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Social media and the semiconductor market

Four years ago Imagination Technologies was looking for a motivated and creative PR executive to join its fast-growing marketing communications team. After successfully interviewing for the position, I was given the fantastic opportunity to craft a fresh and bold strategy for the company’s digital channels of communication.

From the start, my objective was to put Imagination in the top ten semiconductor and consumer electronics companies for social media engagement within the span of five years and on an extremely tight budget.

A closer inspection of the resources available at the time revealed that one of the areas where I could make an immediate impact was the corporate blog; I therefore decided to concentrate my efforts on launching a blog platform targeting four core audiences:

  • Engineers and engineering managers from our immediate ecosystem (mainly semiconductor companies, OEMs and telecom providers)
  • Software developers writing and optimizing applications for our hardware
  • Technical press and analysts interested in our products
  • C-level executives looking for industry insights and opinions from our management board and senior directors

Given the complexity of our technologies, the breadth of our target markets, and the unique nature of our business, it became clear that I had to be very resourceful when it came to the direction and tone of the blog. However, I also soon realized that using the traditional set of analytical-driven methods and best practices would not result in a winning strategy.

For example, one way to determine a path forward would have been to use a poll that probes for content preferences when it comes to a typical technology blog. Although the survey could have conveyed some valuable insights, it wouldn’t provide the data I was looking for. Respondents with technical or business backgrounds always have a tendency either to choose the most extreme options (both groups can be extremely opinionated) or to express no preference at all; consequently, most survey results display W-like shapes that are confusing and heavily skewed.

Coming from an engineering background, I knew that another option to rapidly attract user engagement from a technical audience could have been to embed the corporate blog inside the forum/community section of the website. Such a blog/forum hybrid provides lots of great SEO-optimized content and can organically evolve based on readers’ preferences but appears extremely confusing to navigate for C-level executives or journalists and analysts; moreover, if blog posts sit alongside other traditional forum content, important content can easily be drowned out by technical support threads or irrelevant background chatter.

The third option would have been to implement a traditional, standalone blogging platform driven by an editorial calendar. The main weakness of this approach lies in the low user engagement and relatively rigid schedule. The sometimes private or secretive nature of the technology industry makes this a very hard problem to solve using traditional marketing best practices or analysis; no matter how hard companies try, engineers and business leaders working in the fast-paced, highly competitive consumer electronics market tend to avoid engaging on social media for fear of breaking NDAs or appearing to publicly support the promotional bias of certain marketing messages.

This meant I had to make a judgement call based mostly on my intuition. I strongly believed (and still do) that the avenues presented above would ultimately turn into dead ends in the long term and would fail to provide us with the explosive growth and engagement I was looking for.

Zuum-ConsumerElectronics-engagementsUser engagement on social media for consumer electronics companies in 2015*

I therefore decided that the most efficient way to achieve my objective was to essentially bet on transforming the Imagination blog into a news website written in the editorial style of platforms that users were already accustomed to (e.g. AnandTech, Tom’s Hardware, Engadget, The Verge, The Edge, Gamasutra, Wired, CNET, TechCrunch etc.)

While it initially seemed unusual for a company blog to become a part-time publishing outfit, the move proved to be a major success about a year into my plan when a wave of financial troubles hit every major trade media publisher in North America, decimating entire editorial teams. To this day, many of the publications affected have never recovered: Tom’s Hardware and AnandTech were sold off to Purch, the IDG News Service (the parent company for PC World, Macworld, Computerworld, etc.) announced massive layoffs,  Mashable fired all of its news staff, and Engadget moved away from technology to focus more on lifestyle and entertainment topics. By choosing to emulate the news style and format of the publications above, I transformed the blog into a credible alternative news source and achieved massive QoQ gains in SEO-based traffic; soon enough, many of our partners also started treating our blog as an exclusive launch pad for their own announcements (see examples [1], [2]. [3] or [4]).

Infographic-Semiconductor-Social-Media-2015Social media in the semiconductor market**

To date, the feedback from the sales, technical support and engineering teams continues to be extremely positive. My blog posts can be found in customer newsletters and email exchanges; or during casual discussions over dinner among C-level executives; on social media, in forum posts and on other news networking services like Slashdot, Hacker News or reddit. The best part however is that our audience is still growing at a rapid pace as we’ve remained known as a hard-hitting, trustworthy news channel and not as a marketing channel maintained by a public company. A quick look at the comment section often reveals very lively discussions, with many articles enjoying dozens of user comments or hundreds of organic social media shares.

I am hopeful that this model will continue to thrive and be adopted by other leading consumer electronics companies as it provides an ideal blueprint for the future of marketing communications in the semiconductor and consumer electronics markets.

* Image courtesy of Zumm, all rights reserved

** Image courtesy of Publitek, all rights reserved