How to disrupt techcomm in your organization?

If you need to “disrupt” your tech comm content, I believe it’s more beneficial to integrate content across the organization than just to get tech comm to become more business-oriented or more like marketing.

The idea comes out of a worthy new collaborative project Sarah O’Keefe launched last week, Content Strategy 101: Transform Technical Content into a Business Asset. (This blog post is based on a couple of comments I’ve left on the site.)

Tech comm goes to business school

A recurring discussion is that tech comm needs to be more business-like to be justifiable in the future, not only on this blog but also elsewhere. Proponents of this view definitely have a point, if only because tech comm is often seen as a cost center and finds it hard to claim a return on investment.

I think, however, that this view is detrimental to all involved parties:

  • Tech comm risks to abandon its benefits to users and quality standards in an attempt to be “more like marketing”.
  • Managers may risk permanent damage to the documentation of their product without solving the bigger problem.

Breaking down all silos

The bigger problem often is that most content production is inefficient – because it occurs in parallel silos. Many companies have gotten good at making their core business more efficient. But they often neglect secondary production of content which remains inefficient and fragmented.

I’ve seen several companies where marketing, technical communications and training (to name just three areas) waste time and money. Due to inefficient, silo’ed processes, tools and objectives, they create similar, overlapping content:

  • Marketing and tech comm create and maintain separate content to explain the benefits of a product.
  • Tech comm and training write separate instruction procedures for manuals and training materials.

Once companies wake up to these redundancies, all content-producing units will face pressure to streamline content and make it easier to produce and reuse. This will revolutionize corporate content production and publishing.

Quo vadis, technical communicators?

I think this issue raises two questions for technical communicators.

The strategic question is:

Which kind of content disruption is more beneficial for the organisation and for customers: Folding tech comm into marketing or integrating all content with a corporate content strategy?

The answer depends on several issues, among them:

The tactical question is:

What’s the role of technical communicators in this content disruption: Are they the movers or the movees? Are they shaping the strategy or following suit?

The answer again depends on several issues:

  • What is your personality, clout and position in the organization?
  • Which team has the most mature content and processes to be a candidate to lead any kind of strategic change in content?

I think tech comm can lead a content strategy, especially if and when the tech comm team knows more about content than marketing or training or other content producers.


4 Responses

  1. I couldn’t agree more with your first paragraph, Kai. So what I’m about to say should be construed as discussing the finer points, not as disagreement.

    You present “get[ting] tech comm to become more business-oriented” like it’s a poor alternative. And I suppose it is, if it means nothing more than knowing how to spell ROI. For me, however, becoming more business-oriented is synonymous with adopting the notion of integrated, silo-less content that you’re advocating.

    When we understand the value of content as a corporate asset, when we seek ways to maximize the efficiency and effectiveness of that content, then we’re being business-oriented. When we don’t, we’re not being business-oriented. Not really.

    Here’s to a future full of disruption.

    • Thanks, Larry, for the clarification. We are indeed on the same page.

      I opted for the sharp contrast of “spelling ROI” vs. doing it right mainly for rhetorical reasons: To point out that business orientation is not just a way to present ourselves and our work, but will and must fundamentally change the way we work.

      I guess the rhetorical poignancy comes from my irresistible urge to not only do the right things, but also to do them for the right reasons… 🙂

  2. Hallo Kai

    Great post! I agree completely that we need to integrate the content across the whole organisation, and therefore build a content strategy that encompasses the whole organisation. It’s not a case of tech comm becoming more like marketing. Instead, we in tech comm are realising the marketing value of our content. That’s a very different thing. Especially in the world of online content and search engines, the docs are a very rich source of information and leads.

    I think that our content serves all three of the segments that you mentioned: the product, the company and the customer. More, it serves the potential customer too.

    And, like you, I think that we in tech comm can drive the analysis, design and delivery of a new content strategy. We have the skills and the knowledge. What we may need to do is shout about ourselves a bit more. If we’re vocal, and above all share what we know, then people will have confidence in us and will start to ask our opinion naturally.


    Cheers, Sarah

    • Good points, Sarah, thank you!

      I hadn’t understood our challenge as “realising the marketing value of our content”, but I think that’s exactly right! And it naturally flows to including the potential customer as the fourth party to address with our content.

      If we can only find a better sopabox on which to stand and promote our worth a little better… 🙂

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