5 Reasons Why Engineers Should Love Social Media

A recent survey of engineers in EE Times (September 7, 2012) reported that approximately 70% of respondents use social media in some way, but 28% do not use social media at all. It also reports that a significant majority of engineers do not use social media for professional reasons:

Seventy-one percent of respondents never use social networking to request or share business information, and 81 percent never use the technology to collaboratively solve technical problems or find new products and suppliers.

There were about 800 respondents to this survey, and it is not clear how many were actual engineers, so one should be careful about projecting these results across the worldwide engineering community. Still, it doesn’t take a CSEE degree to know that engineers are notoriously suspicious of marketing, which is often viewed at best as time-wasting communication fluff, and engineers hate wasting time. Social media by extension is viewed as a colossal waste of time by many engineers, to judge by some of the reader comments posted on the EE Times article.

If these engineers could merely apply the clarity and careful consideration with which they approach problem-solving, they would quickly understand that they should LOVE social media for the following reasons.

Speed of Information

Nothing fires an engineer’s imagination like a new product, or a new way of using an existing product. They are almost always willing to receive product or capability info because they might be able to use it. Correspondingly, when seeking a solution for a particular problem, they will conduct their research, but once they choose a solution or an approach they quickly move on to the next design step. Catching the engineer in the right window for consideration is key. With social media, the engineer can constantly be exposed to a stream of information in near real-time, as well as access to archived info flow via search functionality. This means they can literally have the latest and greatest info from all their trusted sources right at their fingertips.

Without Twitter or blog RSS feeds, the responsibility falls back on them to seek out information. Microblogs and related push technology make it easy to get the latest and greatest served up on a platter, or at least a pad.

Collaboration

Who invented the BBS, after all? The idea of posting questions in front of a community and having members reply or comment is one of the first instances of social media on the Internet. Engineers of all types routinely seek out ways that others have addressed problems or determined solutions. Avoiding the reinvention of the wheel is deeply ingrained in the engineering mindset; use what has worked before, because it will save you time and stress. It is very important to be efficient and effective, so proven solutions vetted by others have great credibility. Clearly the many facets of social media facilitate and enable this kind of collaboration, from forums and blog responses to more sophisticated tools and community functionality that can share everything from software code to 3D CAD elements.

Evaluation

Collaboration is built on, and builds, trust, which is the core currency of all social media. The democratization of influence, broken out from the silos of professional reviewers or classic word-of-mouth dissemination, has allowed recommendation to become a valuable function of business social media connections. Research has shown time and again that personal recommendations are the most important factor in the B2B buying decision.

In the same way that Yelp reviewers can influence a restaurant choice, Twitter or blog commentary about a product can influence its specification and use. Expertise is demonstrated in opinion or commentary compared to personal experience, so the reader makes his/her own decision as to whether or not to trust any given evaluation. But again, in terms of efficiency, exponentially more recommendations can be parsed via social media feed than possible through direct human interaction. I look forward to the day when GlobalSpec allows commentary on any given company or product, since they typically qualify their registered users and could guarantee a certain amount of credibility for any participant.

Gadgets and Apps

The first people I knew to get iPhones were not interactive marketing gurus; they were electrical engineers. The bleeding edge is crowded with MSEs and their brothers and sisters who can’t wait to get the latest toy. This is related to the need for the “new” described above, coupled with the longstanding geek cred that comes from possessing the rare and the special. Also important is figuring out how it works and applying it to one’s needs in order to be more efficient (as described above as well).

The hottest gadgets are in the mobile device space; iPads and iPhones are natural social media enablers, so by extension, as the engineer figures out how to use these advanced devices, s/he will be exposed to the mobile versions of Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and YouTube, and may just realize how they might be worth using. More obvious will be the appeal for dedicated apps published by vendors, consultants, and other resources that meet specific needs and allow quick calculation and specification in the field. EE Times mentions that Agilent offers a Microwave (µWave) calculator to find errors in measurements. I doubt it will rival Angry Birds for number of downloads, but for a specific audience it could be keenly valuable.

Humble Brag

Finally, let’s be honest: the engineer wants the world to know about his or her great skills and accomplishments. “I did it!” is the mantra for all problem-solvers, and the common yearning for efficiency prevalent in any engineering mindset means that others will want to know how they did it, right? The mores of social media not only allow this humble bragging, they almost demand it. Any engineer worth his or her salt needs to hop on Twitter and tell the world how they visualized a particular system’s time response to various inputs or overcame the limitation of space and load with a judicious brace. Alternately, they can cruise trade media blogs or LinkedIn groups in their specialty and respond to questions.

I’m sure that every engineer, being rational and open-minded, will take these proof points to heart and open themselves up to the world of social media. In fact, I think that it is quite possible that most engineers are now happily utilizing all social media channels for help, value, and advantage. It’s the smart thing to do.