Over the last year or more, we engineers have seen a great number of new social network changes and continued growth in social media. But where do we fit into this and why are all the big companies like RS, Farnell, Digi-Key etc. all after us to be members of their Social Hubs?
First off, let’s look at the big three social sites you could visit (alphabetical order): element14 ( Farnell ), DesignSpark (RS Components), and TechXchange (Digi-Key). There is then a host of other sites you could also use, like EEWeb, ARM, StackExchange, and even big cuddly Dave’s EEVBlog Forum. That should get you started.
These sites are first and foremost here for us to use as tools. We can use forums to ask questions, write blogs to tell others what we have been doing, post videos and pictures, and even have pages that follow our projects. Engineers are not the people you bump into in the high street every day, so having a way to connect is very important. We can then network through these tools as well as other social networking tools like LinkedIn, Facebook and Twitter. However, there are pros and cons of signing up and being a member of these big sites.
When you join, you give very important information out: your name and email address. This is marketing gold for these guys as they now know you exist and know how to contact you. They also believe that once you’re a member, you have certain loyalties and will purchase though them. Engineers, however, smell marketing a long way off, and I know that we all shop around!
Having a popular site helps bring in more people, too. Who wants to join a site where no one visits!? So these sites can grow very large. This is beneficial for you and me as there are now a lot of people who are willing to answer questions and give us feedback on our projects. I know from experience that you will get 10 or 100 times more views when you post on these sites compared to posting on your own blog site.
It’s all sounding good so far, networking with people and getting your content seen. There is a negative side to this, too. No, I’m not talking about the fact you are supplying and feeding these sites with free content; I’m talking about what I would call “swampage”.
This is when too much of something can suffocate a site. For example, let’s take someone I’ve not commented on yet – IET forums. On these forums, you find too many people asking how to get though their cEng interview. On other sites, the forums can also see streams of what I call, “How do I wire a plug up?” questions. Basically the sites bring in people who only want answers, don’t learn, and never contribute, or when they do, talk rubbish. Personally, I have found that only the EEVBlog forum seems free of this.
The sites can also suffer from too much content. Content should be good, but if you let all 10,000+ members write blogs or projects, then the good blogs get lost in the noise of all the rubbish ones. You will also see your hits fall as your project / blog visibility drops away.
Each site deals with this in different ways, and it’s down to us on the forums to help police them. However, the other sites need to police the swampage of content and make certain that higher profile people get seen and the noise is filtered or removed.
It’s also sad that we have so many sites. Do we need all of them? Once we wanted a place to share our ideas, and each site has tried to bring everything to one place. However, there are now lots of central hubs you can visit. You find that you are now visiting lots of big sites to follow differing content.
Whats the answer? Well, one big site would be good. A true central engineering hub for all our tech and social needs. No longer wandering from site to site, max networking but also lots of swampage.
I may not have the perfect answer but maybe one day all these big sites will see that we need a central hub and that they could all work together on a single resource. After all, it will increase our productivity, and we will all need more parts then…