Social Media Engineering??

This post was written by John White on Wed, 22 Jul 2009 09:13:49 +0000
Posted Under: online marketing,relationship with engineering,social media

engineer_10e554de46“When it comes to social media marketing, engineering companies will be the last to get it,” said Mike Stelzner of WhitePaperSource renown, as we chatted about the space.

Are you trying to nudge your engineering company into social media? Are you having trouble getting the engineers to go along with you?

Whaddya mean by that?

Social media marketing: Participating more or less actively on Twitter, Facebook fan pages, LinkedIn groups, wiki pages, blogs, videos, podcasts and the like. This is an effort designed to engage customers in a fast-moving, at times alarmingly public channel.

Engineering company: One that is known (both internally and externally) more for its technology than for its level of customer engagement. Your cell phone and computer are filled with the products of these companies, so if you look at the stamps on the components, you discover names like Broadcom, Seagate, LSI, Altera and countless others. Unlike Intel, which came out of the closet years ago by branding itself noisily with “Intel Inside,” most of these companies are pretty nameless and faceless, and may never see the wisdom in marketing through social media.

Get it: Devote internal resources to an organized effort at meeting customers in social media marketing channels, if only for a limited period of time to test the waters. “Getting it” should provide for ongoing activity once it has become obvious that customers are awake in these channels and paying attention.

Having defined it that way, here’s a suggestion as to how frame the debate:

Why engineering companies WILL be the last to get it

  1. “Social media marketing” includes the word “marketing,” and engineers don’t much like or understand marketing.
  2. Companies run by engineers still associate the entire category with MySpace, teenagers, and bored people letting the rest of the world know that the drive-thru line at Burger King is moving slowly today.
  3. “Our customers and prospects are more enlightened than that. They’re not in those forums anyway.”
  4. You can’t measure the ROI, and you won’t be able to for a long time.
  5. Marketing didn’t create the Internet; engineers did. But the watchword for engineers on the Internet has always been “Stay anonymous,” so they’ll never embrace the element of self-revelation essential to social media.

Why engineering companies WON’T be the last to get it

  1. You don’t just post plain text on a Web page somewhere; developers are coming up with hot, hip, engaging tools around these platforms. Real engineers like to hack around in such tools, or at least try to game them.
  2. Google gets it, and they are an engineering company.
  3. No engineer likes to be left out forever. As long as one self-respecting engineer is posting to some company’s blog somewhere, eventually others will try it.
  4. If you don’t engage with your customers and prospects, your competitors will. Engineering companies don’t have trouble seeing that.

So, if your job is to boost your engineering company’s online presence and customer engagement in these forums, maybe you should give the process a different name:

“Social Media Engineering”

Do you think this will resonate better with your engineers? “I need you to help with our social media engineering this month. Can you man the Twitter account and see what’s going on?”

Between Bing and Google, there are under 1,000 occurrences of this phrase, and nobody has the domain yet (although Linda Skrocki at Sun Microsystems has it in her job title).

Do you think this will fly, or is it just a wolf in sheep’s clothing?

photo credit: jurvetson

Reader Comments

You raise an interesting topic, but I disagree with you and Michael on a number of fronts. The question isn’t whether or not engineers “get” social media. The question is whether they should even be expected to.

For example, there appears to be an assumption that engineers at the companies you mention should be sharing perspective on public platforms like Twitter et al. Most engineers deal with proprietary black-box stuff that needs to be kept from the competition.

Second, I disagree that engineers don’t get social media. They were the first to hop on the old listservs (remember them?). Then there’s that whole thing called the open source movement for software etc. Ever wonder where all those Firefox and WordPress features came from, or those apps for the iPhone?

Third, although I think social media has tremendous business value, I’m not one of the people who believes everyone in the company should jump into the socmed pool. (CEOs, for example. But that’s another blog post) Engineers, even friendly ones, are not terribly customer-centric. They think in terms of features, rather than benefits, for one thing.

Fourth, engineers see right through labels (part of the reason they don’t like the guys in marketing). Their bottom line is whether or not something works. So relabeling it “social media engineering” isn’t going to gain much traction.

Instead, I’d steer them toward a company-controlled, dedicated listserve that select customers and vendors can access if they have questions or suggestions.

#1 
Written By Dan McCarthy on July 23rd, 2009 @ 6:42

Hmm. My point wasn’t that /engineers/ would be (or would not be) the last to get it; my point was about /engineering companies/. Such companies demonstrate more appreciation for innovation than for customer engagement on the broad scale that socmed technologies nurture.

I’ll take your company-controlled, dedicated listserve, if it has some kind of release valve for attracting and engaging new customers.

#2 
Written By John White on July 24th, 2009 @ 11:25

Point taken, John, on the engineers vs engineering companies distinction.

I also see your point that the term “social media” needs to be translated into something engineering firms can get behind. But rather than “SocMed Engineering,” I think a term like “SocMed Platforming” would resonate better.

“Platforming” is a more concrete term that implies something needs building and problems need solving. Just the sort of thing that gets engineering firms’ attention.

Plus, “platforming” intrinsically helps to distinguish public platforms like Twitter from dedicated, embedded SocMed platforms that need engineering expertise to design and build.

#3 
Written By Dan McCarthy on July 25th, 2009 @ 10:24

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