Fortune 500 series: Texas Instruments uses social media to connect 10K+ engineers

A frequently asked question around corporate social networking is, "What kinds of companies are using it?" When social media first became the trend it is now there was a lot of speculation about how only smaller, flexible companies could implement effective social media program.
Written by Jennifer Leggio, Contributor

A frequently asked question around corporate social networking is, "What kinds of companies are using it?" When social media first became the trend it is now there was a lot of speculation about how only smaller, flexible companies could implement effective social media program. I started this Fortune 500 series a few months ago to prove that point wrong. Companies such as Cisco, Office Max and Newell Rubbermaid discussed their varying strategies and measurement of their tactics, as well as why social media has become an important business driver. The latest interview in the series, with Texas Instruments' (TI) director of global Internet marketing, Devashish Saxena, about how the electronics designer and manufacturer engages with its large community of design engineers and delivering customer design support. He also talks about how social media is becoming a larger priority given the state of the economy.

Q. [Jennifer] At a high level, please tell me about the company's social media strategies.

A. [Devashish]I think of social media as the evolution of the Web from an information/content channel into a social channel. One where people are primarily making connections and using those connections to drive decision making about everything from brands to purchases to films/music/books and a lot more.

At TI, we have approached social marketing strategies by understanding how design engineers (our target audience) can exploit the evolving social nature of the Web. We focus on their design process and their dependence on the Web. We try to keep in mind what the design engineer is trying to accomplish and balance that with what our business/marketing drivers are.

From a social marketing perspective we are pursuing several strategies at TI. Our first area of focus is on the delivery of customer design support. As design engineers pick and start designing w/ TI chips, they often run into situations where they have very specific questions about how to use our products. They can always rely on calling TI's customer support centers, but more and more of them have relied on ad-hoc engineering communities that have sprung up all over the Web. The problem with these is that there is usually no access to TI engineers here. We have spent countless hours talking with our customer engineers to help us understand their needs and how they go about filling them today.

One of our first steps was the establishment of the TI E2E Community with a focus on creating value by connecting engineers to engineers (both customer and TI engineers) with the primary purpose of delivering design support. We identified forums, video and blogs as the three legs of this community. Forums are pretty self-explanatory, w/ videos and blogs the idea is to develop tricks and trips, design help content - our motto: "peer-to-peer over a beer" [stolen with acknowledgment from the Microsoft Channel 9 guys]!

We are approaching 10,000 registered members - over 80 percent of them are customers. These engineers are coming on a regular basis and becoming the best marketing tool for this site as they continue to find value on a daily basis.

Our goal is to continue to keep bringing new product areas into the E2E community for design support.

One final point, the more time we have spent in this space the more we are realizing that as the online channel evolves into a social medium, our social marketing strategy becomes our online strategy.

Next: What were the first steps TI took? -->

Q. When considering new social media strategies, what is your first move? To hire? To invest? To seek out market data?

A. First move is to always understand who we are trying to serve. What problem are we trying to solve? We want to create a customer support strategy, not a Twitter strategy! Once we understand the need we are trying to fill, we look at benchmarking against best practices. We have no shame in learning from what other companies are doing. We have great relationships w/ our peers (internet marketing/social media folks) at other companies like Dell, Google, and many more through our relationship w/ companies like Forrester. We talk to them and understand what they have done, what worked, what didn't, what would they do different. Then we make our plans. We do like to move fast - and learn as we move, rather than build something for a long time. So often we do lean towards off-the-shelf, SaaS models to allow us to move faster.

Q. Has a social strategy been a larger or smaller priority with the economic shifts over the last six months?

A. Larger. But I think more than economic shifts, it is due to shifts in customer behavior and where we feel we can generate more value. Even if the economic climate was different, I think we would still make the same investment shifts. It has nothing to do w/ the ailing economy.

Q. What has driven your adoption of social media - sales, customers, marketing trends? Is lead generation and conversion a consideration?

A. Customers and our marketing strategies are the two biggest drivers. Lead generation and conversion is a huge consideration. Everything we do is measured by engagement and conversion to revenue.

Next: Measurement and lead generation -->

Q. How do you measure the ROI of your social media programs? If you are using social media to drive leads, how are you driving and measuring?

A. We are actually in the process of structuring our measurement framework. We think along the lines of standard/engagement metrics (visits, pageviews, video views, forum thread creation/replies, etc), social marketing metrics (pass along, shares, customer advocates) and we also want to see if this level of engagement drives more business.

Q. What is one example of a social media project gone right (with ROI if possible)?

A. Even though one of the draws of TI's E2E community is access to TI engineers, what is most impressive is that as traffic and membership continues to build on E2E, more and more answers are coming as customers interact w/ other customers. In fact, sometimes a customer who is designing a similar application as another customer may be in a better position to answer a specific question, rather than a TI engineer who may be very knowledgeable about the product but may not understand the ramifications of the board.

Q. How is your company using social media to drive productivity internally? Drive awareness? Communicate with partners and customers?

A. On the internal front, we have just started to launch an internal social networking capability. The primary purpose here is to connect employees w/ other employees and unlock the value that is currently trapped w/in the realms of email inboxes and a plethora of unorganized SharePoint sites. There is a specific focus on connecting our sales engineers to application engineers in the factory and moving that support away from email into more of a community environment. This allows for searchable, reusable knowledge which is delivered in a more effective and efficient process.

We are also currently looking at broadening E2E to go beyond delivering product support. We want to expand the community to drive product ideas to our R&D teams. We are also currently evaluating how we can evolve E2E to deliver the engineer's need for recognition, learning, growth, and development. We are also looking at how we can leverage other assets we already have and integrate them into E2E for exponential value delivery.

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