Why Does CFD Hate Social Media?

A friend from another company in the CFD world phoned the other day to ask some questions that had been bothering him. “What’s this social media thing about? You use it. Has it led to any sales yet?”

Sigh.

I don’t recall anyone asking several years ago whether our new phone system had led to any new sales.

Most CFD engineers react to Twitter with an expression that’s half befuddlement and half incredulity.  They seem to think Facebook is something only their neighbor’s 12 year old daughter would use.  To them, blogging is where something called LOLCATS comes from, YouTube has that honey badger video, and Tumblr – well, just don’t even try to explain Tumblr to them.

I don’t understand why a technologically savvy group of people like CFDers would be so averse to an entire class of electronic media.  Maybe these are the same people who are still waiting to see if that email thing catches on.

So why does CFD hate social media?

Let’s eliminate two serious reasons first.  A lot of CFD is done at big companies or government labs where certain websites, probably including Twitter, Facebook, etc., are off-limits.

Second, we’re talking about engineers who have a reputation for not being gregarious.  (Do you know how to tell an extroverted engineer from an introverted one?  The extrovert looks at your shoes when he’s talking to you.)

What’s surprising is that social media at its best is about learning and the exchange of ideas.  I’ve yet to meet a CFD engineer who isn’t interested in learning stuff that will make their job better.  But I get the impression they view social media as a toy. It’s not that way for all engineers.  The CAD world seems to make quite extensive use of social media.

So let’s delve into a few social media platforms where CFD is represented.  I do not claim to be providing an encyclopedic reference of CFD on social media.  These are just the ones I either follow or have seen.  Nor am I claiming to be a social media expert.

CFD News

Of course, if you’re interested in keeping up with the happenings in the CFD world the two sites you need to visit, sign-up for their newsletter, and follow on Twitter are:

CFD Review: www.cfdreview.com

CFD Online: www.cfd-online.com

CFD on Twitter

Who would’ve thought you could send an email without specifying any recipients?  That and the 140-character limit are the true joys of Twitter, which turns out to be a great tool for keeping up with people and organizations.  Someone called Twitter a platform for sharing ideas, which I think is a great metaphor.

Regarding Twitter, I was once asked “Why do I care what someone had for lunch?”  First, if you don’t care, you should unfollow.  But keep in mind that because the best Twitter feeds have a personality behind them, you should anticipate seeing a mix of things in their tweets, from professional to personal.  It’s just like interacting with your co-workers: you don’t talk about work all the time.

The thing about Twitter is that it has to have a genuine personality behind it to be done well.  Your tweets can’t be like 140-character news releases.  If you tweet like that, you risk sounding like boring cocktail party guests. All they do is talk about their work: this press release, that trade show, this new product.

I follow several CFD-related people and organizations on Twitter, but here’s a short alphabetized list of the ones that are the most active.

CFD on Facebook

Facebook is where you can, if you’ll pardon the pun, put a face on your organization.  It’s a way to humanize, with photos and lighter news, what your organization is about.  You can think of it as a recruiting tool to get people interested in working with you. Or you can think of it as advertising of the form “look what you missed at our big event this year.”  For better or worse, few CFD organizations are on Facebook.

CFD on LinkedIn

Think of LinkedIn as Facebook for business purposes.  I personally have never been comfortable with LinkedIn because I never liked the user interface, but there are some CFD groups on there.

CFD Blogs

Writing a blog is your chance to educate, inform, and share with your audience and do so in a slightly more casual way than you’d do on the company website.  There actually are more CFD-related blogs out there than you’d think, with some more active than others.  You can subscribe to these by email or by RSS (using something like Google Reader). Here’s a list:

CFD on YouTube

YouTube has too many CFD videos to count, although they seem to be organized by user rather than by organizations hosting their own channel.  Here are a few.

How to Do Social Media

If you want to start using social media, maybe the first thing to address is what not to do.  Here’s a CAD Insider blog post describing exactly that.

  1. Don’t dismiss it or the world will pass you by.
  2. Don’t question it.  Keep in mind who your next generation of customers will be.
  3. Don’t misuse it.  “Watching some companies trying to use social media makes me squirm.”

As for what to do, there’s no trick to social media.  Be yourself and engage with your audience in a variety of different ways and to help them learn – learn about you, learn about the industry, learn about your business.  If you start reading some of the resources posted above, I think you’ll agree.  And if you start sharing your expertise, I think things will be a little better for all of us.

As for my friend’s question about sales and ROI, my answer is twofold.  First, the investment is very low.  Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, and the others are all free.  It just takes your time to share content.  I’ll admit that blogging isn’t easy and writing something worth reading takes time.  But Twitter’s 140 character limit removes that burden but still let’s you share ideas.  The return on social media is the awareness, trust, and confidence that you build in your brand, whether that’s you as an individual or your organization. And there’s no telling where that might lead.

I’m going to turn this post into a resource page on the blog and I know I missed some social media CFD.  So send me everything I missed and I’ll add it. And get online and start liking, following, posting, tweeting, and blogging.

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17 Responses to Why Does CFD Hate Social Media?

  1. Steve Karman says:

    I have a different perspective on social media.
    I don’t have time to waste keeping up with posts.
    I have work to do!

  2. John Chawner says:

    I guess that’s the joy of having nothing to do – I can devote all my time to patrolling the internet.

    On the other hand, there’s a lot to be learned and a lot of people willing to share.

    It’s a conscious choice: I don’t have to waste on “X” where X can be social media, TV, travel, books, car repair, gardening, wood working, karaoke, or whatever.

  3. LEARNING. That’s the key word.
    John, first of all thanks for blogging, sharing and making us learn with you. You are a great professor. You are so good that even who has ‘work to do’ has time for you.
    And the best professors are those who recognizes themselves as continuous learners.
    Here’s my blog on CFD, in portuguese, which may interest your portuguese-speakers learners:

    http://marcolovatto.blogspot.com

  4. John Chawner says:

    Thanks, Marco. Although I am neither a professor nor great, I appreciate your readership.

  5. Cesar says:

    John, ansys is also blogging at http://blog.ansys.com/

  6. John Chawner says:

    Cesar: you are correct. I’ll add it to the resource page.

  7. Hi John,

    Thanks for adding our Facebook page to your list of CFD companies who are using Social Media. We also have a YouTube Channel at http://www.youtube.com/user/FlowScience and are on LinkedIn at http://www.linkedin.com/company/381191.

    Regards,
    Amanda

  8. John Chawner says:

    Hi Amanda. Thanks for the updates. I’ve added your two links to the social media resource page.

  9. lubos says:

    Hi John, it’s not just CFD, it’s the whole scientific computing community in general! I find it pretty interesting that in this age of everything being online, pretty much all of research still gets published in the form of journal articles. Don’t get me wrong, there is definitely a place for journal publication, it’s just that journals are not a particularly flexible method for interacting with the community – and not the fastest.

    By the way, here is my blog: http://www.particleincell.com/blog/ It deals with topics relevant to modeling plasmas and rarefied gases.

  10. John Chawner says:

    lubos: I’m glad someone else sees the same thing I’m seeing. I suspect that the issue with journal articles is that these are usually managed by professional organizations and journal subscriptions and conference paper reprints represent a good portion of their income.

    I’ll add your blog to the page of CFD social media resources.

    Also, after checking out your website I found your Slovak food blog. Outstanding! My maternal grandmother from Czechoslovakia made the best halupki. A coworker with Ukrainian background always argues with me about whether stuffed cabbages should have meat filling or not. Apparently in the Ukraine it’s rice only.

    Thanks for reading.

    • lubos says:

      Hehe, excellent! Holubky/halupki were actually never made in my family. It must be a eastern Slovakia / Rusyn thing. In fact, the first time I’ve had them, or even heard of them, was here in the US at a Slovak dinner event. But, from the day I started the cooking site I started getting requests for them so I finally gave in few weeks ago. Tasty and not too difficult to make. Linky if anyone is interested: http://www.slovakcooking.com/2011/recipes/holubky/

      Thanks for adding the link. When it comes to journals, I agree with you. I also think that the Enc.Britannica vs. Wikipedia mentality still persists in the academic community. Journal articles are supposed to be reviewed by scientific peers, while anyone can publish on the Internet. However, having been selected few times to review articles on topics I knew absolutely nothing about, I don’t really buy that the reviewers are always knowledgeable on the subject matter. And even if they are, you get three or so people looking and commenting on your work. With the social media you can engage a vastly larger community. Anyway, let’s see what happens, the particleincell.com blog is basically my experiment in whether this could work. :)

  11. So, this blog got my brain mulling things over. I love aerospace and aeronautics, and I’m a member of AIAA. AIAA claims to have 35,000 members. Sadly, I’m only a member because of nostalgia.

    The thing I don’t understand is that AIAA claims to be an organization to bring people and information together. Yet, I don’t believe AIAA has a forum for people to get together and discuss technical issues, have online presentations, or record and stream presentations. (For example, and I don’t claim to be a youtube master, there are only 69 uploads to youtube) Instead, one needs to shell out a lot of money to physically go to conferences. Or pay $15 per paper if one doesn’t have a subscription or access to the author. This is so 90s.

    Sorry, I just can’t connect the dots.

  12. John Chawner says:

    Hello Martin. Thanks for your comment.

    Regarding AIAA, I think you’re right. While AIAA’s mission is promoting aeronautics they’re also a business with products and income sources like membership fees, conference fees, short course fees, technical paper fees, journal subscriptions, book sales, etc. Without that income, they cease to exist and so does their stewardship of the industry. Or with reduced income their stewardship is reduced.

    AIAA’s use of social media reinforces their current business model. I know there are discussions about changing and consolidating conferences (to promote interdisciplinary stuff and to deal with reduced travel budgets). I am not aware of any strategic moves on their part to implement any social-style sharing of technical information.

    So what could the role of a professional society be if, for example, technical information is freely shared? I wonder if any professional societies have embraced that social model successfully?

  13. Hi John,

    I would not advocate that things are free since expenses need to be met. However, maybe, the business model can be changed. For example, if papers were offered for $2 rather than $15, I’d buy them. Too often buying one paper is not enough since some of the referenced papers are usually required. And reading the title of the paper, or even the first page, does not tell one the details that are in the paper. It is the details which are important. Frequently I find that the paper which I thought would address the need, does not. $15 dollars is too much for that. However $2 is OK. After all, I don’t mind spending a couple of dollars getting a coffee or a game such as Angry Birds.

    AIAA could have an online forum where technical topics are discussed. This can be funded by advertisements and administered by volunteers. After all, sites such as cfd-online, nasaspaceflight, etc. make it work. It’s possible that such a forum would also promote sales of papers (if they were offered at $2) and other material.

    Another possibility is to stream (live and recorded) video of presentations. Many times I would have liked to hear what an author has said about a paper or the questions asked. And, sometimes, I’ve wanted to be at a presentation, but was not able to. Or I’ve found myself at a presentation I really didn’t want to be at. Or wanted to see a previous slide so I could ask a question. AIAA could charge a couple of dollars for this. And/or support it with advertisements. Wouldn’t Pointwise, (or your competition! :) ), Tecplot, etc. like to target a CFD conference attendee (real or virtual) this way? Afterall, isn’t advertisement one of the points of blogging? Also, YouTube seems to manage the data center aspects of streaming videos for “free”.

    If AIAA can’t do these sort of things, or find the value in it, why should we expect the technical people, who the AIAA represent, to do the same thing or accept it? If web technology is only used to cheerlead the industry, of course skeptical CFD engineers are going to diss it! There must be true technical content, not hand waving.

    In the end, it is the responsibility of all of us, Pointwise, Hegedusaero, AIAA, NASA, DoD, etc. to grow this industry. Increased dissemination of technical data results in fewer mistakes, lower development costs, better business predictability, more bang for the buck, and better acceptance of high tech. This helps grow an industry.

    In my opinion, CFD is one of those areas which is easy to get the wrong answer without even knowing it! Especially for the new comer (I’ve even seen the gurus at NASA and DoD make costly mistakes. Mistakes in the sense of missed physics.). The difficulty of CFD isn’t only my opinion. I have not met a CFD guru which has disagreed with me. Papers have been written about the need for CFD best practices. Yet, when one types in “best practices cfd” into Google, the retrieved info is, well, disappointing. LOL, especially when I’m tied (behind the scenes) to the fifth paper “Best Practices for Reduction of Uncertainty in CFD Results”. :) Sorry, no disrespect to the authors or the paper. Just, well, can’t we do better? So, if we are all stewards, there is a lot of room (and need!) for improvement. Sorry, best practices may have been a tangent, but I feel it is tied to web technologies, communicating, and doing things better.

    And, I see “doing better” as one of the points you are making with this blog topic.

    • lubos says:

      Hi Martin,

      I suspect that institutions such as AIAA are too set in their old ways. I think it’s up to us, the web users / bloggers to pave the way. John is doing a great job here on this Pointwise blog. I am hoping to create a similar venue for the plasma community on my particleincell site. Next time, if you end up with some interesting scientific results, feel free to submit them to my blog :) I can’t guarantee you the exposure and name recognition of AIAA (at least not yet!), but who knows, this could be the start of something new. And it is, and will continue to be, totally free.

      When it comes to the article charges, I think $15 is actually the lower end. Most articles I am seeing cost in the ballpark of $25. And yes, I totally agree that more than not, the article is not worth the cost. Journals should implement some viewer (maybe omitting every other page) allowing you to preview the article before buying it.

  14. John Chawner says:

    Martin:

    You make a lot of good points here. I’m curious what $2 technical papers would do to AIAA’s income stream (i.e. how significant a drop). Also, AIAA has all those technical committees and if each one could host a forum in their area of expertise that might be interesting.

    Absolutely, doing things better is the idea.

  15. John Chawner says:

    Lubos:

    At AIAA in particular, $15 per paper is the cost for members, $25 is the cost for non-members.

    As for whether AIAA is too set in their old ways, I think some of the people are while others are not. This latter group is trying to move the institute forward. Perhaps an issue is that they view their membership as the Boeings and Lockheed Martins of the world who can afford $25 per paper or thousands for a library subscription.

    I passed these suggestions to my contacts at AIAA and they seemed very receptive, especially to the idea about hosting online forums. We’ll see how that goes.

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