Engineers fear social media, but shouldn’t. Our fear comes from lack of knowledge around information flow. Because we don’t understand how information flow works, we stay away. But our fear is misplaced – with social media information flow is controllable.
For engineers, one-way communication is the best way to start. Engineers should turn on the information tap and let information flow to them. Let the learning begin.
At first, stay away from FaceBook – it’s the most social (non-work feel), least structured, and most difficult to understand – at least to me.
To start, I suggest LinkedIn – it’s the least social (most work-like) and highly controllable. It’s simple to start – create an account, populate your “resume stuff” (as little as you like) and add some connections (people you know and trust). You now have a professional network who can see your resume stuff and they can see yours. But no one else can, unless you let them. Now the fun part – find and join a working group in your interest area. A working group is group of like-minded people who create work-related discussions on a specific topic. Mine is called Systematic DFMA Deployment. You can search for a group, join (some require permission from the organizer), and start reading the discussions. The focused nature of the groups is comforting and you can read discussions without sharing any personal information. To start two-way communication, you can comment on a discussion.
After LinkedIn, engineers should try Twitter. Tweets (sounds funny, doesn’t it?) are sentences (text only) that are limited to 140 characters. With Twitter, one-way communication is the way to start – no need to share information. Just create an account and you’re ready to learn. With LinkedIn it’s about working groups, and with Twitter it’s about hashtags (#). Hashtags create focus with Twitter and make it searchable. For example, if the tweet creator uses #DFMA in the sentences, you can find it. Search for #DFMA and you’ll find tweets (sub-140 character sentences) related to design for manufacturing and assembly. When you find a hashtag of interest, monitor those tweets. (You can automate hashtag searches – HootSuite – but that’s for later). And when you find someone who consistently creates great content, you can follow them. Once followed, all their tweets are sent to your Twitter account (Twitter feed). To start two-way communication you can retweet (resend a tweet you like), send a direct message to someone (like a short email), or create your own tweet.
Twitter’s format comforts me – short, dense bursts of sentences and no more. Long tweets are not possible. But a tweet can contain a link to a website which points to a specific page on the web. To me it’s a great combination – short sentences that precisely point to the web.
With engineers and social media, the goal is to converge on collaboration. Ultimately, engineers move from one-way communication to two-way communication, and then to collaboration. Collaboration on LinkedIn and Twitter allows engineers to learn from (and interact with) the world’s best subject matter experts. Let me say that again – with LinkedIn and Twitter, engineers get the latest technical data, analyses, and tools from the best people in the world. And it’s all for free.
For engineers, social and media are the wrong words. For engineers, the right words are – controlled, focused, work-related information flow. And when engineers get comfortable with information flow, they’ll converge on collaboration. And with collaboration, engineers will learn from each other, help each other, innovate and, even, create personal relationships with each other.
Companies still look at social media as a waste of work time, and that’s especially true when it comes to their engineers. But that’s old thinking. More bluntly, that’s dangerous thinking. When their engineers use social media, companies will develop better products and technologies and commercialize them faster.
Plain and simple, companies that accelerate their engineers into social media will win.
image credit: drivesteady
Dr. Mike Shipulski brings together the best of Design for Manufacturing and Assembly, Axiomatic Design, TRIZ, and lean to develop innovative products and technologies. His blog can be found at Shipulski On Design.