Last week, I was a little bit flummoxed to learn that MindTouch had named me one of the “400 Most Influential in TechComm and Content Strategy.” As honored as I felt to be part of this list (see my other site for an initial reaction), I’m still not quite sure what I did to earn such a high place (57) on the list. This is probably a good thing, as otherwise I might be plotting to make the Top 50 next year.
As a longtime blogger, and WordPress author, I do get the occasional question from people along the lines of “Can I get rich and famous from blogging?” My answer is usually the same lines: “It’s been done, but it ain’t easy.” Well, I am not rich (at least in the financial sense), and I’m only (very) slightly famous. Apparently, however, I am at least a little bit influential, so I do have some vague notion (maybe) of how I got here. Can I share?
Find experienced people who can help
When I first became a technical writer, my predecessor in the job moved to the marketing department of our company. I asked a lot of questions and soaked up all the information I could—not just about the software we documented, but about tech writing as a profession. Among other things, she shared with me a stack of publications from the Society for Technical Communication (STC). What a good idea that was!
Find a professional organization in your niche
Finding STC connected me with hundreds of other folks who had my job (or something similar) looking to become better at it. When I first started going to meetings of the Rocky Mountain chapter, I met people I was actually in awe of, but were still friendly and helpful. I learned more, and got more involved as time went on. STC is not a perfect organization (does such a thing exist?), but I’m still involved.
When that first tech-comm job ended and I came back to my hometown, I found another group of kindred spirits at BarCamp Milwaukee and Web414. Scroll through the archives here for some thoughts on what I’ve picked up from them over the years. One of the best things I picked up was an early acceptance of Twitter as a communication tool!
Go to conferences
My annual routine includes as many BarCamps, tech comm conferences, and WordCamps as I can attend. Most years, that’s only one or two of each, but I pine to see more. What’s great about conferences? Even if you don’t get to travel to some exotic location, you can get out of the daily routine and learn something new. There’s meeting and hanging out with a different set of people too.
I’ll remind you that WordCamp Milwaukee is coming in June, WriteCamp will be around that time, and BarCamp Milwaukee is the first weekend in October.
Share what you know
When you learn something, don’t hoard that knowledge. Whether you just retweet an interesting link, write a blog, or start speaking at conferences,it’s important to share. In my early days on Twitter, somebody out there suggested that a key to success on Twitter was to “always be linking.” Just don’t make your links all about yourself!
Have a personality, but don’t parade your ego
Here’s a generalization: Most people don’t care for people who just talk about themselves. When you’re interacting with people at all these events I’m suggesting you participate in, aim to be nice, and aim to be helpful. Whether you’re online, in print, or in person, don’t be the know-it-all (even if you think you do know a lot). Always remember that you’ve been wrong before, but maybe not now. Never be afraid to just listen, too. That is how you learn things.
I don’t know for sure whether these practices turned me into an influential character, but I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t be doing what I do without these practices. Many thanks to all who have helped me over the last decade or so. Quite a few of those folks are also on the MindTouch list, but many others are outside the field.
Happy New Year! May you be influential in your niche too!