Using social media to cut through the chatter

Last week I talked about how it isn't important for engineers to join the market discussion because they don't care why they do what they do; all they want to know is what the parameters of the problem you want them to solve.  The conversation on social media doesn't really need their input either, it's just a means of determining the parameters.

But that doesn't mean social media can't help engineers do their jobs better.

This all got started when John Cooley trotted out the hackneyed complaint that he doesn't care about what someone had for breakfast so Twitter and other social networks are useless to him.  He says the conversation is too much of a distraction.  My position is, if all he sees on social media is inane chatter, he needs to get a better social circle.  But let me give a tangential example and then a solution that engineers might appreciate.

My daughter, Beth, is following in my footsteps as a communications consultant, but is staying away from technology to follow her own passion:  Drama and Dance.  She is working with several non-profit organizations to go into public and private schools bringing arts programs in at no cost to the schools.  She's established a summer program, developed and promoted several productions and sits on the board of one of the theater groups she works with.  Quite proud of her.

She is also very active in social networks and participates in both the inane and important discussions that go on in them... pretty much like everyone else does.  But she uses these technologies to improve here own business opportunities.  Here's the example:

She has come up with an idea to create a Shakespearean drama program for elementary schools and has the support of a couple of theater groups, but no money.  She is known in the drama community around the Bay Area, so she threw out the idea on Facebook and asked if anyone knew any grant writers that might be able to help her find funding.  Within 24 hours she got a response from a grant writer that she did not know existed and who is also active in community theater.  They are working on the project as I type this.

A problem, a solution, a strategy and a project all created through the use of social media and "inane chatter." This can be easily applied to John Cooley's work.  

John works as a consultant to many companies helping them through particularly difficult design challenges.  It's not easy but John is very good at what he does.  Sometimes, though, he approaches others for advice on how to approach a problem.  He has to do that through email, or on his Deep Chip reports, all of which can take days and weeks to get a response from.  Why? Because John, like everyone else, is overwhelmed by the flood of information and dreck that comes through his email system.  Sometimes important things get lost in spam filters and, as John said, he needs to concentrate on his problem and doesn't have time to go through all the "inane chatter" he gets through email... which is really his primary source of communication.  

If, however, he was using Twitter or even Facebook, he could cut through a lot of that chatter by spending 5 minutes a day for a couple of weeks, creating a social community made up of people he trusts.  That's where a lot of people fail in the arena of social media: They don't take care regarding who they let in.  If John did establish a Twitter account, he would probably be swamped by the number of people who would follow him, but what he may not understand is he does not have to follow any of the once he does not recognize or respect, and that he could make a direct connection with those he does.  Once making that connection with what the social media world calls a "trusted source" he can use Twitter to post a simple question about a particularly thorny problem he's trying to resolve. i.e. "Anyone having any luck with new Cadence's XYZ tool?  DM me."

Now he has opened a conversation with a very short question.  Those he has established as a trusted source can send back a direct message with a short overview of what they have discovered.  If it works within the parameters of his need, he can now send an email or make a phone call.  Twitter has now become a valuable filter that bypasses traditional email conversations and avoids "inane chatter."  

There are many people who use social media as a time filler, but you can say that about instant messaging, texting, email, or even coupon clipping.  The value of your communication lines is entirely up to the individual using it.  My 26-year-old daughter can figure that much out.