Blog Post

New Study Finds Little Change in Engineers' Social Media Use

Publish date: Aug 26, 2016 | Reading time: minutes
mobile phone showing social media

A new study from IEEE Engineering360 suggests that engineers still spend little time on social media and prefer traditional information resources. 

There’s been a great deal written about social media use in B2B, especially among engineers.

A new study from IEEE Engineering360 (formerly IHS Engineering360 and, before that, GlobalSpec) attempts to shed new light on the subject. The conclusions are by no means clear.

Godfrey partnered with AMG Research to study an emerging segment of your audience. Download the full report  and view slides from the presentation we delivered at CFE Media’s 2017 Marketing to Engineers® event.

It shows that engineers still spend little time on social media at work. In fact, 62% report spending less than an hour per week, and another 21% spend one to two hours. Both results have hardly budged since predecessor company IHS Engineering360 asked the same question of engineers last year.

Social Use by the Numbers

Most respondents (65%) admitted to having LinkedIn accounts, and about half said they had an account on Facebook. Younger engineers, those under 35, were somewhat more likely to have accounts (82% vs. 63% for LinkedIn) than their over-49 peers. But even those numbers are going down.

Even more telling, the respondents reported significantly less likelihood of engaging in work-related activities, with reductions of more than 20% for activities like following companies, reading content, searching for contacts or watching videos on LinkedIn. 

Content Types and Sharing

Similarly, the group was less likely to find product reviews, research new products, look for expertise or request tech support via social media sites. There were some differences among the age groups, the most telling being the nearly 30% gap between the younger engineers and their over-49 counterparts in using social networks to find new jobs.

In another key measure, 70% -- up 3% from the 2015 study – said they never share or post news or information about their company to their social networks. And 83% – up 4% from 2015 – said they do not subscribe to work-related blogs.

Video Remains the Standout

The major bright spot on the social media front was YouTube, with half of the survey participants visiting the site for work-related purposes. The most popular video types were how-to videos or tutorials (86%), product demos (85%) and training videos (71%), all of which increased in usage in this year’s study.

The study found that social media continued to trail more traditional information resources like search engines, online catalogs, supplier websites, trade pubs, word of mouth, white papers, trade shows, case histories and webinars in their value to the respondents’ work. Ironically, the top-rated social media resource, Google+, received exactly the same 3.3 rating (out of 7) as print advertising.

The top challenges in using social media for work-related purposes:

  • 64% said other methods are more efficient
  • 55% said social media has too much noise and not enough substance
  • 38% said they couldn’t find useful content
  • 38% said the content they find is not reliable

The vast majority of the 850 respondents to the survey were engineers or other technical professionals. And like the engineering profession itself, the sample was decidedly older: 68% were over 49, and only 10% were under 35.  

The IEEE survey, not surprisingly, is not the first time we’ve tracked the media consumption habits of engineers and technical folks. For an earlier effort, see Understanding the Mind of the Engineer: Six Major Misconceptions Revealed.

Opposing Views

Does this study simply document the perception that aging engineers are going to resist social media with their last breath? Or conversely, does it validate the idea that B2B marketing is somehow immune to social media?

Actually, in my view, it indicates a more nuanced approach than either extreme above.

First, we can expect social media to grow in usage, over time. But engineers and technical people will need different social media choices than the ones currently available, for the following reasons:

  • They deal with highly technical information
  • They crave tons of data
  • They will want to communicate, not with the masses, but with a small group, perhaps even a handful of people, globally
  • They are talking about proprietary information – trade secrets their employers would not want them to share with the world

That doesn’t sound like photo sharing or 140-character messages.

Godfrey Team

Godfrey helps complex B2B industries tell their stories in ways that delight their customers.