The Evolution of User Assistance
User assistance has evolved significantly since the advent of digital technology, and each complements the other. At first, technology companies provided print documentation to users. Later, they moved to online Help systems, then contextual Help and interactive user assistance, which provide a better user experience because they are better integrated with applications.
Over time, technical writers have adopted various new approaches to delivering user assistance. It’s now possible to reuse content and generate multiple content formats from a single source. It is also possible to optimize or even personalize the content for specific users.
In more recent years, there have been dramatic shifts in user-assistance strategies, as technologies have evolved and cloud-based, SaaS (Software as a Service) solutions have replaced many desktop systems. As a consequence, technical writers have adopted social user assistance as the next evolution in electronic documentation for users. Millions of users across the globe can benefit from the content on social user–assistance platforms. Plus, these user-assistance platforms can deliver content to any device, including smartphones and tablets, allowing users greater flexibility in consuming the information they provide.
Users are no longer just consumers, but also generators of information. They can share their experience with others by contributing user-generated content to social user–assistance platforms. By leveraging the wisdom of crowds, social user–assistance systems can provide access to the best content, across social-media platforms.
A new generation of tech-savvy users increasingly expects the latest and greatest social user–assistance capabilities, including compatibility with mobile devices. The result is a constantly evolving portfolio of user-assistance platforms that provide the best, most responsive user experience ever, without increasing costs.
At the cutting edge of user-assistance systems today, social user assistance must typically meet these criteria:
- simple and inexpensive to deploy—A company can easily deploy social user assistance on a social-media channel such as LinkedIn.
- accessible from anywhere, including mobile devices—Social user assistance is accessible to a wide range of people, on their preferred devices—including smartphones and tablets.
- low hardware and maintenance costs—There is no need to deploy or maintain costly hardware.
- easy-to-update Information—It’s easy to quickly modify information and incorporate real-time user feedback.
- affordable—Companies can pay as they go rather than launch huge information systems in one go.
Sources of Social User Assistance
With today’s social-media platforms, companies can offer a wide range of social user–assistance solutions. Some examples follow:
- forums—User forums let users get the most relevant, up-to-date answers to their queries from knowledgeable people. A forum can be a one-stop, user-assistance shop that provides peer-to-peer conversations and customized self-help information or provide a mix of traditional user assistance and social media.
- online communities—Many online communities provide a platform whose specific purpose is to offer social user assistance for products and services. Members must sign in and create a user profile before using the user-assistance content and capabilities. Online communities let users post information and search for content.
- Twitter—Companies can tweet tips and other information about their products and services, provide links to blog posts and free Webinars, and leverage other forms of user assistance.
- LinkedIn—Companies use LinkedIn to create Help centers and platforms where users can get answers to their questions. Such Help centers may provide information about product usage, document management, industries, new trends in technical communication, and other Help resources.
- YouTube—Both companies and users can post simulations and tutorials. YouTube provides much greater reach than most corporate sites because millions of people use the service daily.
- SlideShare—Companies and users can also post tutorials on SlideShare, which also has greater reach than most companies’ sites.
Benefits of Social User Assistance
Social user assistance has changed the way people communicate and leverages the wisdom of crowds—irrespective of users’ age, gender, or location. Some benefits of social user assistance are as follows:
- audience understanding—A key objective for any business is to know their audience better. With social user assistance, you can obtain user feedback on your content, then customize it for your target audience. Here are some ways of determining and defining your target audience:
- Conduct user surveys.
- Analyze your data in Google Analytics.
- Run an annual audience survey.
- Use Facebook Insights to better understand your Facebook audience.
- Create user and reader personas.
- instantaneous feedback—Social user assistance lets you obtain feedback on your content and user experience from users, then improve your user experience accordingly. This feedback can also provide valuable insights on your users’ perspectives.
- trend monitoring—Social-media monitoring sheds light on your competitors and market trends. You can use this kind of information to create more effective user assistance that gives you an edge in your market. You must know your competitors, their strengths and weaknesses, and their strategy. Analyze industry reports, as well as your competitors’ Web sites and Search Engine Optimization (SEO) strategies, using tools such as SpyFu, Google Trends, and Google Alerts.
- outreach and sharing—Social media helps you optimize your user assistance for search engines. Plus, it lets you easily share content. You can use social-media platforms such as Facebook and Twitter to promote user assistance to millions of users at once.
- brand awareness—Effective social user assistance helps increase brand awareness. This marketing approach is much less expensive than building your brand through traditional advertising. This also makes fostering relationships between your online audience and key stakeholders easier.
Social user assistance transcends the boundaries of traditional user–assistance systems and results in user experiences that exceed customer expectations. Companies that understand the value of social user assistance are well positioned to deliver the best user assistance to their users. Instead of just creating documentation for users, technical writers can create support experiences that everyone finds helpful. Social user assistance lets users freely share information and data, adding value to the ecosystem.
With the increasing importance of focusing on understanding what users need so companies can enhance the user experience of their products and services, using social media for user assistance has become a very effective means of both communicating with and listening to users.