July is social media month at the Marketing Maven. We’ll be publishing a series of posts about the role and impact that social media plays in the industrial sector, how engineers and technical professionals use social media for work-related purposes, and how marketers can effectively incorporate social media into their marketing strategy.

Along the way, we’ll regularly reference results from the new IEEE Engineering360 Media Solutions research report: “2016 Social Media Use in the Industrial Sector.” You can download your complimentary copy here.

The Seas Have Settled
Not that long ago social media was on the cutting edge and was considered a disruptive digital channel. Marketers scurried to understand and use social media. Some dove in and tried every new platform that came along. Others stayed back, hesitant to get their feet wet. Smart marketers maintained their strategic perspective—they tested the waters, measured the wind, and charted an effective, goal-based course through the turbulent social media sea.

Today, the seas have calmed. Over the past seven years, the use of social media has grown, stabilized, and now has become business-as-usual in the industrial sector. Social media has found its position as an information resource for engineers and technical professionals. For example:

• Sixty-five percent maintain an account on LinkedIn, the most popular social media platform among this industrial audience.
• Fifty-two percent use social media to keep abreast of the latest company/product news/technologies.
• Eighty-six percent of those who use video sharing websites such as YouTube watch how-to videos/tutorials; 85 percent view product demos
• A greater percentage of engineers and technical professionals in the 18-34 year-old age range maintain accounts on nearly all platforms—Facebook, LinkedIn, Instagram, Twitter, and YouTube—as compared to their 35+ counterparts

Yet for all this social media activity, its impact in the engineering workplace is not overly significant. Social media is part of the media mix, for sure, but 82 percent of engineers and technical professionals spend no more than two hours per week on social media for work-related purposes, with no major difference between the various age groups. Very few engineers contribute to social media in terms of creating and posting content. Seventy percent never do. This is an audience of passive social media users, who prefer to read and watch.

Other Channels Take Precedence
Engineers and technical professionals consistently report that for work-related purposes they find other digital channels more efficient than social media. The top four valuable resources for engineers and technical professionals researching a work-related purchase have remained the same year over year, with general search engines, online catalogs, word of mouth and supplier websites topping the list. Among social media platforms, Google+ and LinkedIn ranked highest for researching a work purchase. Facebook, SlideShare and Twitter have the least value.

Does this mean that social media is overhyped and a waste of the industrial marketer’s time? Not at all. But it does mean that engineers and technical professionals have clear preferences, and that you should view social media as a supplemental channel to the more established and proven digital channels in your marketing mix.

The way to approach social media marketing is no different than other marketing. You must first define your strategy and goals for using social media. Goals may include increased brand awareness, recognized thought leadership, or community engagement and expansion. It’s important to realize that social media is not a primary driver of leads and sales. Again, think of it as complementing other marketing strategies, such as a vehicle for distributing content.

With goals established you can develop a plan to achieve them. And although social media accounts are free—open a new one, anytime, anywhere—they take time and resources to grow, or even to maintain. Consider what level of resources you should devote to social media and what metrics you should track to determine your success. The takeaway is to use social media, but not at the expense of your other digital marketing channels.

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