A hypothesis on how to exert more influence and visibility inside the corporation
One of the paradoxes of my career is to be recognized as a thought leader and influencer on the web among tech comm circles but to feel relatively insignificant and invisible at my place of work. In other words, to be a blogebrity online among the tech comm crowd, but to just be a nameless commoner at work with everyone else. This year I’d like to fix that … somehow.
I don’t have any solid answers, but here’s my hunch on the strategy: Surely the same principles of influence and visibility on the web must apply within corporate walls as well, right? I mean, do corporations function so differently from the web? If not, couldn’t I use the same basic principles for influence online to wield more influence and visibility at work?
The formula for influence on the web, as I’ve come to experience it, is fairly simple: write content (about a specific topic) and share it with people (interested in that topic). Repeat over and over. In time, everybody gets to know you, and if they like what you write, that affinity carries over into other areas.
However, there’s one key difference — at least with my content — between the web and the corporation: the audience. On the web, I write a blog geared towards others tech comm professionals. I have no visibility or influence outside of this domain. But at work, the people I want to influence aren’t other technical writers. I want to influence business leaders — product managers, field engineers, business developers, support groups, UX, product development, program managers, and more. I have about the same influence on business leaders on the web as at work — that is, not much.
Writing about documentation-related topics won’t influence business leaders much, since their interests focus on other matters with other priorities. But there is one common topic that overlaps across discipline lines, whether your focus is documentation or product revenues or other matters: the customer experience.
No matter what your department, almost everyone seems to have a mutual interest in understanding the customer experience. One way or another, the customer experience drives many business decisions, and as such, writing about topics related to the customer experience, even if it’s through the lens of documentation, might be sufficient enough to strike a cord of relevance? At least that’s my hope.
For example, each of the following customer-experience topics would resonate with both documentation groups and business groups:
- What’s the customer experience with our products?
- What’s the customer experience on other products?
- What are our customers’ pain points?
- What customer behavior can we infer from web analytics?
- What’s the customer experience on our website?
- What customer insights do we get from the large, quarterly surveys?
- Where can people go to find information about their customers?
- How is the doc affecting the customer experience?
- What are people saying/writing about our products?
- Who are our customers?
We all know that learning about your audience is key to any writing endeavor, whether you’re writing documentation or blog entries. (I noted in this in my essay Principle 6: Reconstruct the absent user.) My hunch is that learning more about your customers is also key to many other disciplines as well, such as field engineering, product management, business development, and more. If so, I could build on this common interest as a focus to create content that influences my target business-leader audience.
There are many other questions to answer here, mostly strategic in nature, such as how to gather the audience (email lists?), how to construct effective internal communication (short narrative emails?), how to measure insights and feedback (survey tools?). But the fundamental formula for influence is the same — write content, focusing on the right topic, and share it with the right people who have interest in that topic. Any thoughts on this approach?
About Tom Johnson
I'm a technical writer based in the San Francisco Bay area. In this blog, I write about topics related to technical writing and communication — such as software documentation, API documentation, visual communication, information architecture, writing techniques, plain language, tech comm careers, and more. Check out simplifying complexity and API documentation for some deep dives into these topics. If you're a technical writer and want to keep on top of the latest trends in the field, be sure to subscribe to email updates. You can also learn more about me or contact me.