Here’s another guest blog post from US writer and editor, Bill Schweber.

Social media has its role with respect to the engineering-design community, but it’s not the first answer to everything.

I get worried seeing social media cited in every imaginable context and as the answer to every problem. (By “social media” I mean Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook, various forums, and other venues I won’t detail here, plus its partner “digital marketing.”)

Yes, social marketing has its place and role, but there are also many situations for which it is not the first answer, or an answer at all. Consider a designer who needs to understand the subtleties of properly configuring and wiring a power-supply subsection: he or she will likely turn to the web site of the vendor and look to the data sheet and for application notes first. It’s the obvious way to start, it’s more efficient, and it’s more likely to be correct. After that, the designer may turn to various forums to see if others have comments and critiques—but that’s secondary.

Why is social media considered the hot button that it is, even for technical, business-oriented topics? I have no sure answer, but I have a theory: it is because it is a concept that even non-technical PR and marketing communications people can understand—and it’s human nature to rely on what we can relate to. How many times have you watched a focus group and nodded in agreement with what one of the participants said, because you understood it and you felt the same way? Yet you know that as an observer, you may not be representative of the target audience, and shouldn’t base your conclusions on your own resonances.

Social media is just the latest in the hot buzzwords we use. Many years ago, I was at an editorial-planning meeting for a print publication, looking at our work flow. For some reason, the local human resources person decided to join us; perhaps she had too much idle time in her schedule, or perhaps she was trying to get a sense of what real work actually has to be done to get a publication out.

Although she had nothing to contribute, she did pipe up with a comment: “perhaps we should be following best practices here?” We all looked at her with the glare of “what are you talking about?” My theory is that she had nothing to say and knew it, but felt obligated to say something, so she threw out the hot buzz-phrase that was going around—at that time, it was “best practices.”

When you are dealing with an engineering audience, keep one fact in mind: engineers know that there is no single best solution to a class of problem. Looking again at power supplies, some designs need discrete ICs, some are better done with modules, some require open-frame supplies, to cite just a few options. If you say “whatever your supply problem, this one approach is your right answer”, your credibility would be gone.

When reaching out to the technical audience, you have to fit the tool to the problem. Social media is a tool in the kit and may even be the correct first tool for some situations, but please, think beyond just parroting that undeniable trend and tool. You, your clients, and your audience will appreciate it