To be social or not to be social.
That’s the question B2B companies that market to engineers are asking. Inside those companies, two camps have formed: Camp 1: the “Forget about it!” camp, who don’t think engineers are using social media; and Camp 2, the “If we build it, they will come” camp, certain that a LinkedIn or Facebook company page will be a customer magnet.
So who’s right? Fact is, both camps are right, but for the wrong reasons.
Camp 1: Correct! Those engineers don’t use social media (at least, not the way you think social media is used.) Turns out, for engineers, social media is a “whole nother thing.” These folks are quite adept at it and have been social mediafying longer than all of us. It is, after all, engineers who created the internet, the web and much of the software running on it.
Camp 2: Correct! B2B tech companies do need to get social (but not the way you think you should be getting social.) Turns out, if you build it, they will…probably not show up. Unless “they” is people who work for your company, or your friends, or people who want to sell you stuff.
B2B companies can use social media to drive new business from engineering customers, but they need a different approach. The camps need to come together: they both need rethink what “social media” means to them and the engineer.
1. If you want to get social with the engineers, you must know the engineer, think like the engineer, be the engineer! (up to a point)
You need to know your audience, of course. And while this audience does spend its share of time on facebook and LinkedIn, the nature of what engineers do directs them toward specialized technical communities.
Engineers thrive on accuracy, standards, up-to-date information, and the quantifiable. They want to collaborate with and learn from peers who have demonstrated knowledge and deep understanding. For the engineer at work, social media is about problem solving, knowledge sharing. It is about collaboration as a means (even a requirement) to deliver a product.
2. You must go where the engineers go.
Because they work in highly specialized fields, engineers have highly specialized information needs. Take, for example, software engineers: for them, two hugely popular social networks that you’ve never heard of are github and Ohloh. They call themselves “Social Coding” and “The Open Source Network”, respectively. These sites are to software developers what LinkedIn or facebook are to marketers: a playground where you work.
Yes, you will find engineers in LinkedIn, but you will also find them across a broad array of niche social media sites and tools. Remember IRC? Alive and well among the technical class.
3. Enter the conversation, but do your homework. Better yet, get an engineering degree, then enter the conversation.
OK, maybe you don’t need the engineering degree, but you do need experience and knowledge.
In his paper “Social Media for Software Engineering”, Thomas Zimmerman says:
The social processes around software development are…highly dependent on engineers’ abilities to ﬁnd and connect with individuals who share similar goals and complementary skills, to harmonize each team member’s communication and teaming preferences, to collaborate and coordinate during the entire software lifecycle, and advocate for their product’s success in the marketplace.
That means that for the engineer, social media is not something that is used while taking a break from the business at hand. For the engineer, using these specialized social media may actually be the business at hand.
So if you are going to enter the conversation, understand that the content of your entry will be scrutinized and analyzed in ways that perhaps only engineers can scrutinize and analyze. You need to have something to say that is relevant and accurate that brings real value to the conversation.
In short: when getting social with the engineers, you need to know what you are talking about.
Reality Check: Accept it - you are not going to create a social media hub for your perfect engineer customer.
The desire to create *the* social destination for your customers and prospects may be strong. Just imagine it: what if your company could build the LinkedIn of the Marine Engineers, the facebook of Bio-engineering? Your traffic would skyrocket, you’d have all the street cred in the world, your website would be the envy of the industry, and you would have every engineer you could ever possibly do business with walking right through your front door.
Not gonna happen. A successful social media destination requires a critical mass of content, visitors and engagement (not to mention more than a little bit technology). Just staying active and engaged in other social media sites is difficult enough - and you think you might have the time and focus to build your own?
There will be the rare company that can pull it off (and for those that want to attempt it, there are plenty of great ways to do it, but that’s a story for another day.) So dream big, but dream in the right direction. Your time and effort will provide a far greater return for you if you concentrate on engaging in social media that already has that critical mass, that already attracts the elusive engineer.
And, as with the pursuit of any other elusive creature, it will take time, perseverance and a willingness to travel to some strange lands before you find yourself accepted among them.