New Research: Do Industrial Pros Use Social Media?

Social Media Research for industrialIHS GlobalSpec recently released research findings from its annual survey of technical professionals in the industrial sector. Overall, the findings don’t reveal anything too earth shattering – social use continues to increase, but overall time spent on social for work purposes remains relatively low. However, there were a few key points worth paying attention to if you’re a marketer in this space.

The study surveyed 1,177 industrial professionals, the majority of whom are engineers or other technical professionals (77%), the remainder work in technical/support services (5%), and R&D (4%). The report looks at how these professionals are applying social media to their daily work, and examines challenges in using social.

A few key findings:

What’s interesting from these points is that it would seem many industrial professionals do see a role for social media in their professional lives. Yet, the survey clearly indicates that social hasn’t necessarily outpaced other digital and traditional tactics in terms of use or usefulness.

Does that mean we should all forget about liking, sharing and tweeting and focus our efforts elsewhere? I think not. These findings simply reinforce the notion that social media shouldn’t be viewed as the magical solution to every marketing problem. It’s most effective as one component of an integrated, multi-channel strategy.

If your organization has never formally articulated a social strategy, consider using these findings as a starting point for doing so.

3 Key Takeaways to Apply to your Social Strategy


1.Technical professionals are passive social users

Results of several questions within the survey point to the fact that technical professionals use social media passively. For instance, look at how frequently they’re actively contributing:

How often have you contributed to social media

I’d argue that the most popular activity “watching a video” doesn’t actually belong on this list at all as it’s more akin to reading an article. The next most popular activity “posting a comment” happens a few times a year. And participation declines from there. I suspect part of the reluctance to actively contribute may be personality-related (less social, lone-wolf INTJs are a common Myers-Briggs type among engineers). There’s also likely some reticence as a result of strict corporate social usage policies. Instead of risking violation, these folks may just be opting to stay silent.

When it comes to using these sites (versus contributing) the numbers are more positive:

2 - how do you use

From a social strategy perspective, these contrasting results show it probably makes sense to position social from a content marketing lens – use it to increase the reach of content such as white papers, news, blog posts, infographics, etc. That’s not to say there isn’t a role for engagement strategies, but they may require significant planning and effort to be successful.

2. Age impacts social use

The survey contrasts social use by age group in several questions. It’s no surprise that Facebook and Twitter are more popular among younger professionals, while those 35+ prefer LinkedIn. This question about usage reveals some additional differences:

3 - use by age

Younger professionals are more likely to use social media in future-looking ways as it relates to finding new jobs and contacts. Older professionals are applying it to their current jobs by seeking out product reviews and news. This information can be applied to your social strategy in multiple ways – from how you market to potential employees to how you adapt your social content mix to address the needs of multiple generations. From a channel perspective, if you know you’re looking to reach younger, less seasoned technical professionals, you’ll probably want to include Facebook and Twitter activity in your mix. Meanwhile, LinkedIn will be important for reaching more experienced engineers.

3. Low-value content is the social kiss of death

The study also examines why more technical professionals don’t use social for work-related purposes. There were several barriers:

4 - challenges

These results show the importance of designing social programs that are easy-to-use and offer efficient access to valuable information. In fact, I’d say these results should serve as a barometer to gauge all your social content. As marketers, we’re never going to be successful with this audience on social channels if we can’t provide valuable content.

[Photo credit: Jason A. Howie, Flickr Creative Commons]

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