How Can Social Networks Help Engineers?

Over the past few years it has been impossible to ignore the rise of social networking. Sites such as Facebook & Twitter have come to dominate the Internet to such an extent that they can no longer be described merely as websites. Theses sites have changed the way that people use the Internet.

Let the numbers do the talking

Some interesting facts…

  • Facebook has 621 million active users
  • That represents 1 in every 11 human beings
  • Of those users, 50% log on in any given day
  • There are more than 30 billion pieces of information (web links, news stories, blog posts etc) shared every month

The numbers for Twitter although smaller are nevertheless just as impressive…

  • There are 106 million accounts on Twitter
  • The number of Twitter users increases by 300,000 every day
  • Bear in mind that the above two facts date back to May, 2010 (and do your own maths)

So the numbers are obviously not in dispute, but does any of this help engineers (or any other professionals)? This article is aimed at engineers, particularly sound and vibration engineers, but for the remainder of the article it would be perfectly acceptable to substitute any other profession.

Horses for courses

Each of the different social networks has its own strengths and weaknesses in terms of how useful it will be in a work or educational environment. We will look at just a few of the different sites. There are many others and it is always worth checking out new ones as you come across them. Many sites allow users to cross post. For instance, it is easy to set up your LinkedIn page to display tweets from your Twitter feed. So look and see where information is coming from. You may find a rich, new seam of useful information.

LinkedIn

The obvious place to start looking at the various sites is with one that is aimed squarely at the professional – LinkedIn. LinkedIn is mainly a networking tool allowing a user to link up with colleagues, clients and suppliers and also to network further through second and third level contacts. Think of it as Facebook for those of us who have to work for a living! In addition to networking there are thousands of special interest groups where one can join discussions related to ones own field, read news stories or look for a job. Unfortunately, over recent months LinkedIn does seem to be suffering with a lot of unwanted “noise” (recruitment agencies, social network spammers etc), but hopefully they will tackle this and put the emphasis back on good quality discussion.

Twitter

Of the mainstream sites, Twitter is maybe the most useful to an engineer. Those who have not used Twitter will at least be aware of it as a place of celebrity self promotion and friends describing what they have eaten for breakfast. This is only half of the story. Many companies, large and small, now use Twitter to communicate with existing and potential customers. Also, many professional publications post the latest news and links to their online articles on Twitter. Once you have an account it is simply a case of looking out for the Twitter logo when you are visiting a website and “following” them on Twitter. Or use Twitter’s built in search and look for “mechanical engineering” or “vibration” or whatever your particular interest is. Prosig maintain a number of lists including a mechanical engineering one that can be found here. Since we don’t believe in hiding our lamp under a bushel, it goes without saying that one of your first steps should be to follow Prosig.

Facebook

Facebook can be used in much the same way although the professional world has been slower to adopt it. Despite this many publications and companies are on Facebook and by “liking” their pages you can fill you Facebook feed page with useful links to news, articles and other useful resources. Simple searches in Facebook for “Mechanical engineering” or “Engineering” will produce suggested pages. Or why not search for your favourite suppliers and magazines/journals and see if they have a presence on Facebook. And, of course, make sure you click the “Like” button on the Prosig page.

StumbleUpon

This site sits just outside the household name league, but can be a very useful one. The concept of StumbleUpon is simple. You sign up and answer a few questions about which categories interest you and add a small toolbar to your browser. Then you simply start clicking the Stumble button and it serves up web pages that match your interests. The pages are all recommended by other users so the quality is generally good. You then have the option to like or dislike each page. Your recommendations should improve as you like or dislike more pages. Using the browser toolbar you can also recommend pages for others as you browse the web. You also have the option to “follow” friends/colleagues or other users who share your interests. StumbleUpon really is great way to discover new sites and pages that you may not normally come across.

SVCommunity

Since we are a noise & vibration blog we have to mention this new site. SVCommunity is a resource aimed squarely at the sound & vibration engineer. It allows users to post links, videos, images, documents, articles etc and to interact in a social environment. The interface will be familiar to anyone who has experience of Facebook or LinkedIn. The site was only recently launched and so the content is limited at the moment, but it promises to become a valuable resource as more people join. Visit SVCommunity.com to browse the site. There are instructions on the first page on how to join and start posting your own material and interacting with the community. Or, alternatively, leave your email address and a brief description of who you are we will send you an invite. This is done simply to prevent spammers and keep the site relevant to its users.

YouTube

Sometimes it’s very easy to use a site for recreational purposes without realising how it can help us in our professional life. Anyone who uses the Internet for any length of time will certainly have used YouTube. Whether it’s to watch the latest funny clip, catch up on some recent sport or reminisce about an old TV show, most of us will have visited YouTube. But it’s also a great resource for sound and vibration or mechanical engineers. Many companies now use YouTube for informational or tutorial videos (visit TheProsig on YouTube to see some of Prosig’s) or you can find many interesting examples of noise and vibration in the real world. As part of a previous article Prosig put together a list of Outstanding Noise & Vibration Videos, which shows just some of the great videos that are available.

Where Will It All End?

In the past, professionals got together and networked at exhibitions, seminars and conferences. However, these type of events have been in decline for many years now. Why travel hundreds or even thousands of miles to see new products when all the information is at the tip of your fingers on the Web? Couple that with the rich media content now available on the Internet and it’s not hard to understand the fall in popularity of large events. The trend is further accelerated by hard economic times. We all know it’s not easy to get time and expenses to visit shows nowadays. The economics are the same from an exhibitors point of view. How can a sales department justify the expense of shipping eqipment and travelling to a show with declining attendance and debatable lead generation when the marketing department can run online events or generate an increase in website visits for a fraction of the cost?

So, in economic terms, the Internet and social networking sites win hands down. And there is no doubt that the Web wins on the information front.

So where will the whole social networking trend will take us? Maybe, if we knew, we could have the next “big idea” and join the ranks of Internet billionaires. What is certain though is that these sites aren’t going to go away anytime soon and indications are that they are going to continue growing for some time. This means more and more companies will join and the information available through these routes will grow with them. So, if you haven’t already, why not take the plunge, or dip your toe in the water, and discover just how much there  is out there. After a week or two you might decide it’s not for you and that you’re going to leave it to the teenagers and twentysomethings. On the other hand, you might find a whole new world of useful resources and never look back.

If, during your journey, you find anything, good or bad, not mentioned in the article then leave a comment. Social networking is all about communication after all.

 

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Chris Mason

General Manager at Prosig
Chris' passion for software, technology and innovation began in his teens with a diet of Sinclair ZX80's, Commodore Pets and early Apple products. Chris graduated from Portsmouth Polytechnic in 1983 and went on to have a career in software product development, software team management, web development, marketing and, now, general management. His other passions include bicycles, IoT, coffee, running, walking, cooking and supercharged Jags.

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