for the problem I didn’t cause instead of taking responsibility for realizing the solution? Is that just me and the conditioning I’ve been put through over the years, or is that a common problem?

In my current situation, like I said, my manager has fully supported me, and he’s about to leave on vacation confident that everything will be fine, leaving¬†it up to me to take care of things. This is a reversal of most experiences I’ve had, and it definitely bolsters my confidence that I do know what I’m doing, and I appreciate that I’m recognized for that.

Technical communications is not for the weak or faint of heart, for sure. There is no question about that. However, technical communicators are being encouraged, as a field, to assert themselves more to show that we do have the solutions and know what we are doing, and to play a greater role in communications. I’m sure you’ve heard the “Break down the silos!” battle cry by now. If that’s the case, how do we do that if we have introverts like me who have been pounded down enough times that they are fearful of losing their jobs for asserting themselves? Is that just me, or do others feel this, too?

Let me know what you think in the comments.

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Adobe Day@STC Summit 2014 – We Went Back to The Future

We definitely didn't hear this panel say to any of us, "I'm afraid you're just too darn loud!"
We definitely didn’t hear this panel say to any of us, “I’m afraid you’re just too darn loud!”

I apologize for my blog coverage of the 2014 STC Summit edition of Adobe Day being delayed–it’s been a busy month! But hopefully, you’ll feel it’s been worth the wait, and you had a chance to see my¬†live Twitter feed as it happened.

The STC’14 Adobe Day felt a little bit different this year. One of the things I noticed was that as much as Adobe says that these Adobe Day events are Adobe-product free, lately, they haven’t been. HOWEVER, they are still not one big, in-person infomercial either. Adobe products are not brought up much, but if they are, it’s to show that they can be tools to use to create solutions to common tech comm issues. So, it might be an inadvertant infomercial in that respect, but it’s not done in a blatant way that screams, “YOU NEED TO BUY ME!!!!!! PLEASE BUY OUR PRODUCTS!!!” Adobe continues to do a good job in showing what tech comm issues are out there, and as leaders in the software field, they are tuned into these issues and are creating products that benefit the technical communicator. I think that’s fair enough. The talks, overall, were broader topics that in some instances used Adobe Tech Comm Suite tools to provide solutions. And you have to remember, while these talks are aimed to be product-free for the most part, it’d probably look pretty bad if you had someone declaring all the glories of a competitive product when Adobe is hosting the event. Y’know?

With that out of the way, I observed some other things that made this a little bit different. First, there were fewer speakers this year. I felt that was a good thing, because in the past with more speakers, each speaker would be racing to get his/her presentation completed in a very short amount of time, and there would be little time for questions or discussion. Since there were fewer speakers this year, each one could elaborate more on their topic, which allowed for more time for questions and discussion. More networking time during the breaks was also a benefit from having less speakers.

The other difference I saw dealt with the speakers themselves. While they were all familiar, established voices in the tech comm world, it wasn’t the same crowd that one usually sees at Adobe Day events. All of them have participated in Adobe events or other tech comm events before, but in the past, it usually is most of the same speakers up on the podium. While I like all the “usual suspects” very much, and consider them my mentors and have become friends with several of them, seeing these new “players” was actually refreshing to me. I hope that Adobe continues to change up the speaker lineups with future Adobe Days, as all the speakers I’ve heard have a clear voice that’s worth listening to, and hearing as many of those voices as possible provides both variety and fresh perspectives going forward. As I go through each presentation in forthcoming blog posts, hopefully you’ll see what I mean.

But as tradition in this blog dictates, I always start with the panel that capped off the Adobe Day event. I find that these panel talks bring an umbrella perspective to where we are as a profession through several points of view, and seeing where there are agreements and disagreements in the issues at hand.

This year, the panel was moderated by Matt Sullivan, who has been an Adobe Day speaker in the past. He did a great job, as this was the first time I’d seen him as the moderator of an Adobe Day panel. The panel consisted of Adobe Day speakers Marcia Riefer Johnston, Bernard Aschwanden, Kevin Siegel, and past Adobe Day speaker, Joe Welinske. The theme for the panel was looking ahead to the future of where tech comm seems to be going.

The Adobe Day Panel L to R: Matt Sullivan, Bernard Aschwanden, Joe Welinske, Marcia Riefer Johnston, and Kevin Siegel
The Adobe Day Panel
L to R: Matt Sullivan, Bernard Aschwanden, Joe Welinske, Marcia Riefer Johnston, and Kevin Siegel

Matt started with the point that tech comm is more than tech writing now, so what do we need to improve short-term and long-term? Kevin responded first, saying that we need to do more with¬†less on smaller displays and¬†adapting the content appropriately for mobile.¬†Marcia¬†added to that, saying that using less can mean writing tighter as well. (She has a technique she taught during the STC Summit, in fact!) Joe agreed with Marcia, adding that technical communicators need¬†to put in the time to make concise content meaningful, and to look¬†at simplified English as part of that objective. Bernard felt that attending workshops and demonstrations were important, because technical communicators need to¬†continually¬†learn and adapt in this industry! He added that¬†SMEs (Subject Matter Experts) should contribute to content, but technical communicators should control it. Kevin also agreed with Bernard, saying that¬†SMEs are writing content more often now, so teaching them to write tighter will help. Marcia chimed in that many people are now being required to write, but don’t have the skills. We need to help with that.

Moving onto topics about how technology affects technical communication, Kevin said that new technology, like Google Glass and other wearables, is emerging, and we need to understand how these work. Joe pointed out that the Pebble watch now is starting to have user docs now, and more will be emerging. Bernard added that gesture based technology similar to the Xbox Kinect will need documentation.

Matt then asked, “What should we look forward to in the next five¬†years?” Bernard felt that less specialization will be needed so that the right people write the right content, such as an engineer who can write.¬†Specialized writing will be very important. Joe added that we need to agree on taxonomy and terminology, and use style sheets more often for consistency. Marcia believed that topic-based writing will be emerging more as a growth area. Kevin explained that in e-learning, there is a need to¬†develop learning for new devices that responds to user displays, thus accomodating multiple screens.

The next question asked about how to help educate and help with adapting certain generations adjust¬†between print and digital writing/designing. The consenus was that we just need to adapt. The panel encouraged the audience to get to know your UX/UI people, as they will help you learn to adapt, especially if you aren’t as tech-adaptive.

The last question centered on customers customizing their content–is this a trend? Bernard leapt into a response with, “GOOD! DO IT!” He encouraged us to help customers to start doing personalized help, or personalizing any information, for that matter! Moderator Matt closed by saying that rich media that¬†engages users is going to be about content strategy, but it will also be about content marketing. The group agreed that personalized, concise information going forward will be best!

"I guess you guys aren't ready for that yet--but your kids are going to love it!"
“I guess you guys aren’t ready for that yet–but your kids are going to love it!”

And that was it! The session went by quickly, but as you can see, there was a lot of great information that many technical communicators can take and use going forward in their own work.  While it might take some time to adapt, sure enough, it will bring the field forward as technology and the way we access it moves ahead.

Coming soon: The individual presentations at Adobe Day #STC14 Edition!

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A New Year–A New Adobe Technical Communication Suite – PREVIEW

TCS5-Ball-Drop
The Times Square New Year’s ball drop has landed…it’s a new Adobe Technical Communication Suite!

As of TODAY, Adobe is releasing five new tools for technical communication professionals everywhere!¬†Technical Communication Suite 5.0 (TCS5), FrameMaker 12 (FM12), FrameMaker XML Author 12 (FMXA 12) and RoboHelp 11 (RH11), and FrameMaker Publishing Server 12 (FMPS12) are now available.¬†It’s been about eighteen months or so since¬†the last big Adobe tech comm release, so you can imagine there are some new and enhanced features included.

I was privileged to be among a group of tech comm professionals who were invited to get a preview of the products before their release, and I have to say, there were so many new and improved features that it was difficult to squeeze all the information into one press conference! But I’m going to give you the highlights, and I’m sure you’re going to find that there’s something new for you.

In the last release of TCS, namely TCS4, there were several big overhauls of the product, namely that the Technical Communications Suite concentrated on providing tools that supported structured authoring, integrated interactive content, and could support the creation of content for mobile devices while providing searchable, personalized, socially enabled content in a way that would yield bigger results with less resources. It was a major step to enhance these tools, especially in regards to adding mobile and interactive abilities to content. Adobe has continued to build on those major changes with the new features in version 5.0.

The foundation of the Tech Comm Suite has always been FrameMaker and RoboHelp. With the release of TCS5, FrameMaker 12 and RoboHelp 11 have been released with big enhancements that appear to concentrate on making these tools more user-friendly and efficient for the technical writers using them.

FM12_boxshot_2014
Image courtesy of Adobe.

For FM12, the first obvious enhancement is the interface. Adobe has improved the user interface to include colored icons and larger icons that look cleaner and sharper in HD. If you like things “old school” in the original smaller, monochromatic colors, that choice is still available as well. There is also more flexibility in customizing your interface. A new “pod” allows the user to access all the currently opened files in one place, from which you can save and close multiple files at one time, while still viewing the unsaved files. There are also enhanced abilities to drag-and-drop to empty areas of the interface, close pods or panels more easily, double-click on empty areas to minimize or expand pods, and searching capabilities have been expanded. These seem like minor details, but when using a product as often as many technical writers use FrameMaker, these finer details can make a big difference! FM12 includes three samples of unstructured content and one DITA-based content sample with the product.

FM12 is not all about a new fa√ßade. Adobe has enriched the authoring process with new capabilities. The first thing that caught my attention is that FM12 can generate QR codes now! They can be created for URLs, SMS texts, emails, or to initiate phone calls. QR codes are taking over these days, so it’s great that these can be both created and integrated into FM documentation. Background color enhancements allow uniform height background color and options to specify paragraph boxes. The addition of a new customer-requested feature is the¬†support regular expression coding.

Single-sourcing has been a hot topic in the last few years, and this has been addressed with new enhancements. FM12 gives users a new way to work with conditional text, by using a new conditional tag pod which provides check-box mechanisms with multiple conditions to allow the user to do more complex filtering with conditional text enhancements. It truly simplifies the entire process, that even a newbie should be able to figure it out easily.

Productivity enhancements have also been included in FM12. A searchable smart catalog function allows the user to filter choices based on the valid choices available and phrase typed by the user, while the user can¬†continue to use the keyboard shortcuts as before. There is also a new capability to open all files from the user’s last session in one click, including the last documents and pages in focus, workspaces such as pods, panels and palettes, among others.

Adobe has also taken care to add great collaboration enhancements in FrameMaker. Native connections to any webdev content management system (CMS), such as Documentum, SharePoint, and Adobe CQ are available. Users can now view entire CMS tree layouts, and can access several key CMS functions, such as checking out documents, editing documents, and searching within document, all from FM12.  PDF review commenting has been made more flexible. The most proactive steps towards subject matter expert (SME) reviews is that reviews can be done on PDF reader apps on mobile devices, and can also be used on those same devices using cloud technology such as Dropbox for both internal and external reviewers. As mobile devices become more commonplace replacing desktops and laptops, this is a great step forward!

Image courtesy of Adobe
Image courtesy of Adobe

Publishing abilities have gotten a boost on FrameMaker as well. It used to be that if you wanted to create certain types of digital output, such a ePUBs, for FrameMaker content, you would have to export it to RoboHelp, and have RoboHelp publish the document. ¬†Now, that step is no longer needed for PDFs, Webhelp, ePUBs, Kindle docs, Microsoft HTML Help, responsive HTML5, or Web help! That’s a big deal, as it allows FM12 to be more efficient by skipping that step of exporting and publishing in RoboHelp. Publishing can also be done through the Web now, too, for multiple users using a FrameMaker server, allowing multiple users to publish simultaneously and automatically to multiple channels and devices. That’s a practical efficiency improvement right there!

FMXA12_boxshot_2014
Image courtesy of Adobe

With this release, Adobe is introducing a new FrameMaker product for those who don’t need the full version of FM12, but are mostly concerned in having a tool to do structured XML authoring. FrameMaker XML Author is a tool that has been created especially for the structured XML market. ¬†Those wanting to use unstructured content will still need to use the full FM12 version. ¬†The XML Author is fully standards-compliant for content creation, and supports the most popular XML technology for single-sourcing. It is not FM12 “lite”, but it is a streamlined, easy-to-use version that supports structured authoring without the bulk of the FM12 features that aren’t needed for structured content, yet still integrate-able with the full version of FM12 and¬†available at a lower price. I’m sure that having this tool will be highly beneficial to many companies who are looking for a way to cut costs (it is priced at 40% the price of FM12 ‚Äúfull‚ÄĚ)¬†while still reaping the benefits of having a powerful XML authoring tool.

Another customer request that has been granted by Adobe is the integration of MathML, to allow MathML equations to be imported, created, edited, and published with FrameMaker. Adobe is even including 30-day trials of MathFlow (MathML editor from Design Science)¬†with the shipment of FM12 for those who are interested in trying it out.¬†There are several other features that are also included, along with 55 bug fixes, improved performance and launch time for FrameMaker, but I’d end up writing a book at this point!

Of course, with all these big changes to FrameMaker, we can’t forget RoboHelp 11, which also has had a big overhaul.

Image courtesy of Adobe
Image courtesy of Adobe

RH11, like FM12, has a new UI look as well. Based on customer feedback, RH11 has a new color scheme and a more modern interface that looks more pleasing to the eye. It’s a step in the right direction. Adobe has said that further UI improvements are in the works, but this current new UI is the first step in a long overdue makeover for the interface.

The more important feature enhancements with this new release of RoboHelp include advances with HTML5 publishing, printed document enhancements, and collaboration and single-sourcing enhancements.

The HTML5 publishing enhancements are from the perspective that mobile publishing is central, so new single responsive layouts for all devices are available “right out of the box” when downloading RH11. This new single layout feature will work seamlessly across all devices, can be easily customized, will allow for real-time previewing based on the browser size, and can be published with one click. ¬†There is a new wizard-based layout editor available to help with this process that shows the added responsive HTML5 output options. You can also preview layouts, and the customization is great because no coding in CSS needs to be done, as you can use the editor instead. ¬†To me, this is true single-sourcing creation at its best while simplifying the process! This is a big deal!

Printed documents have not been ignored. Users can now customize headers and footers of printed documents by defining them in the master pages. Headers and footers can also be imported from Word. There is also the ability to specify different headers and footers for the cover, and even and odd pages for different sections of a document. This is great for consistency within branded documentation.

In terms of collaboration and single-source improvements, cloud integration and topic sharing for SMEs has now been included.  RH11 now includes a Resource Manager tool that synchronizes folders using Dropbox, Google Drive, or Microsoft SkyDrive as shared locations, and includes filtering for specific folders. This allows the user to manage linked resources within files used in real time across projects and geography.

Image courtesy of Adobe
Image courtesy of Adobe

The Technical Communication Suite 5.0 includes FrameMaker 12 and RoboHelp 11, but it also includes the updated products of Acrobat Pro XI, Captivate 7, and Presenter 9 to complete the Suite. You will notice that Illustrator, which was included in the TCS4 version, is not included. This was a step, Adobe said, to help lower the price. Additionally, from the way I see it, it makes sense, because both Illustrator and Photoshop–another product that used to be included in prior TCS versions–are now affordably available as part of the Adobe Creative Cloud subscription. I know that I personally have a CC subscription, and I’m guessing that many active technical communicators do too, so this saves us from spending twice for the same product, which makes a lot of sense. TCS5, FM12, RH11, FM XML Author, and the FMPS12 will also be available both as a subscription and through perpetual license¬†as well. There is separate pricing for the FM XML Author and FM Publishing Server software.

The updates made to FrameMaker and RoboHelp are extensive, as there are many more features, but I think you get the idea. Adobe is taking steps to try to stay on top of technological changes that have taken root in the past couple of years, such as mobile and cloud technology, and is working to continue to make a more robust and user-friendly products for technical communicators.

My recommendation is that if you are looking to try TCS5 or any of the TC products out, or are interested in upgrading your current TCS package or individual products, click on the Adobe advertisement in the upper right corner of this page, or visit Adobe’s TCS product page for more information.

I hope you find this helpful!