bookmark_borderOhh I’m WAY busier than you..

Due to product release pressures I’ve not had much time to look at the new version of Author-it, let alone get the SQL database setup so the rest of my team can get it installed and starting having a play.

Whilst we are getting some training organised, I’m confident that we are smart enough to figure out a lot of the basics ourselves (I’ve used Author-it before so can guide them a little) leaving the training for the harder things such as variants.

Having finally sourced space on a server my next task will be to setup the database on SQL Express. This is a cutdown version of Microsoft SQL Server, with much the same functionality but a maximum database size of 4GB. Some initial size estimates suggest we are WAY off that so I’m confident it’ll see us through the next few years worth of content creation.

Alongside this I’ve also been involved in what can only be described as a content audit across the company. I’m lucky that I have a colleague who is as keen as I am on making sure the right people have the right information, and that our information needs to be easy to find and maintain. She works in Product Marketing so there is a fair amount of crossover. At present we are mired in spreadsheet hell, but it’s starting to come together and, in the long run, I’m sure the various consumers of product information will start to see the benefits.

I do seem to moving away from being involved in new feature design work which I will miss, but for the meantime there is a bigger void that I’m aiming to fill with the ultimate aim of rounding out our product offering.

So, exciting times ahead and hopefully a lot of good lessons I can share with you.

bookmark_borderWhat do YOU do?

Re-reading the article I submitted to the ISTC Communicator magazine, I realise that my average day isn’t:

  • particularly average at all
  • a true representation of everything I’m involved with

I lead a team of writers so my typical day may not apply to everyone, and I also have a tendency to stick my nose in and get involved in other areas if I feel I can be of help. Simply put, if I hear someone talking about “information” my radar pings and I see if I can be of any benefit.

Other non-typical items include collation of Product Release Notes, my team proof-read Marketing brochures and website collateral, we try and monitor consistency in the UI of our customer facing product, and I’m currently in the process of creating (and managing) and developer community website. As an “unbiased” member of the development group I also recently facilitated our retrospectives.

One of the reasons I love this profession is that you can (and should?) be involved in many different areas. We have a unique view of the product and I guess my day is sculpted by that, although it is helped that we are a small(ish) company and have a small group of people thinking about the “product” as a whole.

I’m lucky that our company doesn’t have a traditional structure, with everyone encouraged to talk to everyone else regardless of role or level. It’s a little like a zoo sometimes, with a lot of noise and activity, but apparently that’s a good thing. It does mean I am involved in discussions that can be hard to be a part of otherwise, chatting to the Product Manager, Product Marketing and Sales, all of whom are saying the same thing, which in itself proves that things are working and that technical writers are a valid part of that discussion.

I’m curious to hear if others have the same opportunity; What other areas, outside of technical writing, are you involved in? And why?

bookmark_borderProduct Marketing

So, what do you do, as a blogger with ethics, when a company write to you to promote their product? Well, first of all you check out the product.

Now, according to Sharon Dupont who contacted me, the product in question:

provide[s] a simple Web 2.0 service that allows bloggers to include syndication feeds, like news headlines, posts from other blogs or podcasts, into their blogs without any programming knowledge required. We hope that our take on the “problem” might be of use to both bloggers and web surfers.

All well and good (I’m not saying I’d USE the product myself but some might be interested).

Now, I’m not in the habit of plugging things on here without good reason, and so before I posted this I emailed Sharon to ask her a few questions, primarily about the company behind the product, and if whether they were deliberately targetting blogs as a form of marketing.

That was a several weeks ago. I’m still waiting for a response.

There are many companies, let’s call them “traditional” companies (with offices and products that come in boxes), who ‘get’ the internet. They realise that an online presence can help their business. Some of these companies also realise that blogs can be used to improve communication with their customers, and the really enlightened ones have worked it into they way the work.

Yet some companies still see blogs as a ‘free ride’, presuming we’ll hawk their goods for them. They seem oblivious to the possible downsides (this post is one), and whilst I don’t feel sorry for them it does annoy me. There is no good reason why a successful company can’t have a blog and make that blog work. Or at the very least there is no good reason why a successful company can’t at least UNDERSTAND how they could WORK WITH bloggers.

An example: at the recent BlogHer conference in the States, a car company turned up at one of the social events with a couple of soft-top cars. They allowed people to take them for a spin, didn’t try and sell and largely contributed to the whole ‘fun’ ethos of the event. They didn’t hand out marketing brochures, or push their product in any way. Yet they benefitted. How? Numerous mentions of the fun people had in their cars, photos galore in Flickr, and we all now that Google loves links and they got a barrowload of them (barrel? barrow? hmm that’s an odd one).

Obviously this is a form of marketing but, when conducted in such a fashion as to be unobtrusive and actually giving something BACK, then I think it works. Wouldn’t you love to take a spin in a convertible on a nice sunny day? Of course you would.

Now it’s all well and good for a large corporation to provide such freebies but I think blogging can help smaller companies as well. Putting aside the fact that ANY kind of web presence is no longer good enough (if I want to stay in your hotel, let me see the rooms, check availability and prices please) then the success stories will be the companies that realise that it’s not the size of the audience that visits your site, it’s that the RIGHT PEOPLE VISIT YOUR SITE.

[insert penis related “size doesn’t matter” pun here]

If I run a business from my home, say a dog walking service, then it will benefit me more if my website is known to people that are in my area, have a dog, and would like their dog looked after during the day. Currently the best way to do that would be target dog shows, leaflet some houses in the area, or just get chatting to dog owners in the area.

Blogging may fit into that equation, but I’d see it as more of an add-on, a way of providing a human face to the business in an online context. For the moment, as blogging becomes increasingly popular it will continue to drive more and more ‘referrer business’ into all types of businesses. Those that are web-savvy now should be able to reap some benefits.

As for Ms. Dupont, I won’t mention the company/product name here as they don’t deserve the publicity (if you are really interested, google the quote), and here’s a tip for anyone with a business online. Be transparent. If you want me to invest my time and blog in your product, if you contact ME in an effort to market your product, presume I’ll do some research into the company behind the product and I’ll definitely want to be able to see the name of the person who contacted me listed somewhere on your site.

Blogging is huge, the numbers are startling, but until some businesses wise up it’s largely going to remain the remit of the hobbyists.