This post was authored by Joel Don, a consultant specializing in digital marketing, social media and public relations services for the technology, industrial and biomedical sectors. Joel has served as ISA's contract social media community manager.
I have been tracking how the industrial automation community uses social media since the “early days” — back in the mid-2000s. Some companies took a “wait-and-see” approach, understandably concerned about the business prospects for social media after highly touted platforms such as MySpace, Second Life and Google Buzz fizzled. Last year, digital marketing expert and engineer Jon DiPietro surveyed the industrial automation community and reported that it was slow to adopt the latest digital marketing strategies, new media tactics, website optimization solutions and social media marketing tools. So have things changed in a year?
Enter another survey of industrial engineers and their use of social media. The study, conducted by IEEE Engineering360, found that engineers and technical professionals rely on social media as an information resource vs. other aspects of social media, such professional networking, entertainment, personal engagement with friends and family, and online membership in topic-focused groups and forums. The IEEE research team looked at frequency of social media use, preferred social media channels or platforms, how engineers leverage social media for work-related activities, and obstacles to greater utilization of social media for business-related activities.
Surveys like this are clearly important for industrial marketing professionals because they provide vital information on trends in social media use among technical professionals, specific metrics on social platforms preferred by engineers, and the feedback can help in the development of content strategies designed to cater to the engineering community.
It probably comes as no great surprise that LinkedIn continues to reign supreme with engineers as the most popular social media platform, with 65 percent of survey participants reporting an active account. LinkedIn is already well-established as a global professional registry of business profiles. News feed updates and discussion groups are mainly oriented toward business topics, technologies, professional organizations, industry initiatives, career affiliations, brands and products, vs. the more free-wheeling and varied content posted on Facebook, Google Plus, YouTube and Twitter. Sure Facebook offers myriad business groups. LinkedIn, on the other hand, has a 24/7 business agenda. More than 400 millions people worldwide turn to LinkedIn to find colleagues working in similar industries, research industry-related news and information, and develop networking opportunities in their local region.
Not surprisingly, when social media channels are viewed from the perspective of age, the highest social media usage comes from engineers in the 18-34 age group. The lowest participation in social media: engineers over age 49.
You have to view the age statistics in comparison to the total marketplace. Demographic studies across all industries show similar social media usage.
As an engineer, do you feel you don’t spend much time on social media for work-related activities? Join the club. Despite the fact that survey participants reported they view social media as an information resource, the vast majority of engineers spend less than one hour per week for business. If you are an industrial marketer, this finding suggests you may need to find more ways to experiment with different content strategies for attracting engineers as followers to your LinkedIn, Facebook and Twitter accounts. The amount of time spent on social media for work also may reflect the quality of the information available. Raise the crossbar: Determine what your followers want in the way of technical information and deliver it.
What’s more, engineers rarely post news and information about their companies. That’s understandable because engineers may be cautious about discussing or sharing topics or ideas on what they feel is proprietary information.
And what do engineers want: information on products, the latest technologies, expert advise and new supplier sources.
Action item for industrial marketers: Get to know your followers and focus on news and information that delivers the greatest measurable response. For example, with ISA’s social media channels, engineers tend to engage more with:
- Technical information: Engineers like to stay on top of the latest in instrumentation, control and standards. We always cater to that professional objective.
- Professional growth: Engineers are always interested in ways to achieve higher levels of job success, so be on the lookout for information on career advancement strategies, salaries, and ways to make a difference on the job at a facility or plant.
- Problem-solving and best practices: Focus on articles and blog posts that educate and illustrate a work-related problem or dilemma. And make sure to leverage visuals such as engineering diagrams and technical charts — great images drive the most likes, shares and clicks, as well as traffic to your website. If you really want to make a difference, share videos or create your own.
Studies continue to show that people prefer to get online information from articles and videos rather than advertisements. Article vs video? The social media world increasingly favors visual. In general, information that includes an image or a short video (10-15 second animated GIF or 1-2 minute video) will generally capture more attention than an article or blog post. If you decide to ramp up video production, pay attention to the findings on video from the IEEE survey. The study reported that engineers prefer to watch how-to videos and tutorials (86 percent), product demos (85 percent) and training videos (71 percent) on sites such as YouTube.
The single most important strategy in content marketing today is video. Whether it’s video on Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat or YouTube, the content you need to be thinking about creating and marketing on social for your business is video. Period. — Gary Vaynerchuk, social media marketing leader
OK, so social media platforms can sometimes be difficult to use, inefficient. That’s the major complaint among engineers surveyed by IEEE. They say it’s much easier to use search engines, visit vendor and supplier websites and scan through online product catalogs. What the engineers are reporting is that social media is not the primary information resource for work. But it is a resource.
Though industrial marketers don’t have control over the UX (user experience) at each social media platform, they do play a considerable role in deciding the type and quality of content to be shared, post timing and management of the community of followers. Acknowledging a retweet, comment or share goes a long way in encouraging followers to come back for more.
Boosting the success rate of your social media platforms aimed at the engineering community is an ongoing process — a blend of consistency, creativity and experimentation. What strategies and tactics have you found that work best with engineers on social media?