#tweetthedocs: Use Twitter to meet your users where they are

As a tech writer, it’s hard to tell how users get to your docs at all. They might be clicking on in-product help links, searching the web, or getting sent links from support. But you can get proactive about it too. Help users of your product get their questions answered by meeting them where they are—on social media sites like Twitter. You may already rely on marketing, sales, support, and search engines to bring users to your documentation, but social media is a direct option. You can tweet about anything from general topics that answer common user questions to drier topics that are important for people to know. Read on to learn how!

Why to try tweeting your documentation

Using a content marketing approach like tweeting can help you reach users with your docs—and thinking from the perspective of tweetable product documentation can help you write more approachable, plain language and even improve the topic headings that you may be using.

Short sentences are easier for people to understand, but they aren’t always easy to write. You may end up explaining things in long, complex sentences because you’re still trying to grasp the topic yourself. If you struggle to come up with pointers or teasers to your docs, you may want to rewrite them to keep readers reading.

Restructure your sentences by thinking about how you might phrase a lead-in from Twitter. One-liners that describe a problem (or part of one) help people understand what they’ll get if they click—or keep reading.

  • “Here’s what’s new in this release” vs “Read this before you upgrade”
  • “About this dashboard” vs “Detect suspicious activity with this dashboard”
  • “Using this product” vs “Improve your security posture with this product”

Collect tweetable candidate docs

Google helps your users if they know what to look for, but Twitter can help if they don’t know where to start. Good topics to highlight on Twitter are those that answer common user questions, topics that may be dry but are important for people to know, tips and tricks that may be buried in a longer topic, and getting started information.

  • Examine the topics that aren’t getting much attention using site analytics. After you assess the writing quality and the location of each topic, determine if the information is useful (if it isn’t, that could explain the lack of hits). If the topic has a small, but essential use case, it could be that people who need it might not know it’s there.
  • Examine the topics that are getting a lot of attention using site analytics. Just like the lonely topics, the popular topics are great candidates for sharing. Docs with a lot of hits tend to contain vital information—so the more people that see them, the better.
  • Discover common struggles and use cases for your product with help from support. Your support team is your best ally—talk to them to see what customers ask about often, and what they’re trying to do with your product or service. You can answer those questions and address those goals proactively by sending your docs into the twittersphere.
  • Unearth hidden tips and tricks. Small paragraphs can hide important knowledge relevant to specific use cases. If someone is reading a topic for a specific goal, they may  miss information that is good-to-know but not relevant in the moment. Highlight those bits of information with a tweet.

Plan your tweets

Once you collect a set of topics that are good to share, it’s time to get ready to start tweeting. If you have a marketing or communications team, work with them. They’ll help you avoid common pitfalls of social media marketing and communication, set up a content calendar, and define a voice that works with the company’s goals. Many of the steps for tweet planning are the same that you already use for doc planning.

  • Get an account. If you don’t have a company Twitter account to use, start one. Get permission to the main company one, or start a documentation-specific Twitter.
  • Schedule your tweets. Use a service that lets you schedule tweets. This lets you stay focused on your work, and tweet strategically instead of sporadically.
  • Know when to start. Pay attention to important times in your industry. A company-sponsored conference is a great time to start tweeting—your biggest fans will be there and ready to learn and spread the word after the conference is over. If your company isn’t large enough to have its own conference, glom on to another big industry conference, or just start tweeting!
  • Find your voice. Voice is important in writing, and even more so on Twitter. Treat the tweets like your docs—don’t patronize and don’t make assumptions. Evoke professionalism and trustworthiness. Be careful to use a voice that will resonate with the social media users—don’t sound too stilted, too corporate, but also not too friendly.
  • Define your audience. Determine which portion of your customer base is likely to be on Twitter. See what your competitors are doing.
  • Plan your frequency. If you’re joining an existing Twitter account, pay attention to how often that account tweets so that you don’t overwhelm the existing content. Post often enough to make following the feed valuable to readers.
  • Time it right. Decide what time of day your tweets should go out. If your audience is all in one location, pick times when you think they’ll be online. If you have a global audience, keep that in mind and plan to target specific segments of your audience at specific times of day.

Start tweeting

Start writing your tweets!

  • Write a backlog, and plan meetings in the future to refill it. This is the kind of backlog you want to have—a backlog of content to put on the internet. Write up 20-30 tweets before you start tweeting to give you a good start. Schedule meetings in the future with yourself and anyone else helping you out to write new ones—checking the analytics to see if specific times, verbiage, or topics resonated with your audience, and try new ideas too!
  • Include graphics to encourage engagement. Include diagrams and screenshots to help your tweets stand out. Don’t include them in every tweet, and not just for the sake of it, but rather when they’re useful.

After you start tweeting

Pay attention to what’s happening on Twitter.

  • Get feedback. Have regular meetings with the people who manage the Twitter account (if it isn’t you) to hear about how your tweets are doing, and learn what topics to prioritize in the future
  • Watch the feed. Be cautious around events or news that dominate social media posts for awhile. It’s obvious when you’re using a scheduling service if your tweets about how to use your product show up at the same time everyone is livetweeting a political debate or reacting to a tragedy in the news. On the other hand, stay attentive to trends that may be relevant to your product. If you make a security product, a security vulnerability or breach may be a good time to tweet more often.
  • Monitor the feed. Make sure someone is dedicated to monitoring the feed and addressing replies from customers and potential customers (and the spambots and bullies).

Tweeting the docs

Improve your documentation and collaborate with other teams to #tweetthedocs. Write better sentences and headers, without sounding too much like a marketing #brand that you alienate your readers. Don’t wait for Google to bring customers to your docs—reach out to them proactively!