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May 2, 2013

Sharing Company Secrets: Can you trust your Engineers on Social Media Networks ?

by Tom De Baere
engineers on social media

Image Courtesy of the American Society of Mechanical Engineers

Is it a good idea to have our engineering department be active on social media? That’s what Thomas asked me lately.

Thomas is a hardware circuit design engineer. I’m just calling him Thomas. It could be any engineer.

He had just followed one of the training sessions I organized around the increasing need for change towards a digital, social and content oriented company.

I’m into the bad stuff

“Very interesting stuff, Tom”, he said. Maybe the first hour a bit too much marketing stuff for him as an engineer, but still.

But that’s not why he came to me.  He said : “Usually social media is all about the good stuff. But we engineers (support engineers, hardware developers or software developers), we’re also into the bad stuff: we actually fix problems! For some of us that’s even a full time job.”

Should he be active on Social Media if all he does is fix problems? And can you trust the guys on social media networks who sit on our intellectual property and secret roadmap information?

Engineers fixing problems

Customers know that products are not perfect. They know about bugs. They know that software can crash. The good thing about having engineers on social media is that customers actually see who’s behind the products.

And see that these guys/girls are passionate, smart, hard working and devoted. Doing a rush job is making them feel bad. Fixing problems has to be done well. That’s what makes them proud.

Having those engineers active on social media is no different than having people active on discussion forums. Engineers want to help engineers. That’s what they are made of.

Engineers disclosing roadmaps

Can we trust people not to disclose company secrets? That’s a question I often get. In Thomas’ world company secrets mean hardware design or software code, but it could be very well other sensitive information like new products roadmap or commercial information.

Indeed, the risk is real. Imagine a engineer knowingly or unknowingly sharing company secrets on Facebook. Knowingly sharing company secrets is just bad will. That behavior is unacceptable. Sharing unknowingly is much more common: an enthusiastic engineer shares a picture of his first prototype, or writes a blog post about strategic technology choices.

But in all honesty, I think this is a non issue: even before social media existed, this happened. Back then, and also now, everyone who signs a contract with an employer has a non-disclosure clause. It doesn’t matter if the company secrets are share on social media or not. On top of that, usually companies insert an extra clause in their social media policy not to disclose company secrets. Just like the policy asks not to slam the competition. Or to not talk bad. Or to be polite.

Engineers in Peer to Peer Communities

engineers on social media

16 engineers blogging, connecting to their fellow engineering peers. The result was a 600% increase in leads.

All of this reminds me of a commonly known, but great story, I learned through Marcus Sheridan (@thesaleslion) about a company called ‘Indium’. I used it a lot to explain the power of blogging in an engineering company.

The story was originally featured in “Fab 15 Content Marketing Projects” by Jeremy Victor.

Sixteen engineers from Indium have discovered content gold with their “From One Engineer to Another” blog. Through it, they produce valuable content, videos and answer questions about a variety of engineering topics (e.g., how to set up and operate the Indium sulfamate plating bath). Even if you don’t know what that means, you can appreciate what they are striving for: to bring ideas to life through interactive conversations. In the first six months after Indium started blogging, lead generation surged 600%.

engineers on social media

Eric Lay, blogging for SAP, getting more than 100.000 viewers each month.

Single engineers being active on social media and sharing can be incredibly powerful. When Eric Lai was working for SAP, his enterprise mobility blog atracted more than 100.000 readers each month. He’s now Editorial Director at Avaya. To me that’s a smart move of Avaya to hire him.

Avaya understand the power of connecting peers to peers.

The power of connected Peers

Peers trust peers, that’s what this story is about. Just as you are reading my blog as a marketer, engineers will read blogs from engineers. It’s impossible to connect to an engineers without being an engineer yourself.

Some of them are proud to be called a ‘nerd’.

And that’s what we all are: nerds. I am a marketing nerd. I happen to be also an engineer in electronics. I guess that makes me a double nerd. But I’m proud of it. And that’s what makes me connect with you, dear blog reader.


Go! And let your engineers connect with engineers.


Warm regards,

Tom De Baere