User Manuals Are Dead
So why are they still being produced? What value are they providing your customers? User manuals today are the marketing equivalent of mailing out company brochures. Utterly useless.
Static HTML and PDF based user manuals aren’t much better. They haven’t evolved or kept pace with even the most rudimentary corporate websites. Admit it. They aren’t seen as strategic and your budget reflects it.
Yet there’s hope. If the top 10 documentation sites of 2010 are an indication, user manuals will become largely extinct sometime in the next few years. Sure, there will be some holdouts just as there are companies not on the web today. But those companies will be operating at a significant disadvantage.
The Dynamic User Manual
Let’s imagine the traditional offline user manual for Product X had all of the Enterprise 2.0 functionality so prevalent today. Picture a user manual with dynamically updated content, links to online resources, embedded videos, forums and user submitted questions and answers. Also imagine the ability to add user generated content (videos, images, text) to let other users learn from how you are using Product X.
Then add the ability to track, measure and report on the users’ interaction with the user manual giving you the intelligence to update the user manual in real time.
How much more interesting and valuable is that than a static user manual that hasn’t been updated since you bought the product 2 years ago? Today, you can do all of that on the web but few are taking advantage of it.
Why Documentation is Far More Strategic than your Million Dollar Website
While Web 1.0 and Enterprise 1.0 have been replaced by their next generation 2.0 counterparts, documentation remains largely a pre-internet artifact. At best, the majority of companies are still posting PDF documentation files. That’s not strategic nor smart.
So while many thousands and sometimes millions of dollars/Euros are spent on corporate websites, the red-headed Documentation step child is left with a minimal budget. Yet your future customers are not searching on your marketing terminology. They are searching for problems that your product/service solves. No wonder your organic traffic isn’t producing the right results.
Social Documentation sites easily solve this issue by letting your current and future customers ask questions on your site that people are searching for on Google/Bing. Then, lo and behold the results show up on Google on page one or two (especially the long tale questions) and they click back to your site.
Many companies report to me that this phenomena is a big competitive advantage. And as a result they are reducing their Adwords spend. No sense paying for traffic when the crowd is doing a better job of generating it for free.
And because social documentation sites are built for customer interaction, studies show that they become happier with your brand. Happier customer buy more of your goods.
So why is your marketing department spending a lot of money on your website and next to nothing on your documentation portal? That’s nonsense. A Social Documentation site will outperform a marketing focused website every time. It’s time the budget reflects that fact.