In the electronics industry, company spokespeople, marketing executives or ad men all love talking about the importance of "community" and "engagement." Do they really mean it?
MADISON, WI – In the electronics industry, any conversation with company spokespeople, marketing executives or ad men eventually includes two key words: “community” and “engagement.”
The industry wants a “community” web site, not site that features what journalists call “straight news.” The industry wants engagement with readers, customers and would-be customers. The industry wants to see continuous, vibrant and lively conversations among EEs on a daily, hourly basis. Above all, like Sally Field at the Oscars, the industry wants people to “like me!”
They make it clear that the days are over when news reporters would write a story and post it on a site followed by zero comments – a site defined by one-way communication. It’s the interactivity, it’s the conversation, it’s the crowd-sourcing, and it’s the engagement that makes a media company’s web site interesting and strong, and that’s what the industry values and wants.
OK. We got your message loud and clear. Call me naïve, but we took the yearnings of the electronics industry to heart.
A year ago, when we opened our new www.eetimes.com, we made sure that conversations among readers were front and center. While we, editors, strive to research and publish insightful news and analysis stories every day, we equally value the comments posted by our readers. We love seeing reader participation, and we enjoy getting involved in the conversations. Pick any story, and you’re sure to find gems among our readers’ opinions. It has become the place for us to take the pulse of our audience.
But here’s the thing.
Conspicuously absent from this on-going engagement at www.eetimes.com over almost a year is the voice of the vendors – the one whose passionate pitch for “community” and “engagement” got us into the conversation business.
While the guys with all the money continue to spout the importance of engagement, they seem to believe – for reasons unknown (because they’re not talking) that there’s no need for them to get involved in the community and bare their own souls.
It’s either they think they are above it all (Jeez, I hope not), or they’re fearful of the sort of controversial back-and-forth that sparks “engagement” and knits together the “community.”
Here’s an example. Dylan McGrath wrote a story entitled “Could Intel buy TI’s OMAP division?”
Readers responded immediately, expanding and fueling the speculation about Intel and TI. But it wasn’t ‘til almost 23 hours after the story was posted that a TI public relations representative finally sent McGrath an e-mail and denied the speculation in no uncertain terms.
We appreciate TI’s getting in touch. Who could help but feel flattered?
But this is wrong in two levels.
First, if OMAP isn’t up for sale, TI should have said so as soon as the McGrath story hit the streets (or, better yet, before, when he tried to solicit a comment from the company on the rumors). We stood ready to set straight the facts, but we needed TI to be straight with us.
Second, again, if the speculation was totally off the mark (which apparently it was, based on TI’s response to us), TI had an ideal forum – our website – to correct the record, 23 hours sooner than they did through the ultra-traditional medium of p.r. flackery.
You may tell us that the blog was speculative to begin with, and we shouldn’t have entertained unsubstantiated speculations. But to be fair, Dylan McGrath did his homework, called TI for comment (Guess what? “No comment”), talked to analysts, and built his theory on rumors already rampant in the industry.
Obviously, Dylan’s feeler triggered the conversation. That’s how the conversation always starts. Some comments by our readers were more entertaining and insightful than the original blog.
The case with TI is just one recent example. Since the forum opened, we editors have often tried to get vendors to use it as a venue for making a point about a story, refuting an aspect of a story, or other commentary they may have about our editorial. Almost without exception, they have declined to do so.
So, what’s stopping industry leaders, executives, decision-makers and power brokers from engaging in the conversation thread with our readers, who are, after all, their customers, potential customers, their colleagues and employees? Is it beneath your dignity to talk to engineers?
In a contrasting note, props to Wally Rhines, CEO of Mentor Graphics. He wrote an opinion piece on "Semiconductor industry deconsolidation" for us, posted on our page, and he gladly responded to reader comments in the forum. The more power to him, because obviously, he is not too deeply ensconced in his corner office to find common cause with the humble readers of EE Times.
To be clear, it takes more than a day to build a community. To keep the community alive, one needs to feed the community. One needs to get involved. And as people say, it takes a village – vendors in the electronics industry included – to bring up this nascent offspring.
Of course, speaking up is a huge responsibility. It takes time, effort and thought and often instigates unwelcome and uncomplimentary feedback. But speaking out in a forum as open as the one we’ve built at EE Times is a kind of test. The speaker who cannot, with a measure of grace, cope with negative response is ill-suited to be a member -- or, especially, a leader – in the community.
So, unless what you mean by “community” and “engagement” that what you want is a “fan site” that speaks kindly of your products and technologies, you’re not really ready for Internet prime time. The community does not readily suffer prima donnas.