Attitudes to social media in UK construction remain conservative, but it cannot be ignored for much longer, and here’s why.
In October the CIC 2050 Group’s Construction Industry Survey reported that 60% of respondents felt Social Media was not being used appropriately by the industry. Not surprising perhaps, but views on what ‘appropriately’ meant varied considerably, with respondents polarised between the enthusiasts and those who felt social media use should be discouraged.
These results mirror my own experience working as a consultant for three years since leaving a career in architectural management. Many construction companies have a prescriptive approach to the subject; occasionally there is enthusiasm from marketing or HR, but I’m often asked to help convince the board. Meanwhile, unbeknownst to the company, advocate employees work ‘under the radar’ using social media to help them in their day-to-day work and career development.
Why is there this disconnect between senior management and employees on the subject? My personal view is that restrictive ‘thou shalt not’ social media policies are a knee-jerk reaction, reflecting a lack of understanding of what social media is and what it can do. In some companies HR is encouraged to produce a policy to ‘hold back the tide’ for fear of losing control. Understandable, but ultimately futile; control is already lost.
So what is social media and why is it so powerful? Social media is people having conversations and publishing on the Internet. The conversations make the web different, credible, dynamic and evolving. As a result we can now find all sorts of information from talking to people online, anywhere in the world. We have new communications tools with the potential to change our industry as profoundly as email and become as familiar as the telephone.
Social Media is not just a fad; it has become an intrinsic part of the Internet and therefore a part of all our lives. Imagine a conversation where a person or concept is mentioned about which you know very little and want to know more. The impulse to ‘Google’ the subject is great. Instead of finding static web pages, we now find Linkedin profiles, conversations on Twitter and Facebook, or mentions in the comment sections of blogs. People are talking about things, including us.
As the construction industry faces a growing skills shortage and we seek to grow our way out of the recession, the competition for candidates hots up. How will we attract these candidates, and how will they find out about us? I think they will do it online.
By the end of the decade 50% of our workforce will be Millennials; they will have grown up with technologies that were new to us. Interacting on social media comes naturally to Millenials. Just as they now use it in their personal lives, when they enter the workforce they will want to take the advantages of hyper-connectivity and new social structures and apply them to the challenges of their work lives, including finding work.
Today social media users are building networks across and between companies, continents and disciplines, breaking down the silos that have characterised our industry for so long. During the recession this wasn’t so much an issue, but where people have the opportunity to research an employer and choose where they work, what happens online becomes intrinsic to our chances of recruitment and retention. Employees need to find the right tools to navigate this change, and employers need to be prepared for the journey too.
Perhaps it’s time to stop doing a Canute and start building a boat instead?
This article originally appeared in the February edition of Construction Manager Magazine.