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Thursday
Jun282012

SCN Contribution - Improving contributions to SCN

The following blog post was originally posted to the SAP Community Network on 28 June 2012 - click here to see the original post.

Creating something new is one of the most rewarding things you can do and for the last few days I've been posting about why, what and how to do just that on the SAP Community Network (SCN). In this post I'm going to take a look at some examples of things we can all do to improve the content we see on SCN. Whilst it isn't an exhaustive list by any means (that would be impossible) and whilst you may in fact do all of these things I hope there's at least one thing in here that can help improve what we have.

What constitutes an improvement?

There are all sorts of ways that you might care to measure an improvement. Just think of all the project reviews and reports you've ever been involved with. How many different things are compiled and collated to get us to a final answer? Usually too many. I'm not going to go into the different ways we could measure an improvement in content you produce for SCN, rather I'm just going to lay out three broad categories which should cover most if not all eventualities.

  • Higher Quality - something about the make-up of of the content is better.
  • Larger Audience - more people want to and do consume the content.
  • Greater Volume - the content available is greater by breadth and/or quantity*.

* I realise quantity on it's own isn't always better, but we're hopefully increasing the quality too and who doesn't want lots of high quality content to pick and choose from? I'd rather have the problem of needing better discovery and curation tools than not having the right content.

So with these areas in mind I came up with the following ideas for improving the content on SCN.

1. Read it differently

I was frequently told at school to read my work through when I'd finished and to double check it. Something must have stuck because I do. Okay if I'm honest I don't do it every time I write something, but I try to. We all make mistakes and reviewing what you've written simply helps to reduce it. Great. But the thing is I can read the same thing ten times and still not spot something. Maybe it's because it's just poorly phrased or the spell check missed it or maybe it's untrue?

My point is that reviewing your own work can be somewhat blinkered. If you can, get someone else to read stuff through for you. You can then return the favour. That elementary collaboration can make a significant improvement to the quality of what you produce.

If you need to do something quick or if you don't have anyone to call on to proof it try reading it aloud. If you're somewhere where you can't do that try reading it in your head the way a news reader might. You could even use a text to speech (TTS) option - available online and built into some operating systems.

2. Use Plain English

English is the most prominent language used on SCN, but it's certainly not the first language of many of the members. So whilst it can often be difficult to distil the meaning and key points from content written by non-native English speakers/writers spare a thought for how difficult it must be the other way around. English has to be a pretty poor language to learn in terms of its structure and nuances, and whilst it is a rich and descriptive language it's this aspect that's also a great weakness.

I hold my hands up and admit that I really struggle with this, but as far as possible we should try and create our English content using Plain English. Now my use of a capital 'P' there was actually purposeful. In the UK there's an independent group called the Plain English Campaign who help organisations to write clearer information (on web sites, packaging, promotional materials, etc.) in 'Plain English'. The results are very good and it has lead to a lot more of the population being able to access a lot more information.

They have a number of free guides and they also offer training which (as someone who has attended one of their courses) I think is time well spent.

3. Socialise outside of SCN

SCN is a social platform, but there are any others. If you create or discover some great content then tell people about it. It's a very poor social platform which doesn't provide some sort of announcements facility such as a status update or even a mailing list. The more people you tell, the more potential value the content can produce (assuming others find it useful too).

I can pretty much guarantee that everyone reading this uses some other non-SCN social network or news curation system, but if you're struggling for ideas of ones to use why not pick some from this list?

  • Facebook - If you have lots of SAP friends maybe this could work for you?
  • Google+ - At this point still mainly tech folk and photographers, but maybe that's exactly who your pitching to?
  • LinkedIn - A business focussed platform with interest groups you can post to as well.
  • Reddit - Discover and promote content from across the web.
  • StumbleUpon - Another content promotion and discovery site.
  • Twitter - Keep it brief you only get 140 characters for announcements.
  • Xing - Another business focussed platform. Popular in Europe (though not so much in the UK).
  • YouTube - People actually interact with comments, ratings and video blogging on there as well as posting cat videos.
  • Your office - Use a company news letter, Intranet page or even word of mouth to inform colleagues.

4. Consider the robots

SCN is not the only place to find answers about SAP. It may be the best, but it isn't the only one. The Internet is a very big place - virtually speaking of course.

When I search for SAP content I almost always resort to using a search engine. This is because search engines crawl and index just about every site out there on the Internet which means not only do I get SCN results but other potentially useful ones besides. So how can we ensure that the SCN content ranks towards the top of the search results meaning more people are likely to spot it and read it?

Well that's a whole field known as Search Engine Optimisation (SEO) and given the amount of money companies charge for it, it's either black magic or a big con. But there are a couple of well known elements that can easily be leveraged to increase the number of people who find the content.

First of all make sure that your content is descriptive and get's to the point. I've written posts in the past (not on SCN) with witty titles using play on words and found that they then ranked really poorly even though the content was relevant and good. So make sure if you have a title that it's a descriptive one and that you get some good descriptive content into the first couple of hundred words.

Second of all make sure that you get links back to your content from other places. Whilst links from within SCN are good, links from other places (e.g. a tweet on Twitter, a link on your LinkedIn page, your company web site) can be even more valuable in getting that content nudged higher up those listings.

5. Be Supportive

As I've asserted in previous posts, the best content begins or becomes a conversation. We should all try and be supportive to those who take the time to add content. By that I don't mean we have to agree with what everyone says, but rather if you read some content that you found interesting or useful in some way you should do something to support it. That could be as simple as rating it or liking it, it could be sharing a link to it, it could be leaving a comment or it could be some combination of these. When we do this sort of thing it encourages the content creators to continue adding and developing content.

Take also the action of adding a comment to something like a blog. That's adding content to so similar responses can be taken for that and so the content builds further. Admittedly at some point a 'reasonable' line needs to be drawn - otherwise comment threads would go on forever!

6. Add Value

Whilst I don't want to detract from people posting a thank you for someone who has helped with an issue or adding their support with a "me too", I feel that they are a waste. Not a waste in that they shouldn't be done, but a waste of an opportunity - and one I've no doubt fallen afoul of myself.

I get quite a few e-mail notifications each day from SCN. I enjoy reading them but the ones like I described above are an instant delete. I think every piece of content should add value. So add some thought to it.

If you're thanking someone for some help, thank them and describe the difference it has made.

e.g. "Thanks John. Changing that setting sorted it right out. The report now only takes a minute to run rather than ten and the client was really happy."

Not only does this thank "John" it also tells him how much of a difference it made.

There's always that little nugget of information you can add in to quantify or qualify something and add that bit more value.

7. Update it

Some content is finite and in the moment. It has a shelf life and after that it is more a reference than an active piece of content. However some content (e.g. how-to guides, capacity planners, rules of engagement, good practice) is always relevant, but at the same time, not always up to date.

If you come across something that is out of date, make the effort to update it. If it's something you know enough about to update it then schedule in some time to do it. If you don't, see if you can find someone who is (e.g. the original author). Discussions can be a great place to see who might be able to help refresh some information and get a collaborative effort underway.

8. Collaboration

The beauty of a social network is that it enables better communication which in turn can create better collaboration (beyond just proof reading). Often content discussed with a friend or colleague can result in a significant improvement. Having someone to bounce ideas off and maybe debate some points with before putting fingers to keyboard can transform the ordinary into the extra-ordinary really quickly.

Of course it doesn't have to just be something you talk through. Perhaps each collaborator is responsible for a particular part or creating some background information (something I actually did with a colleague quite recently).

9. Use references

A lot of the content we create builds upon the work of others. By referencing these works we can not only improve the validity and credibility of the content we are creating; we are also able to increase the validity, credibility and popularity of the referenced work. Everyone's a winner!

Now many (but by no means all) of my own SCN blog posts include 'further reading' lists of referenced works, but it really doesn't have to take such an academic approach. More often it is enough to reference the work with an in-line link or a footnote - something that provides the detail without breaking the flow.

10. Steal like an artist

"Good artists copy, great artists steal" - Pablo Picasso (allegedly) / Steve Jobs (definitely, but not originally).

When you find great content, look at how it was created and see what elements you can use to make your own contributions that much better. The chances are if you think a particular piece of content is good someone else will. So if you can replicate the elements (not the exact content) that you found most appealing in your own work, then there's a good chance some others will respond favourably to your contribution.

11. Use Pictures

In my work I deal with products that visualise data and it can be a really effective way to present information in an easy to consume format. Most of the options to create content in SCN allow you to attach images and this can be a real help in getting your point(s) across. You don't have to be a DaVinci either. Even some simple boxes in a PowerPoint slide that you then export as an image or take a screen shot of can be invaluable.

In addition to communicating details and information pictures can also be used for other purposes. They can be used to break up lengthy pieces of text. Also if you place them at the start of blog posts they get included in excerpts which makes them more eye catching.

So what was the image from the start of this post all about? Well the dial goes all the way to eleven ... eleven potential ways to improve your contributions and as we all know eleven is one more than ten so it's got to be better! ;-)

Conclusion

I hope that somewhere in this blog post you found something of value that you can use to improve your contributions to SCN. I'm sure that there are many other great ways to improve SCN contributions and maybe some of you will choose to share them in the comments at the end of this post?

So that brings me to the end of the fourth post in this series of contributing to SCN. I plan to post my fifth and final post in the series tomorrow so thanks for reading and make sure you check back to see how it wraps up.

Further Reading

Obviously I couldn't quite leave it there without pointing you in the direction of some other content that touches on some of the areas I've outlined in this post.

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