What Social Media Means for Technical Communicators

Room 42 is where practitioners and academics meet to share knowledge about breaking research. In this episode, Huatong Sun discusses strategies of discursive affordances, splicing networks, and cultivating fan bases with social media technologies.

Airdate: September 15, 2021

Season 2 Episode 6 | 43 min

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Transcript (Expand to View)

[00:00:11.840] – Liz Fraley

Greetings and welcome to Room 42. I’m Liz Fraley from Single-Sourcing Solutions. This is Janice Summers. She’s our interviewer. She’s from TC Camp. And welcome to Dr. Huatong Sun, today’s guest in Room-42. Huatong Sun is an Associate Professor of Digital Media and Global User Experience Design at the University of Washington, Tacoma. She studies how to design and innovate for usable, meaningful, and empowering technology to bridge differences in a globalized world. She’s the author of two books, “Cross-Cultural Technology Design” (in 2012) and “Global Social Media Design” (in 2020), both from Oxford University Press.

[00:00:50.810] – Liz Fraley

She writes for public media, including Fast Company and The Conversation and she speaks at SXSW, STC, UXPA, CHI, and ATTW. And she offers workshops for local SIGs and international conferences. And today she’s here to help us start answering the question, what does social media mean for technical communicators?

[00:01:11.260] – Liz Fraley


[00:01:12.470] – Huatong Sun

Thank you. And thanks for bringing me to this conversation. And I appreciate your patience and I know Liz reached out me before and then I was not able to make it. Thank you.

[00:01:25.730] – Liz Fraley

We held in there. It’s really interesting what you’re doing, and we didn’t want to let you go.

[00:01:33.350] – Huatong Sun

Thank you.

[00:01:35.450] – Janice Summers

So let’s talk about global design for social media. And, really, and we’ll feed in there some thoughts about what it means to technical communicators, right. Because oftentimes social media sits in a different wheelhouse other than technical communication. So let’s first talk about the global social media design practice and what that means. Could you explain a little bit more about that?

[00:02:02.900] – Huatong Sun

So the title of “Global Social Media Design” if you look at the back of my background, you see that. I actually put the book cover there.

[00:02:11.190] – Janice Summers

Yeah, I love it.

[00:02:15.550] – Huatong Sun

And if you look at that title part, Global Design, I particularly asked the cover designer to do it this way that I want to convey two messages here. First, this is about global design. Second, this is global design of social media. Yeah. So to put it this way, I’m using a global design approach to look at technology design. My first book, it’s cross technology design. So I use the cross-cultural design approach to look at how we do technology design. When I say technology design, I’m looking at interactive technologies, and I have a very broad view of technologies. That’s not necessarily just high techs.

[00:03:05.400] – Huatong Sun

I remember in one class I had a conversation with my students, 200-level students. Then one student asked, “Is scarf a technology?” I said, “Yes. It’s a technology.” Something that people make. That becomes technology. Right. It can-

[00:03:26.160] – Janice Summers

That’s a really good point. Technology is very broad, yeah.

[00:03:31.140] – Huatong Sun

Right, and it includes consumer products. Yeah. I think that students will just– Think about, you know, undergraduate students, 200-level class, they will think about technology just cell phones, computers

[00:03:46.650] – Janice Summers

And software applications. Yeah, Yeah.

[00:03:46.660] – Huatong Sun

Right. So I want to let them know actually technology is everywhere. So it’s a tool that has been produced. I’ll say produced in a factory through manufacturing practices. And that means it follows certain standards. It had cultural… sorry, industry standards. And then it also becomes a product, a symbol in our cultural circuit. So this is how I see technology.

[00:04:21.660] – Huatong Sun

Yeah. So a scarf is obvious, a technology. And I think we have feminist historians who started technology practice in the 18th centuries and 19th century. And they found that actually even just 150 years ago, when they have a technology affairs, you can see products like beads and beaded products there. So at that time, I think we had a much broader view of technology. Now, we seem to narrow to high tech, just like I think yesterday Apple released a new product. That seem to be the technology we talk about. But no, it’s not. Okay. So yeah-

[00:05:08.560] – Janice Summers

A lot of people think in terms of technology, and they just think exclusively to electronic, right. To something a little, that’s like, electronic. But technology is far more inclusive than that. And it’s anything that’s made and manufactured. Minting coins, right? We’ve minted coins for a long time. That’s a technology.

[00:05:29.140] – Huatong Sun

Yeah, of course.

[00:05:32.850] – Liz Fraley


[00:05:32.850] – Huatong Sun

Even quilt making.

[00:05:35.080] – Janice Summers

Yes, it’s a technology.

[00:05:37.010] – Huatong Sun

Quilt making is a technology. 

[00:05:40.400] – Janice Summers

It requires normal human interaction in making it, oftentimes. But yeah, it is a technology.

[00:05:45.430] – Huatong Sun

Right. I’m just having this thought now as you were speaking. So think about that. I think that actually women were the first group of technologists. Think about when the society started. I would say a million years ago. Think about the first division of labor, mango hunting, women they stay home, do the work, and they begin to make technology.

[00:06:14.280] – Janice Summers

Right. Well, because we had to make tools and utensils, right. And that’s the very beginning. We’ve been at technology for a long time.

[00:06:22.050] – Huatong Sun

Right. Yeah, from the beginning. I think I should not exclude that when men went out for hunting, they needed tools too, yes.

[00:06:32.910] – Janice Summers

Yes, this interesting correlation, too, when you talk about global social media, right.

[00:06:36.940] – Huatong Sun


[00:06:38.130] – Janice Summers

Because like you were saying, I mean, earlier with the scarf, when we’re talking about tools that are used around the very first societies, they have different meaning in different areas, right? Around the globe, a scarf may look different from one culture into another culture into another culture because they adapt to suit their local customs, right, their local habits and social norms, right?

[00:07:06.650] – Huatong Sun

Right. And I would say that I use a term called the culture of sustaining approach that they need to be sustainable in their local culture. So in my first book I studied how to design a meaningful technology. I’ve said, I was using an approach called cultural sensitive. But then I realized, no, it’s not sufficient. Just the way look at the cultural sensitivity and that actually there’s a much bigger conversation going on there that is also that empowering as fact that it’s not just a meaningful fact.

[00:07:46.990] – Huatong Sun

It’s that you need to feel that as part– you’re empowered and that’s you, that’s your identity. I think the meaningful can help you address a part of your identity but it’s not enough. So the global design approach in my new book, actually, I will say it looks at the the interaction of agency and the structure. So agency that so– what can it enable us do and what empower us do as a designer and then but we’re still confined in this structure, in this hierarchy, I would say, in the global cultural and in the global power hierarchy. Put it this way.

[00:08:33.930] – Huatong Sun

Yeah. It’s still way how to negotiate your agency and a global approach. I think the difference between a global approach and the cross-cultural design approach is that a global approach emphasizes the interdependence and inter-connectivities between other practices. So in the first book, Cross-Cultural Technology Design, I was more looking at how we can design something that fits the local culture ethos and then in  Global Social Media Design book that I’m doing more comparison. And I also want to see the difference.

[00:09:30.810] – Huatong Sun

So I think in one chapter of the new book, I studied the global competition of four social messaging apps. These four apps are WhatsApp from the United States, and KakaoTalk from South Korea, and WeChat from China, and LINE from Japan. I’m actually listing them according to the timeline when they were released. So I study how cultural consumption and the viral proposition shifts the global competition of these four social messaging apps. When I say cultural consumption, that that’s related to the cultural meaning, I was saying a moment ago that– think about scarf and there’s so many scarfs on the market and then how to make your scarf stand out.

[00:10:44.380] – Huatong Sun

You have certain cultural consumption practices associated with that and the value proposition.

[00:10:49.900] – Huatong Sun

And I think a value proposition is a marketing term, a business term… I won’t say it’s a marketing term. I think this is something that we use when we talk about innovation, then what unique values a product will bring to the market, that make you different.

[00:11:16.070] – Janice Summers

You bring up a good point because there’s features and functions and things in technology that need to be communicated out. And I’m seeing that thing of like you’re communicating about a scarf in one culture, you need to understand how to communicate that and speak to another culture rather than trying to just accept that how you say to one person matters to everybody, right? Is that where you’re going? Yeah. So it’s that technology that we communicate out to an understanding the culture where we’re communicating into, right?

[00:11:54.060] – Huatong Sun

Yeah. I think I would like to say it this way. That scarf is an example I’m using with my students, but actually my main research looks at interactive technology. So actually, I think high tech products, but I think those consumer products, the design practices of consumer products can still help us understand these high tech products.

[00:12:21.420] – Janice Summers

Oh, yeah because a scarf it’s really common, right. I agree. I like your analogy of a scarf because it strips everything else away, right?

[00:12:30.700] – Huatong Sun


[00:12:30.700] – Janice Summers

Yeah. Very good. So you are looking at these different interfaces, right? And what were some of your findings?

[00:12:46.890] – Huatong Sun

I was actually looking at discursive affordance to see how discursive affordance will help us to succeed in this kind of global competition. So the discursive affordance I see here going back to like I said, agency, the interaction between agency and structure here. I see discursive affordance is this two way shaping force between a technology and a society. I like the concept of affordance because it shows both the constraining side that you are structured, you are one. So we are actually confined in this global power hierarchy.

[00:13:41.730] – Janice Summers


[00:13:42.630] – Huatong Sun

Right. But there also some is powering… sorry, empowering us back there. So I call discursive affordance there to show that that’s something that we can actually, if we look at this discursive affordance aspect that maybe that’ll help us to think about how we can do design better and then also help us to see how we can position our technology products better in this global competition. So as example of a discursive affordance, I would like to talk about the LINE FRIENDS. I think I’ve been using LINE FRIENDS as an example in multiple occasions.

[00:14:34.590] – Huatong Sun

That LINE is a social messaging app released in Japan. And I think– according to my research, that it has been the top social network service in Japan. It was released just 10 years ago, and it came much later, after Facebook, Twitter, but it beat all these-

[00:15:03.530] – Liz Fraley


[00:15:03.530] – Huatong Sun

Yeah. All these social media services. Why? Because I think they were able to create, develop discursive affordances that correlates and that works in Japanese Internet culture. So one of the innovative practices they did is that they released cute virtual stickers and emoticons to help Japanese users to convey more sophisticated, subtle feelings.

[00:15:37.910] – Huatong Sun

So they have these very cool LINEs, virtual stickers. Nowadays we see all these virtual stickers everywhere. But back in 2010-

[00:15:49.150] – Janice Summers

Not as common.

[00:15:53.380] – Liz Fraley

No, not many.

[00:15:53.390] – Huatong Sun

2011. Right. Actually, they introduce new ways of communication and then people start to see that actually we can just use stickers to have conversation. You don’t need to talk, you don’t need to type words, just use stickers. And they went beyond of using virtual stickers. And then they turn sticker into a character of LINE FRIENDS, plush toys, all these accessories, like stationeries, USB stick, or a mouse, or cups. And they also turn into cookies and coffee mugs. All these accessories and also become part of the interface support that social messaging app.

[00:16:48.220] – Huatong Sun

And because of that– so they are able to create both online world and offline world. So nowadays when you go to Times Square in New York City, you see LINE FRIENDS stores. I asked many people in the United States actually don’t use LINE  or haven’t heard about LINE. If you don’t have Japanese friend or you don’t have South East Asian friend, you probably haven’t heard about LINE, but you probably have seen adults LINE character FRIENDS yeah. So they’re very popular. Yeah. So that’s a discursive affordance I’ve been talking about in my second book.

[00:17:30.940] – Huatong Sun

And so this becomes a very powerful value proposition for them. And of course, they are followed and they already know that. People don’t talk about copycat nowadays, because when they find out a new practice, people just copy it. So we see that.

[00:17:52.630] – Janice Summers

Right. Yeah, we see that a lot. And that’s true. People don’t talk about copycats these days.

[00:17:56.150] – Huatong Sun

So we have been so used to these virtual stickers. But I think that it’s kind of interesting to look at when they started, yeah.

[00:18:09.260] – Janice Summers

When the iconography started, when people first started, yeah.

[00:18:18.320] – Huatong Sun

And also LINE was the first company among all the social messaging apps to run TV ads. I think most technology application or mobile applications had just marketed on the App Store or Google Play Store. Of course, they don’t have such budget to do that either. But I think that LINE was the first company they they do TV ads.

[00:18:56.370] – Huatong Sun

And also they opened a Creators Market back in 2014, I think. To let anyone design and submit stickers because they know that stickers… The stickers made in Japan might not be able to convey subtle feelings in South America, right?

[00:19:21.310] – Janice Summers

Right. But here’s an interesting thing that they adopted was inclusion of the culture and saying, I want to bring you in that you have a sense of ownership to the communication that we’re trying to convey, right? So I think if there was an interesting way to do that for the techcomm professionals to say, how can I include my audience. Like if I’m communicating to a group, how do I include them in creating that communication so that we have something where they feel is integrated with them, right?

[00:19:57.640] – Liz Fraley

And it gives them the agency, right. That’s kind of where you were back to, right?

[00:20:02.200] – Huatong Sun


[00:20:02.980] – Liz Fraley

It’s not just here’s my stickers. But you can create stickers. You can be part of this and have agency in it. Yeah, I see what you are saying. Yeah, it’s interesting.

[00:20:11.510] – Janice Summers


[00:20:12.730] – Liz Fraley


[00:20:13.190] – Huatong Sun


[00:20:14.560] – Janice Summers

And I think that’s a really key thing for people to take note of this and see, because it’s like you said, technology is everywhere. So we can’t say how to translate this directly into your particular technology, but use it as an inspiration and a guide to influence and inform how you step forward, right?

[00:20:37.430] – Huatong Sun


[00:20:38.170] – Liz Fraley

So we can invite you in so that you can decide how you want to design your experience. No? Or am I getting that wrong?

[00:20:46.690] – Janice Summers

 Well, applicable to the technology-

[00:20:48.530] – Liz Fraley

Hold on.

[00:20:48.810] – Janice Summers


[00:20:50.050] – Liz Fraley

Yeah, am I getting that wrong?

[00:20:52.700] – Huatong Sun

Yeah, it’s part of the user agency. That then, I think, the participants as a part of social media interests, the characteristics. Yes, of course. So how you should open your platform to get more people involved. So as you build a discursive affordance of your product, how you expand your network, this is part of network building. And that also that is a concept I use in my book that I call a hybrid, hybridization, hybridity. Yeah. How you spread networks and how you develop fan bases. So in this case, LINE developed fan bases with the LINE characters.

[00:21:43.120] – Huatong Sun

And then it’s possible that you don’t use their product, messaging apps. But you have been familiar with their products. You have been familiar with those  cool plush toys, a frog, the rabbit, sorry, the bear and the rabbit. And they also keep their LINE FRIENDS evolving. A few years ago, they released a long line of LINE FRIENDS collaborated with BTS. So you know the BTS that’s Korean boys.

[00:22:24.050] – Janice Summers


[00:22:25.390] – Liz Fraley


[00:22:27.460] – Huatong Sun

Right. So please correct me. I don’t remember how many because I’m not a BTS fan. I know they have seven people or six people. But anyway, I know for that BTS-

[00:22:39.900] – Janice Summers

It’s more than six.

[00:22:43.450] – Huatong Sun

So that particular BTS FRIENDS characters, and they had each of the singers design one. They also have an additional one for the whole band.

[00:22:56.860] – Liz Fraley


[00:23:01.980] – Huatong Sun

 Yes, that was released in spring 2018.

[00:23:04.490] – Janice Summers

Right. Okay. Cool. So what they did then is they’re not just sitting back and resting on their laurels, but they’re adapting and transforming. And I think that’s one of the things that social media allows you to do. So for all the techcomm people out there, if you can get involved in social media, it allows you adapt and try new things as well, to speak to your audience in a new way, right?

[00:23:31.290] – Huatong Sun

You need to ride the cultural wave.

[00:23:34.730] – Janice Summers

Yes. And I think what they did is they tapped into the South Korean band, which they’re popular all over the globe, but they’re expanding their social network because they’re including social influencers, in this case, large social influencers, right?

[00:23:52.160] – Huatong Sun

Yeah, right.

[00:23:53.220] – Janice Summers

So that might be something to think of, too, from a technology communicators perspective. Well, how can I include other technologies or other organization into our mission?

[00:24:07.990] – Huatong Sun

Right. Yeah. I think this kind of splicing network has been a popular practice in the fashion industry. Then you see that brands like [unclear 00:24:23] might collaborate with a designer or even… Yeah, some other brands. I don’t remember the name at this point, some different brands. So they will collaborate, you may recall something like that. They will collaborate with famous designers.

[00:24:43.770] – Janice Summers

Right. Well, in the States, ask anyone who follows basketball.

[00:24:47.760] – Huatong Sun

Yeah, Nike.

[00:24:49.180] – Janice Summers

What Nike did.

[00:24:54.820] – Huatong Sun

The sneakers, right.

[00:24:56.020] – Liz Fraley

Right. And this stuff tails into your research into networks and growing networks and fan bases too, right? It feeds right in.

[00:25:07.100] – Huatong Sun


[00:25:09.160] – Liz Fraley

Which I’m not sure everybody knows about. Do you want to tell us a little bit about that side of the research?

[00:25:15.200] – Huatong Sun

Yeah. I think that part of the research had just started as a cultural escape. A few years ago, I had do some project I would like to do. And then I thought I was doing some project that would write something that– I think I began to waste my time on social media, following some fan communities.

[00:25:41.540] – Janice Summers

Who hasn’t gone down the rabbit hole?

[00:25:42.740] – Huatong Sun

And then I found that I ended up wasting a lot of time sometimes that I think I need to make this more productive. I began to turn my observation into my research. That’s how I got involved into fan communities. And then I wrote a article for USPA Magazines about how to… Yeah. I think the title is a social game. I don’t remember. But you can see the link. I think it’s on my page. So I talked about how high tech products you have fan bases by following the Korean, so K-pop, Korean-pop fan practices. Yeah. And that’s how I started fan research, yeah.

[00:26:44.540] – Janice Summers

Following K-pop?

[00:26:47.040] – Huatong Sun

Right. I started with K-pop. But also because I’ve been teaching social media class this undergraduate, 200-level class for eight years. So one project in my class is to study an online fan community. The online fan community is a very interesting phenomena in social media practice. So you see that the people get connected even though they are physically separate at long distance. But people develop very robust online community, and they become a powerful force.

[00:27:33.630] – Janice Summers

Yes. People become emotionally invested.

[00:27:36.570] – Huatong Sun

Yeah. I think at first I asked students to study online fan communities, and then later I change their project into fandom research. So we just don’t start a fan community and ask everyone to study fandom phenomena happening in social media space. And I think this is a new phase that how we can apply this kind of fandom, these fan base strategies, to develop engagement for our own, I would say, for community activism. So for example, literally, I asked them to do an engagement strategy project. They need to apply the fan base strategies they learn from this fandom phenomena to help our student organizations, our campus, our office engage in strategy.

[00:28:47.100] – Janice Summers

Right. A lot of people are interested in how do you measure that? What kind of analytic tools are they using to measure engagement and action and reaction?

[00:28:58.420] – Huatong Sun

This is very good question. So I think that there are certain technology there… sorry, not technology, I would say there’s certain software.

[00:29:13.220] – Janice Summers

Applications, right.

[00:29:16.370] – Huatong Sun

Yeah right. Software application there. I will highly recommend we go to the HubSpot.

[00:29:22.620] – Janice Summers


[00:29:23.420] – Huatong Sun

That resource, to search for that. In our class–it’s a 10 week class. We actually don’t have time to measure that. So I’m afraid I cannot give you an answer right away. But I know they’re there and they are a lot, yes. And you can also use [unclear 00:29:45] to track these engagements. This is very popular research area in social computing. It’s a great part. It’s also got a lot of funding I mean, multiple corporate funds.

[00:30:03.900] – Janice Summers


[00:30:04.340] – Liz Fraley


[00:30:05.360] – Janice Summers


[00:30:05.560] – Liz Fraley

Yeah. I was thinking and I’m just going to go sideways a little bit because when we talked earlier, before, one of the things that stuck out was that you were talking about how technical communicators need to employ social media because not all of us are the ones who stand in front and say, “Hey, me, me, me, me.” Right. But you need people to advocate for you and if they don’t know you and they’re not part of your network and you’re not engaging with people, then you need to. Basically, right?

[00:30:48.940] – Huatong Sun

Right. Yes. I like this question because this actually is a new book project I’m working on now, yeah.

[00:31:08.230] – Liz Fraley


[00:31:09.800] – Janice Summers

Yes, tell us about this is.

[00:31:10.890] – Liz Fraley

Give us a preview.

[00:31:13.880] – Huatong Sun

The starting point, and the final product might be different, but something that related to that. How you build yourself a fan base. But I look at a particular area. So I’m looking at how to help BIPOC faculty. I would say BIPOC women faculty to grow a fan base. And the current title is Grow Your Lily Pad.

[00:31:58.520] – Janice Summers

Yes. I love it.

[00:31:57.680] – Huatong Sun

Yeah, so that’s a metaphor I got from my friend. And how can we see that? It’s important to network with your colleagues and at precarious times, but it also it’s important to grow your own lily pad and build your network.

[00:32:36.060] – Huatong Sun

So that way will help us to hop from one lily pad to another pad and then to our dream destination, that lily goal. But at the same time that we can see lily pad has unique meanings and different layers. So lotus flowers that come from lily pad, relate with lily pads. Actually, these are flowers they don’t want to just be adjusted, be acclimed to a certain situation. They want to be themselves. And I think that this is related to the conversation we’re having now about BIPOC, diversity, inclusion, and initiative.

[00:33:33.960] – Huatong Sun

And then I think one thing that talks about belonging is. Yeah. So that’s about that. But I don’t think this, the lily pad strategy, will only work for BIPOC faculty. I think this actually is something that everyone needs that because we need allies, right. We talk about building allyship network and how we can use social media technology, the discursive affordance from social media technology, and also the network building power. I would say also the hybridization, how you can splice networks help you to reach your goals, reach your business goals, reach your career goals.

[00:34:37.330] – Huatong Sun

And you have some other goals for community activism. Yeah. How to do that.

[00:34:44.150] – Janice Summers

Right. And I think that there’s also a way to grow beyond your local network, right? When you talk about faculty and grow beyond it. What faculty that you don’t know around the world. It’s limitless. Right. But I love the analogy of the lily pad.

[00:35:07.720] – Huatong Sun

I think that when we talk about strategy, we can use some strategies that have been used a lot in digital marketing that I think that’s something we talk about. Brand new personality, and share the community values and the conversation building. So I’m just doing this lily term to talk about that. So brand personality. Think about our technical communicator or think about your business. So what’s your brand personality? And so if you are individual, what kind of expertise you can bring to your community, your niche audience? Because when we talk about fan base, you’re actually not talking–

[00:35:53.400] – Huatong Sun

You are not addressing the general public. You’re addressing a niche audience. This niche audience, this fan base will be your champion, right? Will be your allies and will also be your amplifiers, right? Yeah. I know maybe you will say, “I don’t have a fan base yet,” but this will be the goal, right? You want to develop a base of allies, champions, and amplifiers. So think about your brand personality and then share the community values. If this is just about you, nobody will follow you. But also, I hope that you can see that this is your brand personality.

[00:36:38.450] – Huatong Sun

There’s something that can be shared in a community with a niche audience. We call the shared community values. And both brand personality and the shared community value will help you build credibility. So your niche audience and your potential fan base will connect with you, trust you, and follow you. Then you start to build a conversation. I think as technical communicators we’re a good field, creating content. Many of us claim ourself as content strategists. So I think it is not so difficult for you to develop content calendars.

[00:37:15.020] – Huatong Sun

Think about how you are going to push content that will match the need to your niche audience. Sometimes I’ll think about putting it this way that… So think about if we don’t use this kind of marketing language, we just using some other language. Can you think about that? Can you engage yourself in a purpose for practice that has a combined power to sustain the individual view while also being significant to others? So when this purpose for practice then can sustain you, it has a brand personality. When it’s significant to others, it has the shared community values.

[00:38:04.720] – Huatong Sun

And then I don’t think I need to say as much about content strategies. There are so many people who are working on content strategy in the technical communication field, yeah.

[00:38:14.830] – Janice Summers

Right. And I think that sums up–

[00:38:17.290] – Huatong Sun

You can follow from that.

[00:38:19.420] – Janice Summers

–what it’s all about. 

[00:38:19.420] – Liz Fraley


[00:38:24.350] – Janice Summers

And I like– because there’s some things that you mentioned in your book, and honestly, you were touching on all these questions that I have which I knew you would, right. But one of the things that you talked about, which is really important that I think people need to home in on this, credibility. And you said, “Push,” but I think the message that I’m getting from you talking about is more of you’re feeding that fan base, you’re feeding that, rather than pushing things out to them, you’re feeding them.

[00:38:57.600] – Janice Summers

You’re giving them the information that they need, that they can connect with. Really a key point. And I love the fact that that is content strategy right there.

[00:39:09.360] – Liz Fraley


[00:39:10.060] – Huatong Sun


[00:39:10.700] – Janice Summers

That’s it. And I think if anyone’s interested in content strategy, they really need to take a look at how they feed things in social media and how they can get involved in feeding things in social media, because that is a key cornerstone in content strategy for any company in any technology, right?

[00:39:33.020] – Huatong Sun

Yeah. I think one of the issues that our technical communication into practice that sometimes we emphasize more about the technology side, but we might want to look more at cultural side and the personal side. Of course, there’s a lot of research about cultural studies of technical communication. I can give you a lot of names there. But now in this social media age, how we can connect the technical stuff with the cultural stuff. I think social media provides a possibility and actually a very easy platform to do that.

[00:40:13.970] – Janice Summers

Right. And I think that’s the key thing for today’s technical communicators. You’re weaving a lot of information and to create your information that you’re feeding to your audience and looking at things in social media, even though you might not be the social media maven at your company, but watch the social media channel for your company. Watch the people that follow it and you can see patterns and behaviors and you can go and research these things and take that information and then perhaps feed it to the people who are internal to the company. Because somebody asked the question, what are some popular pieces or attributes in technical communication that you’d feed out to social media?

[00:41:00.780] – Janice Summers

I think this might be a good way to personalize that and say, “Okay, let me watch my company social media feed. Let me watch some of the people and watch the interaction and me knowing from a technical communicators perspective what they may be seeking. I can help possibly answer their questions,” right?

[00:41:20.700] – Huatong Sun


[00:41:21.700] – Liz Fraley

I love getting to talk with you. I get so many ideas from so many… And new avenues to look at. I truly do. It’s going bing bing bing bing.

[00:41:30.560] – Janice Summers

Yes. Unfortunately, our time is up. I’m getting the big red notice.

[00:41:35.660] – Liz Fraley

I can’t believe it.

[00:41:36.770] – Janice Summers

Yeah, it’s gone by so fast and I’ve really enjoyed listening to you. And I know I’m going to get even more on the playback.

[00:41:44.460] – Huatong Sun

Thank you, you guys. You are so sweet.

[00:41:45.780] – Janice Summers

I’ve had the fortune of talking to you a couple of times and it’s just really, it’s great. And I’m so glad you came here and I can’t wait for the Lily Pad research. I’m so looking forward for that to come.

[00:41:55.990] – Liz Fraley


[00:41:58.990] – Huatong Sun

Thank you. Thanks for having a conversation. And I also enjoy the early conversations we had. And I told Janice that the conversation we had earlier actually help us to work on a grant proposal and — 

[00:42:21.600] – Janice Summers

And you won your grant.

[00:42:22.030] – Liz Fraley

Way to go.

[00:42:22.500] – Huatong Sun

Right. Thank you.

[00:42:23.540] – Liz Fraley

Congratulations. That’s exciting.

[00:42:27.510] – Janice Summers

I hate to say say this because our time is up. This is part of why we wanted to have conversations because we learn so much in conversations and we evolve ourselves when we engage in discourse, right?

[00:42:39.060] – Huatong Sun

Yes. Thanks for this opportunity.

[00:42:42.380] – Liz Fraley

Thank you for sharing. I’m so excited.

[00:42:48.570] – Janice Summers

Thanks everyone for coming.

[00:42:47.570] – Huatong Sun

Thank you.

[00:42:47.570] – Liz Fraley

All right, everyone. Bye.

[00:42:49.830] – Janice Summers


[00:42:50.270] – Huatong Sun


In this episode

Huatong Sun is an Associate Professor of Digital Media and Global User Experience Design at University of Washington Tacoma. She studies how to design and innovate for usable, meaningful, and empowering technology to bridge differences in a globalized world. The author of two books, “Cross-Cultural Technology Design” (2012) and “Global Social Media Design” (2020) from Oxford University Press, she writes for public media including Fast Company and The Conversation, speaks at SXSW, STC, UXPA, CHI, and ATTW, and offers workshops at local SIGs and international conferences.

Discursive Affordances, Network-Building, and Cultivating Fan Bases! Social media technologies are often considered a marketing tool in the Technical Communications community. This limits our ability to take into consideration the transformative power to restructure our networks and build new platforms globally that are inclusive. 

Dr. Huatong Sun discusses some of her transnational fieldwork findings elaborated in her recent book “Global Social Media Design.” We review the iterations of her course “social media”, that she has been giving for the past eight years. And, we discuss the strategies of splicing networks and cultivating fan bases with social media technologies that are globally robust, i.e., designing for inclusivity by engaging cultural differences and nourishing differences into the design resources. 


Email: huatongs@gmail.com

Twitter: @huatongs

LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/huatong-sun/

Faculty page https://directory.tacoma.uw.edu/employee/htsun

Featured research page https://works.bepress.com/huatong_sun/

Books and articles:

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2 thoughts on “What Social Media Means for Technical Communicators”

  1. Pingback: Upcoming Talks – Growing Your Lily Pad

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