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SCN Contribution – Improving contributions to SCN

/wp-content/uploads/2012/06/to_eleven_114830.jpgCreating 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.

  1. Higher Quality – something about the make-up of of the content is better.
  2. Larger Audience – more people want to and do consume the content.
  3. 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.

You can also find me on Google+

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7 Comments
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  • Hi Stephen,

    Another useful blog that contains many points bloggers & contributors can take away - for use in and outside of SCN.

    I think you could've added "Think outside the box" as innovative contributions make a big difference, such as this blog series. Many of your ideas are "outside of the box" for many contributors and thus add greater value than the "run of the mill" contributions.

    Best regards,

    Luke

  • Thanks for the positive feedback guys - I really appreciate it.

    Thinking outside of the box is an interesting one, but I'd personally struggle to nail down to 'if you do X, the effect is Y', which is what I tried to do with the points I chose to include.  Creative thinking is certainly something you can improve and and whilst to an extent you can lay out processes for how to be more creative (I'd recommend reading some of the pieces/books by Edward DeBono and Scott Berkun for this) I think it would be tricky to explain to someone in a paragraph or two ... I guess that's why there are entire books on how to think outside the box.

    Stephen.

  • Hi Stephen,

    maybe prospective bloggers could start with wiki pages and comments before venturing onto the real blog space. your bar is set very high when compared to most content i have seen in the new SCN.

    quality is also a tradeoff between visibility and how much time one is willing to devote using this platform to promote whichever or whomever's agenda he or she is after and that content may not always be in line with the official SAP policies.

    PS my twitter followee brought me here.

    • Hi Gregory - thanks for sharing your view.

      The whole point for me was not to raise the bar, but try and help people to reach (or exceed) the existing one.  If you skip back to Tuesday's post (How can I contribute to SCN?) I actually discuss lots of ways to contribute to SCN and by no means is anything meant to imply that the focus is solely on blog posts (as is borne out by the challenge in today's post; SCN Contribution - What now?).

      That being said I started planning blog posts from day one of signing up to SCN so I don't think they are beyond the capabilities of the neophyte user.  In fact I think in many ways those just beginning to work with SAP can carry less baggage and offer some great insights.  I wouldn't offer any limitations to those just starting out - just encouragement to do it.

      I would however like to see the whole "questions being mis-posted as blog posts" resolved.  So I guess maybe there are some people who I'd like to see start with simpler things first 😆

      I'm not sure if I follow your all of your points in the second part as I've actually seen what I think is the opposite happening in some cases.

      In my brief time using SCN I've actually seen rather a lot of posts that directly challenge the way SAP operates and the decisions it makes.  The SAP mentors in particular can be quite public and vocal with their opinions ... and it doesn't seem to harm them.  Would that qualify as against their policies?

      If by SAP policies you mean the rules for posting content on SCN, then I think you would be hard pressed to find any platform that doesn't lay out some similar constraints.

      Now I personally don't like to put all my eggs in one basket and I actually re-publish my blog posts on my personal web site (where I also blog about non-SAP stuff too) and occasionally on my employer's web site.  I do this not because I feel constrained by the system, but because I don't want to lose any of the work I put in.  I provide links back to the original SCN posts, but I know that even if SCN just stopped working one day I'd still have access to my content.

      I'm pretty sure I've also read some short contributions that obviously just took a few minutes to compose and because of the niche areas they pertain to have had a low readership.  I would still say that even though they are brief and have been read by a small audience they have significant value and are of a high quality.

      As I said maybe I've just mis-interpreted what you were eluding to or maybe I'm simply wrong?

      Stephen.

      • Hi Stephen,

        you are really generous with your assessment of the average quality of the blogs here. i've seen the calls to bring moderation back, so at least for some, it's been a downgrade from the prior version. now, if you would like to exceed it then you may be onto something.

        SCN has quite a history and i didn't blog or planned on blogging until was actually encouraged to do so by the regulars, but have since moved to wikis and leaving a comment or two here and there. when SCN was starting out it didn't have to compete with twitter, disqus, or any discussion-like services of social media. now, this world is a bit more crowded and attention span of average reader has been shortened and more fragmented.

        re official SAP policies i didn't refer just to the SCN but the overall product and marketing go-to-market message. we are all here hosted by a corporate entity that reports to its customers, shareholders, and others. it's only natural that they are most interested in positive messages and not necessarily in airing dirty laundry publicly. as far as challenges go, larger partners and customers have the biggest influence on actual actions of SAP and not just on being nice overall.

        now, to the "user experience". i actually like your 3rd paragraph counting backwards as it reflects my own opinion. i also like leaving comments in other places and don't consider them as cross-posting if there's a copy on my own website. losing one's content is one of the worst experiences you can have and even though the current platform is an improvement it is not foolproof.

        very good content is priceless, but it is not free. we can't spend our days "making contributions" while on someone else's time. every minute spent here is our attention diverted from our client, employer, or family, and they all want us, too.

        no risk of misinterpretation here as we are just musing with no immediate goal or deadline to meet. maybe, we can stir up some discussions, but they too lose their steam once a new "controversy" rolls along.

        to sum it up, your bar is set quite high and i hope you won't get discouraged or even dismayed by some of the less involved participants of this particular online social community.

        Best regards,

        gm

        • Gregory.

          Thanks for taking the time to reply.  I've not been working in this arena for long so the background to SCN and SAP related business politics are things I haven't experienced.

          I whole-heartedly agree with your points around time and it is the most limiting factor for me (see my first post in the series - "should I contribute to SCN?").  It's difficult to find a good balance with everything in modern life, and whilst I would not suggest charging such time to a client, I would hope that most companies think progressively enough to see the value in allowing appropriate time for personal development for staff who do take an active role in the network.

          Stephen.