Matt West is the Social Media Manager at SolidWorks and was the person mainly responsible for getting me to SolidWorks World 2010. As his title suggests he manages social media for SolidWorks and I was eager to know more about how SolidWorks views social media. This is part of my interview with him.
Deelip: Of late there has been some discussion going on about bloggers and blogs and the role they play when it comes to media. I would like to know how SolidWorks views this issue.
Matt: People in the traditional media tend to have more knowledge about the business issues surrounding CAD software vendors and their products, their history and trends. This gives them the ability to put things in perspective and offer opinion that bloggers may not be able to offer. For example, to learn about new products and get general overviews about them a magazine like DEVELOP3D is great. On the other hand, bloggers work with CAD software day in and day out and are masters at what they do. This allows them to offer in-depth technical information and express informed opinions about a product. They have high level knowledge which can sometimes be very specific to a particular field of work. For example, for surfacing related stuff Matt Lombard may be the one you should keep track of. For SolidWorks Administration, you have Jeff Mirisola. I find you particularly interesting because you fit somewhere in the middle since you are a user and well as write about the industry in general. Moreover, you are a software developer and can offer a unique perspective, something which neither of them can do. My point is that at SolidWorks, we understand that our customers may need different kinds of information at different points in time. So our goal is to be able to make that information available from whichever source that they are looking at getting it from.
Deelip: What is your view on printed magazines? Is there a place for them in today’s world? Will they disappear in the future?
Matt: I sure hope not. I am like you. I enjoy holding a magazine in my hands and flip through its pages. But there is one thing that we have noticed at SolidWorks. People do not want to pay for content anymore. They expect it to be provided to them for free, whether it is on a magazine or on the internet. I am not sure whether printed magazines will go away anytime soon. I, for one, would not like that to happen.
Deelip: When blogging first appeared on the scene the traditional press used to ridicule bloggers citing their inability to write good English. I noticed that they have since had a kind of a reality check and now feeling threatened by the same people that they earlier looked down upon? What is your view on this?
Matt: I totally understand what you mean. Prior to joining SolidWorks, I worked for ten years at CircuitCity where I used to do pretty much the same thing. There were magazines that used to do reviews and stuff. Then came along these punks who started blogging and doing wild stuff like crashing CES events and getting into all kinds of trouble. The traditional media mocked them saying that these nerds did not know how to write and had no journalistic ethics. But as time passed, readers began to realize that these nerds were actual hard core users of these products and were people whom they could relate to. The same thing is happening in the CAD software industry as well. It is not surprising that users want to read stuff written by people that they can relate to.
Deelip: You make a good point about users relating to bloggers and I agree with you. My opinion maybe biased. But since your target audience are end users who do not care about business issues like which company is suing or getting sued, do you think social media may be more effective than traditional media?
Matt: Well, maybe not. We try out best to make it a level playing field. But here is the thing. The media from both sides are reaching to the other side as well. For example, Al Dean from DEVELOP3D has a blog and Josh Mings writes articles on DEVELOP3D.
Deelip: Speaking of level playing field, the traditional media has accused your company of giving preferential treatment to bloggers. For example, there has been an occasion when press embargoes were lifted from bloggers before they were lifted from journalists.
Matt: Yes. That confusion was because the bloggers were also beta testers and their embargo dates were different from that of journalists. But we have since rectified this and moving forward we will have a single date for everyone.
Deelip: What about this so-called “SolidWorks Blog Squad”? Do you control them or what they write? Do you encourage them or help them in anyway?
Matt: Yeah, I believe they started calling themselves that. It all started when Richard Doyle started meeting all kinds of interesting people at SolidWorks User meetings and started telling them, “Hey, you should start a blog”. We got some of them interested, set up the Typepad stuff for them and then let them go on their own. We do not control them or what they write. All we do is invite them to SolidWorks events just like we do for members of the traditional media. For us the social media and the traditional media is the same and both are treated equally.
Deelip: Personally I believe that traditional media is more like a one way street. I mean information is collected by the software vendor and sent out to the traditional media by press releases and similar, who then put it in better prose (if necessary), add their opinions (if they have any to offer) and feed it to readers. And it ends there. Feedback, if any, that comes to the media from readers rarely ends up with the software vendor. However, blogs are a two way street. Readers can add comments to posts which can be directly seen by CAD vendors and can initiate a discussion. This is precisely happens on my blog regularly. What is your view on this?
Matt: I agree. That is what makes social media so interesting and useful. Stuff like blogs, Twitter, Facebook, etc. have tremendous potential when it comes to interacting with our customers. We learn a lot from them and we use that information to improve our products. This is all good.