In earlier columns, I highlighted the value of online communities and their ability to connect people with similar expertise. The successful communities typically grow into the thousands and have many people actively participating by asking questions, providing answers and linking to interesting information available on the Web.
LinkedIn is a vibrant place for many of the professional groups, including those that deal with automation, which is one of the discussion areas that is a good source for Emerson Process Experts blog posts.
A quick check to see how many valve-related LinkedIn groups were active revealed a long list. At the time this article was written, the top five were Valve World Group with 3,052 members, Valve Network with 2,615 members, Valve Sales with 1,262 members, Valve Solutions with 995 members, and Valve Actuation Group with 759 members (see listings for these at the end of this column).
Together, that’s a lot of people sharing what they know on the subject of valves. A good way to see how useful the individual sites are is to look at a sampling of some of the discussions currently taking place.
The Valve World Group community is described as, “...a platform for valve professionals in the global process industries to exchange knowledge and offer networking opportunities.” Its discussions range from asking for suggestions for suppliers for specified valves, to suppliers sharing their recent white papers, to people new to the industry asking how to gain experience in the valve industry. The Valve Manufacturers Association and VMA.org website were highlighted by many respondents as an excellent resource for people new to process automation.
The rest of these groups require membership to see what’s available in the discussion threads. LinkedIn allows group owners the choice whether to have open groups or not. If open, anyone can view information about the group, but not participate unless he or she is a member. If the goal of these groups is to be broad based and easily findable through search queries, administrators are well served to open up their groups.
Each of the five groups mentioned above has a description that may help in deciding if they are valuable. For example, Valve Network is described as, “...a global networking platform for marketing, sales, development, design and manufacturing professionals dealing with valves and control valves.”
Valve Sales describes its purpose as, “...for sales professionals within the valve industry, to network and job search.” The Valve Solutions group shares its mission as, “...to offer a platform where piping & design engineers, flow professionals, process & operations personnel from various upstream & downstream manufacturing plants can interact with each other and seek flow solutions to various process applications.” Finally, the Valve Actuation Group, “...is for actuator, valve, control valve, instrumentation and automation experts in the global process industries. Through the group, members can develop their professional networks, transfer knowledge and share experiences.”
In just this small sampling of LinkedIn groups, you can see the focused communities for valve manufacturers, valve sales professionals, and project and plant engineers. If you are in one of these groups, it may be worth a look to join the community—it costs nothing except your time. You can configure your group settings to get a daily or weekly summary of the discussions sent to your work or personal email. I find these email summaries helpful so that I can view what’s being said on my own time and to get a quick sense for the conversations occurring in the community.
There is also no cost to start one of these communities, so if you have an area of specialization, you can easily become administrator for your own group. And the fact they can be open or closed to different degrees can be helpful in targeting the discussion. For example, if the knowledge you want to share is strictly for people inside your company, it makes sense to start this community inside your own firewall. Many enterprise software products also are adding their own capabilities for forums, status updates and other social forms of communication. In addition, open source software such as Wordpress and the BuddyPress provide a way to quickly enable knowledge-sharing sites inside your own firewall.
These online communities continue to grow in popularity because they are easily discovered through search engines. If you’re searching and land upon a thread that helps solve a problem, it’s possible you will end up joining the community to help you solve future problems.
Email most likely will remain a dominant form of business communication for the foreseeable future. But, as these online communities spring to life and add capabilities, their appeal will grow. Email is limited by who is already in your address book, and how easy it is to find information by digging through your archives. Online communities connect people with common knowledge and interests together from across the world. By and large, if the community is open, the content is fully indexed in the search engines and waiting to be discovered.
I hope you’ll give one of the mentioned valve communities a try to see whether or not it adds value. If it does, I encourage you to seek more value by getting your fellow experts to join.
JIM CAHILL leads Emerson Process Management’s social media efforts and writes the Emerson Process Experts blog: www.EmersonProcessXperts.com.
VMA and Valve Magazine on the Web
As columnist Jim Cahill has noted, many in the industry are aware that the Valve Manufacturers Association has a website—www.VMA.org—that contains much useful information and resources. The same can be said of Valve Magazine’s website, www.ValveMagazine.com, in which we post Web-exclusive articles, new products, frequent news updates about valve manufacturing, end-user news and more.
We’d also like to remind readers that we have been posting digital editions of the magazine online since 2008 (www.ValveMagazine-digital.com). This can be a great way to find articles that include information you are seeking, using a keyword search.
Finally, we have plans to start our own group in LinkedIn, which will be active by the end of the year. Our focus will be on connecting U.S. and Canadian valve, actuator and control manufacturers with those who specify, purchase, maintain, operate, distribute and use these products.