Technology, journalism, social media and social responsibility
I hear that a lot from executives and others in the semiconductor industry. It’s supposed to be a reason why they’re not interested in using social media as part of their marketing efforts.
And it couldn’t be further from the truth.
A study I did for one company as part of an effort to get executive buy-in for a social media program revealed that the vast majority of employees in this engineering-heavy company were themselves privately using multiple social media platforms.
A quick check of executives and board members revealed that social media use was almost universal among them as well.
How do I know that? Because almost every executive had a LinkedIn account.
The internal survey revealed that well over two-thirds of employees were on Facebook and just under 40 percent used Google + (which was only a few months old at the time). About 35 percent used personal blogging software. Less than a quarter used Twitter, but this wasn’t a great surprise. Many other platforms, including regional variations on a Facebook-like platform were also noted. The company had no internal social media platform at the time.
When asked if they would be willing to blog or otherwise participate in social media on behalf of the company, hundreds of employees volunteered their names and email addresses. When asked if they believed participation in social media would help the company in a variety of efforts (marketing, recruitment, etc.) strongly positive responses ranged from the upper 70s to upper 80s, while flatly negative responses were consistently below 10 percent.
Clearly, these people understood the value of social media. But why were they so certain of this?
Because every day, they were seeing relevant conversations happen all across the social space, without any participation by the company.
Opportunities were flying by like jets off an aircraft carrier.
If you think that LinkedIn is just a place to cast your resume and hope someone bites, think again. The site is heavily social, and ideal for engineers. There are thousands of discussion groups, and it’s a good bet that at least one of these – if not more – involves technology that your company develops.
Similarly, if you don’t have a Facebook Page, it’s a good bet that your competition does, and they are having conversations with engaged members every day. For free.
Twitter? Almost every journalist, blogger and analyst watches this site, and they probably even search on your company or your technology on a regular basis. If you aren’t Tweeting, you’ve missed the bus.
There are many other great social sites that are highly relevant to the technology industry. In fact, one of the best things you can do is to team up with your ecosystem partners in the technology space. ARM does this to great advantage, as does ChipEstimate and others.
Still, the argument goes, purchasers aren’t using social media to make purchasing decisions.
Well, ok, let’s look at that further. The traditional argument goes something like this:
“Semiconductor sales and marketing is primarily a business-to-business proposition. The target audience is engineering managers and purchasers who are concerned with just a few things: price, quality, performance, footprint, and ease of use.”
I’ll even grant that in the past, it was relatively easy to deliver the necessary data in the form of spec sheets and white papers that clearly outlined how well a part would fit into a system, its expected performance, and the cost per thousands of units. There may have been some higher level discussions prior to signing on the dotted line, but that was mostly formality.
These days, however, both the questions and answers are much more complex, and not just because the parts are more integrated and complicated. The consumerization of technology plays a huge role. Let me illustrate.
In the past, system designs could have taken two years or more to complete, enabling significant risk reduction along the way in the form of chip testing, design verification, software validation, etc.
Consumer products are created – from design to store shelves – in a matter of months.
In many cases, a system is being designed as the chip is being made, in a process known as concurrent manufacturing. Early samples will prove out the device’s technical capabilities, but chips are doing much more than simply processing data or converting signals. They’re also interacting at the system level, anticipating actions, shutting down areas of functionality to save power, etc. Even specs are changing as the system develops.
This increases the overall risk to both parties, which elevates the decision-making to upper management, where higher-order factors, such as the semiconductor vendor’s understanding of market needs, ability to anticipate future trends, and ability to adapt to changing consumer requirements, are closely scrutinized.
In other words, you have to demonstrate that you can anticipate what your customer wants even before he or she asks for it. And, you have to show that you can deliver. Repetition of this messaging from the marketplace increases the likelihood that it will resonate…that your brand carries the necessary credibility.
Rather than waiting for the traditional press and analysts to find you and tell others that you are doing this well, or hoping that purchasers are in the audience at trade show speaking opportunities, you could be using social media to broadcast your thought leadership in these areas.
The premise is simple: If I can demonstrate that I have a deep understanding of what your market needs, I’ll gain your attention. And if others are telling you the same thing about me, I’m more likely to be viewed as a trusted partner.
Social media is an excellent platform for demonstrating and validating all the qualities of thought leadership: relevance, authority, timeliness, and insight. And, you’re in control of how it is presented.
At the same time, social media communications aren’t one sided.
They typically involve candid and thoughtful discussions with customers and others in and around the ecosystem. While many executives are afraid of this, fearing negative comments or competitive battles, this fear is way overblown. Social communities have thick skins and they will defend you if they think someone is wrong. Of course, if you have made a mistake, isn’t it better to nip a problem in the bud than allow it to become the reason for failure of an entire product line?
Social communities build trust and commitment among ecosystem partners, accelerates problem resolution, and generate new ideas and opportunities. They can cut through silos to find answers that might other wise never be found. They can cut costs by reducing the size of customer service organizations.
To me, it’s ironic that companies involved in the manufacture of semiconductors – the technological engines of all social communications – are not using social media to better advantage.