April 2012
By Ute Klingelhöfer

Ute Klingelhöfer studied technical communication at the Hochschule Karlsruhe. In her Bachelor thesis “Development of a concept for social media activities based on the example of the professional association for technical communication and information development” she dealt with how and which social media can support the public work of tekom. The survey was an important part of her thesis.


klingelhoefer.ute[at]gmail.com
www.uteklingelhoefer.de

Technical writers and social media

A recent tekom study, which included 1595 participants – mostly tekom members – investigated the use of social media, including Web 2.0, e.g. forums and rating platforms. Another focus lay on the use of networks such as facebook, XING or LinkedIn. The spread of tablet PCs and smartphones, as well as the use of tekom web forums was also studied.

The first point of interest was how actively or passively used Internet offerings such as forums, product rating site, media platforms for photos, videos and presentations are. tekom wanted to know whether the use was restricted to reading contributions or viewing media or whether participants also published contributions themselves.

Basically, product ratings, contributions to forums and videos are viewed most frequently, by around 80 percent of the survey particpants. Blogs, photo and presentation platforms are used by less than 50 percent respectively. The proportion of passive users is significantly higher in case of platforms vis a vis active users. The greatest difference can be found in the use of video platforms such as YouTube or vimeo. While 82.8 percent of survey respondents stated that they view videos there, only 13.1 percent upload their own videos. In contrast, the hurdle of placing own contributions online is lowest in case of forums and product rating platforms. About 40 percent of the respondents were already active in forums for instance.

Social networking

The questions on use of social networks were specific: How many of the respondents are active on the networks facebook, XING, LinkedIn, Google Plus and Twitter? Are the social networks used more professionally or privately? Or is the usage mixed?

Image 1 shows that the number of people not yet using social networks outweighs in all platforms. The distribution is halfway equal only in the case of XING: Here, 48.7 percent stated that they use the business network, primarily for professional reasons. It is similar for LinkedIn; this network also primarily serves professional purposes.

Image 1: The majority do not yet use social media.

 

Image 2 shows how the users of social networks are distributed over the five platforms.

Image 2: Distribution over networks and their usage

 

The main reason for the use of social networks is keeping in touch with friends and acquaintances. Furthermore, the respondents would like to learn about the newest trends and developments through social networks. Other reasons are maintaining contact with colleagues and business partners, as well as the search for answers to technical questions.

Around 27 percent of respondents stated that they do not use any of the social networks. It emerged that people are held back from using social networks by the fear of insufficient data protection.

The tekom web forum

All respondents who are tekom members and come from the German language region were also asked about the tekom web forum.

As compared to other social media, the web forum has a special position. It is directed exclusively at professionals from technical communication, therefore the information offered is tailored exactly for this target group. The offerings include expert forums such as legal services or standards and guidelines, as well as the job market, the service provider file and the events calendar.

Users of the web forum can subscribe to all information offerings via email. This means, they basically need to login just once, enter their current email address and configure the subscription. Everything that is newly entered from that point forward is sent directly to their inbox by the system, another visit to the web forum is not necessary. This background explains why the rate of passive users is relatively high. From the 1417 respondents, 13 percent said that they would use the web forum for their own contributions, 63 percent acquire information by reading the entries.

Internet offerings for technical communication

The respondents could voluntarily provide information about the Internet sites they visited to keep up to speed with the developments in technical communication. It is striking that most directly visit company sites. Image 6 shows a summary of the different sources. The website of tekom also counts among the sites of companies that are looked up most often.

Image 1: Where do technical writers go for information?

 

The three most mentioned blogs are:

Forums are mainly looked up for questions concerning special editors such as Adobe FrameMaker. tekom offers an RSS feed of all mentioned blogs and a list of all forums for download. The blogs can then be imported in your own RSS-reader

Smartphones and tablet PCs

Since Internet offerings and special social media are being increasingly used over mobile end devices, tekom surveyed how widespread smartphones and tablet PCs are. 46 percent of those surveyed possess a smartphone, while 14 percent own a tablet PC.

Magazine format

The majority (52.4 percent) prefer to read the technical magazine ‘technische kommunikation’. An exclusively digital format, either as PDF or eBook is desired by only 13.3 percent. 34.3 percent are for a mixed form, printed and digital format.

Opinion about social media

Lastly, the survey respondents could volunteer a statement on social media. The responses were widely diverse. Uncertain data protection was criticized here again, as also that the information flooding through social media was overtaxing. Sceptics primarily noted that social media are everything other than social for them. In contrast, others were of the opinion that social media are a fixed part of the Internet and they would be happy if tekom were to engage in this area further.