Social search: collaboration without collaborating

 EE Times recently published the results of a survey regarding engineers and social media, concluding that engineers use social media, but do not use social media for work.  This flies in the face of pretty much every other survey that shows engineers in almost every engineering discipline from software to car makers do, in fact use social media for collaboration and research.  For the moment, however, lets give the benefit of the doubt and say that electrical engineers have yet to figure out that social media can, in fact, make their jobs easier.

That is going to change, very soon.

 Last week, at TechCrunch, Mark Zuckerberg pre-announced Facebook's interest in establishing a search function that will enable people to find out what their coworkers/friends are reading and viewing.  For example, if you want to know if anyone has found interesting information about functional verification tools, you will just have to type "functional verification" into a search bar on Facebook and you will find what people you know and trust have discovered on the subject.  If you find nothing then you can go to Google and do a traditional search... and what you find will be available to your coworkers/friends who want to know what you have found. That's called collaboration without collaborating.

Mike Arrington interviews Mark Zuckerberg at Tech Crunch


This is not necessarily new.  Yahoo has already created a link to Facebook that will show what you are reading and what is trending.  Engineers have not yet discovered this function as many trade magazines have yet to take advantage of the feature, but give it time.  It will happen before most engineers retire this decade.

 That, however, is only the minor change in the game.  The real change will be in the content.  The real reason many people consider most social media (and by that I mean Linkedin, Twitter, and especially Facebook) is not the media itself but the content that prevails on the internet.  For the most part it is crap and not worth sharing, much less reading.  

 Most companies only present the same marketing material they pass out at trade shows that ends up in the recycling bin.  It’s not interesting and only has value after someone has become interested in the company.  In order to get engineers to the point that they want to share something in social media, you have to make it interesting and relevant to them.  That will change the way companies present themselves to the media.  The press releases and “white papers” produced by most companies are not shareable content because they are crap.

 The trade publications already have a leg up on this because they produce much better content than most corporate marketers, so this evolution into searchable social content is going to restore their power, but not in their circulation figures.  They are going to have to figure out how often their stuff gets spread around, first.  That will probably mean that Facebook is going to find a way to get publications to pay for that data (kaching!).

The poor schmucks in corporate tech marketing, however, are going to have to up their game.  Press releases, contributed articles and other repetitious marketing material is not going to drive shareable content on the social web.  They may actually have to put aside some significant budget to hire actual writers (the horror!). 

Now you might be a bit skeptical about this prediction and think you might actually have another decade or so to get with the program.  Don’t count on that, either.  It’s already happening

Recently, Twitter really screwed up by de-linking from Linkedin.  Now instead of being able to automatically update your Linked in profile with tweets of new and interesting stuff, users are forced to decide whether they share with Twitter or Linkedin.  Guess what?  Linkedin is winning in the technical world with shared content.

Like most people, you probably agreed with the EE Times survey that said Linkedin was just a job search tool.  But most recently I started advising a company on the use of social media and got them to try an experiment using Linkedin as a means of finding potential business by posting interesting articles rather than marketing pieces.  The result has be so successful in one month that it made them rethink their entire marketing plan.  I’m no genius.  I saw this happening as far back as 2010.  It just became blatantly obvious after Twitter pulled the plug .

Social media is coming out of the experimental mode very quickly in the B2B world.  Marketers in technology industries, who have been as reluctant to adopt it as electrical engineers, are just recently starting to realize they are way behind the curve.  The engineering-intensive companies that continue to drag their feet are going to be getting a nasty surprise when competitors who get it are leaving them in the dust.