Dianne Kibbey

Premier Farnell’s Dianne Kibbey on building an online community for design engineers

We sat down with Premier Farnell Global Head of Community Dianne Kibbey to talk about element14, their online community for design engineers. Dianne's been a member of SocialMedia.org since 2010.

“Engineers will never talk in an online community.”

That was the skepticism Dianne Kibbey, Premier Farnell's Global Head of Community, met from industry experts when they set out to launch element14, a first-of-its-kind online community for electronic design engineers.

Luckily, those skeptics were wrong.

I think we've learned that engineers are indeed a great group to have on social. They're very vocal, they're very opinionated, and they're extremely intelligent,” Dianne explains.

element14 has three major goals for Premier Farnell: bring in new customers, gain a greater understanding of the engineering audience, and drive sales.

At Premier Farnell, they market and distribute electronics — basically, they supply the stuff that engineers use in their technical designs.

“An online community offers a much better way to do that with the new generation and how they communicate,” says Dianne.

With over 270,000 registered users from over 42 countries, element14 is for professionals as well as enthusiasts, or “makers.”

“It's really about creating a place for them to learn about new technology, get familiar with new products coming to market, and help each other solve problems,” she says.

The cornerstones of their community: Road Tests and Design Challenges

“Everyone's always wary of new products coming to market, but especially engineers. What if they put the new products in their designs and then it doesn't work?”

Dianne says that's what made Road Tests (their program to bring new products from manufacturers to engineers for test drives) especially appealing on element14. Once engineers have tried out the new product, they leave incredibly detailed descriptions of their experiences.

For their Design Challenges, Dianne's team will issue a challenge to use their manufacturers' products to create projects based on hot topics like home automation, wireless technology, and the Internet of things.

“It's been absolutely amazing to see the inventions our members are coming up with.”

For example, one engineer created a “brainwave appliance controller” — a device that you can wear on your head and control household appliances through your thoughts.

As an electronics distributor, element14 helps Premier Farnell become a great resource for design engineers as well as manufacturers.

Their close-knit relationship with design engineers on element14 has helped them become something of a liaison between the customer and the manufacturer. Dianne says her team communicates with manufacturers, suppliers, and product marketers in bimonthly insight sessions.

“If a manufacturer is going to launch a brand new development kit for engineers, they want to launch it on the element14 community,” says Dianne.

“That's something that helps us stand apart from our competition.”

Each year, element14's participation rate has increased by about 50 percent.

As for the customers that come through the community, about half of them are new. That's not only a huge success for the community's three major goals, but also a sign that element14 is reaching that new generation of engineers.

Dianne explains how she maintains support and resources internally for the program by staying very vocal and communicative of these big successes. For now, element14 is run by relatively small teams that handle moderation, development, and content.

Dianne says she looks forward to element14 becoming a hub for innovation.

“The maker movement has so much relevance to the electronics industry,” she says.

“Innovation is coming out at the most rapid pace it ever has because so many people have access to technology, communities, and social media where they can learn. It used to take many years worth of education to design something new, but now information is so readily available online in open collaborative communities. Members can contribute to and improve upon each other's ideas and designs. We see element14 becoming an innovation hub — taking designs from the community and helping them take it to market.

Say hello to Dianne on Twitter and ask about some of her favorite ideas and innovations for IOT or home automation.