Engineers and Social Networks? Oil and Water, or Oil and Vinegar? (part 2 of 2)

(Click here to see part 1 of this post)

I recently had the pleasure of serving as a panelist for a webinar titled Engineers ‘Professional Use of Social Networks Today and Where It Is Heading. Here is the replay of the webinar available free (registration required).

You can read more about the webinar by clicking on the link above to see part 1 of this post. Below, I continue some of the great questions that were asked, and I offer up some of my own responses.

Q: In your Twitter feed recently, you asked whether global companies localize their social media efforts into other languages. Have you received any good feedback on this question?

A: I received one or two responses, and I was also looking via LinkedIn and other sources. I didn’t ultimately the one answer I was seeking on Twitter, but the fact that I got an answer within about an hour of posting is testament to the power of that network.

Q: Can you dive deeper in to some examples of how to use social media for engineers?

A: Pretend you’re working on a brake assembly. It’s only your second time. You have decent knowledge of how to go about this, but are no means an expert. You ask your colleagues next to you if they have knowledge, and they have some. Next, you ping your internal social network (perhaps it’s an internal SharePoint website), asking for brake assembly experience. A colleague in your Sao Paulo, Brazil office is a renowned expert – but you never knew that until now. Suddenly he’s showing you, via a screen-sharing session, some things to avoid, and tips and tricks to keep in mind. After this, you update your SharePoint experience profile to show that you have experience with brake assemblies. Eight days later, someone three states away pings you for some help. You pass on what you just learned.

Q: How does one go about obtaining recommendations for LinkedIn from people that are not using it?

A: I can’t think of a way to make this happen. Someone needs to be in a network in order to reap the benefits of it. The first step would be a soft coercion for them to use it, and then to get them to recommend you.

Q: While I know that LinkedIn and Facebook are popular for personal use, I don’t see their use for professional reasons. There are just too many confidentiality uses. I would like to see something on internal only software.

A: Look into Yammer, MS SharePoint, PB Works, Zoho, and Google Docs for starters. And LinkedIn is most certainly for professional reasons – it’s just not a great channel for confidential communications.

Q: As a continuation of this, how do we utilize smart phones to increase our productivity in a professional setting?

A: This is a bit afield from the topic, but one thing that smart phones enables is remote viewing/commenting. Look into the service called Aardvark (http://www.readwriteweb.com/archives/got_a_question_ask_aadrvark_on_the_iphone.php) and see how you might be able to modify this for use within an organization. Imagine an Aardvark network of just employees. Imagine an Aardvark network of employees with the brake assembly question above.

Q: Will social networks evolve such that you’ll be able to log in to one account for access to multiple services?

A: This is partially true today, with Facebook Connect and OpenID. Eventually, this will be even more prevalent. Predictions like this have already been made. Today, one can log into one service and had their status updated on several networks at once (Ping.fm).

Q: Will companies start to mandate the usage of social networks by their employees?

A: Not likely. This is more of a culture change than a technology change. Unless we’re talking about a start-up company specifically in the social space, I think this is a long way off.

Q: How do you get stodgy engineers to use social networks and have them learn to share their expertise?

A: One way to promote sharing is to consider leading by example, and perhaps (more drastically) making the sharing part of the job requirement/review process.

Q: What is the best social media strategy?

A: Define, Listen, Understand, Participate, Produce, Maintain, Measure, Analyze

Q: What are some practical, “low barrier to entry” approaches to sharing knowledge within the organization?

A: Answer the question: what one thing can I share each day (or every two days) that helped me get my job done smarter/faster/with better quality? Now share that. One easy free way is Yammer. So is an internal email distribution list that your IT department can set up, and you can have people subscribe to it. This is no-frills and low-budget, but easy and it addresses the need. Not all social networks are outside of company walls.

Q: How can we tailor our social media marketing plan to engineers?

A: Ask the engineers what problems do they have trouble solving. In many of these cases, much can be learned from simply asking the question of “what’s the problem?” to the customer/market. They’ll often tell you. Then, go design a solution that fits that, not something else.

Q: What do I need to do to go beyond Facebook and LinkedIn?

A: Spend time purposely looking beyond those. Spend some time on industry blogs. Read the posts and the comments. See where people are linking to. Go there. Repeat. Search Twitter. People drop links on Twitter left and right. This is good way to learn about websites.

Q: Can you give examples of how you’ve seen some engineering companies use social networking tools?

A: Here are not only some examples, but some award-winning examples (note: not all are engineering-related, but some are): http://groundswelldiscussion.com/groundswell/awards2010/winners.php?y=2009 (note that on the left, one can also look at different years)

Q: How can we overcome the stigma that social networking is a productivity drain instead of something that can enhance productivity?

A: Celebrate the successes of productivity when they are achieved. Showcase those stories. Don’t forget that email is a social network, too. If someone solves something faster/better/smarter/etc. with any social network (email, a conference call, a face-to-face group meeting), call that out as a success. Don’t get hung up on the shiny new tool.

Now that all of the Q+A is posted, I’d love to read your reactions or see if you have similar questions (or different answers!) to what I’ve shared here.

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