Construction companies are mostly Business-to-Business concerns. As a result they have been slow to exploit social tools in their businesses on two fronts – construction generally is not an early adopter of new technologies, and the Business-to-Business case for social media has not yet made the same impact as Business-to-Consumer has.
However, in the competitive world of construction, companies must seek out ways to differentiate themselves, and over the last two years some companies have taken steps to set up accounts on platforms. Many of them have failed, perhaps through changes in strategy, or lack of results, or lack of strategy. Twitter is littered with construction accounts tweeting RSS feeds or nothing at all.
Last week I was talking to a friend who had attended one of the many construction events where Paul Wilkinson has been tirelessly talking about Web 2.0 and AEC 2.0, attempting to show that people are using social tools in construction, and for some of them, it is working. As a result, I’m hearing people saying ‘what can we do about this Social media thing?’ more and more often.
Social Media, or more particularly the toolbox of Online Social Tools, do present a threat to the current ways in which our businesses operate. The also offer opportunities for construction firms to bring more value to their clients, referrers, their employees and investors.
As a starting point, here are some thoughts about a few challenges and opportunities social tools might hold for construction companies. I’ve identified some problems which could benefit from a strategic, social approach, and proposed some questions, ideas and potential outcomes for taking such an approach. These are just a few ideas – I’d be interested to hear your thoughts.
1. Customer Relations
Who are your customers? If you are not dealing direct with the public through volume or individual housebuilding it may seem that your customers aren’t using social tools. But you’d be wrong. For example, Linkedin broke the 5m UK membersbarrier in December 2010. Even this most conservative of platforms will have some of your clients using it. Your employees will be using it too. Shouldn’t you be taking a look?
Many public clients such as housing associations are using social tools to communicate with their customers, and a contractor who understands the process will be at an advantage. Examples of how RSLs are using social tools to communicate with tenants recently featured in a Guardian Q&A session. By showing your understanding of, and offering your support to your client’s customer relations, you can differentiate your firm as pro-active and forward looking.
Tip: Find out what your customers and potential customers are doing with social media. Look at their objectives and see how your processes can help. Talk to your customers about their own customer relations. Not only will you develop ways to add value to your offering, you’ll also learn more about what your customers care about.
2. Business Development
Do you know the buyers and influencers in your customer organisations well? Perhaps you currently relate to them at face to face networking events and by doorstepping. Meeting the right people can be a challenge, and keeping in unobtrusive, helpful contact with them even more so. Social tools can help with this.
For an example alternative strategy to the push, see this article. The day it was published I was contacted by a product manufacturer who was about to doorstep a string of architects in Manchester, and realised perhaps there might be another, more constructive way to get new business.
Tip: What are your Business Development people doing online now? You should know because their experience is a resource, and their lack of experience might be a threat to your success. Social tools can widen their networks and make them more visible, and you can use this to your advantage. Take proactive, strategic control of your presence in these tools. Engage with your staff, encourage them to collaborate with each other and use their networks as a company resource. Teach your staff how to talk to architects, clients and consultants in a non-pushy, helpful way, and develop a relationship before you get the RFP.
3. Staff Relations
Your company has ended up with an unofficial employees site on Facebook. What do you do – shut it down?
Staff are the lifeblood of any organisation and their goodwill is carefully managed. Stopping facebook use by your employees is nigh on impossible. Social tools are an everyday part of life and a natural extension of your employees’ social life, so take a more practical approach which will put the use of them to your advantage.
The large architectural firm HOK have made a success of integrating their employees social presences on Facebook and other platforms. They have a ‘Life at HOK’ blog with employee contributors from across the firms many offices, and their facebook presence is ‘HOK Careers’. Linking these two platforms together creates valuable content by employees and produces a place on facebook where employees are proud to belong.
Tip: Listen to what is happening. Specialist tools can help you do this and monitor for problems. Talk to your employees about how they use these tools and develop a practical useage policy. Use public forums to demonstrate what a good employer you are, and turn your employees into advocates and recruiters. The facebook page becomes a recruiting tool and a brand asset.
4. Investor Relations
Your investors are listening for early warnings of problems and opportunities with your company. Where are they doing this? One place will be online. At the same time, journalists are increasingly using tools like twitter to search for stories. Who is going to find the story first?
Tip: Anticipate what your investors hear with listening tools, so that you can respond proactively, offer solutions and engage with your investors to their benefit and yours. Monitor sentiment about your brand, set targets for your PR department, record achievements and learn from your mistakes. The internet is your early warning tool to avert crises.
All of these examples imply a strategic approach to using social media to company advantage. If you aren’t taking a strategic, company-wide approach, don’t assume your people are not online, with your competitors, advocates and clients. Listen to what is happening and make plans now. You’ll be ahead of the game.
Image: Watch Your Step! By lemuelinchrist
Robert Wright says
Interesting article. Haven’t had time to go through any of your previous stuff but have picked up on some of the work done at Pauley Creative in regards to construction and social media – provides a good downloadable guide: http://blog.pauleycreative.co.uk/
Pauley Creative’s ebook is a useful read. I understand they have a campaign going to get Grant Shapps to retweet it. He’s resisting!
Pritesh Patel says
It’s now been 326 days since (http://www.hasgrantshappsretweetedourebook.co.uk/) we’ve been asking Grant to RT our ebook. He’s even gone and done a video and published it on YouTube telling Landlords about the benefits of Social Media, yet he won’t even RT our ebook!
Our ebook is here BTW: http://www.pauleycreative.co.uk/construction-marketers-guide-ebook/
I’ll let you know when he RT’s it.
The question you have to ask yourself, Pritesh, is ‘Why would he?’
David Tucker says
Social media for developers and estate agents is a really un-tapped market, so we’ve started a service to help everyone
Get in touch if you want to know more!
Thanks for commenting on the blog post. I’m a little disappointed that your comment consists entirely of a direct advert for your services however.
David Tucker says
Very good point – we thought this article said it all! But if we have five tips for construction companies embarking on a social media programme it would be these:
1. Write about what you know
2. Remember who you’re writing it for
3. Don’t re-tweet unless you know it’s true
4. Grow your followers organically, and don’t use automated programs
5. Don’t Tweet when you’ve had a glass of wine on a Friday night *
(* very important this one!!!)
Thanks for providing some value David. I think I’d agree with all of the above!
Peter L Masters MCIM says
Hi Su, I loved that you say Paul has been talking tirelessly about Web 2.0 to construction and believe me when I say I know it’s more than a challenge.
I too, have spent hours with directors of construction companies and related fields and they simply can’t get to grips with change, despite the fact that their companies have been devalued, their workforce has been cut and their future is looking tough at best, they are still not very open minded to new ideas and to me it’s tragic.
One particular company I was very keen to help out are still spending about £50,000 per annum on a magazine that they publish. They’ve been publishing it for years, but they’ve no idea how many people read it, if any and they’ve no idea if they’ve ever received any business as a consequence of it’s publication. That is not good marketing and it’s not cheap either.
I told them, a Blog would do the job much better, much cheaper and all the news would be new and not 6 months old, plus the posts would be on Google forever, not in a recycling bin somewhere.
Have they made changes based on my lengthy FREE consultation? No, of course not!
Having said that, Discovery Channel’s Emmy Nominated ‘Dirty Jobs’ presenter, Mike Rowe, has put together a Social Media hub, called TradesHub, for construction trades people to put their Blogs and that’s getting a fair bit of attention. I was one of the first Bloggers to be invited and it’s growing very well. Maybe there’s hope?
Some people embrace change, others don’t! What can we do??
Good post Su, thank you, best regards, Peter
Philippa Grantham (architect) says
We have been using social media for a year now, not perfectly by any stretch of the imagination. However, we talked about what we have been doing at the LCEC with Paul Wilkinson as a case study. I will be putting my slides from the talk up on our blog this week http://www.blog.studioklaschka.com – but we aren’t experts! It might be useful to some people though.
Thank you for sharing your content Philippa, do pop back and post a direct link when it’s up, so that visitors can find it easily.
What would you say are the key things you’ve learned from your year’s experiment?
Mike Jolley says
Construction companies can use social media to establish their expertise within the sector. The nature of social media is conversational. People go onto the various channels to learn new information, engage with others, extend their network, and find solutions to problems that they have. The construction companies that win with social media will be those that create and distribute content that answers the questions that people have and solve the problems that they experience. This will position the business as the ‘authority’ or an expert within that marketplace. Social Media is a perpetual conversation so companies need to continually produce and distribute relevant content to stay in the conversation. When consumers come to the buying decision – or they know some , they will recall the insights that they have received from a certain brand or business and choose them themselves or recommend to a friend/connection/follower.
A great way of achieving this expert recognition is to create short videos that answer clients frequently asked questions, and then post these to YouTube & other social sites. Tag and title the videos for the keywords that your customers will be looking for. Then add a “Call To Action” at the end of the videos, such as: “If you found this information useful- you can get more info like it at http://www.mywebsite.com“. Then create some kind of ‘lead capture’ on your website, where you give something away in exchange for an email address or phone number. Then follow up with that lead (automatically) – offering further insight and expertise via video, e-mail, or even text message.
Once you have had at least 5 communications with a prospect/lead, start to upsell your own products and services and tell them about offers that you have.
If any construction companies would like help with this, or other conversaion strategies of how to make money from Social Media, get in touch with Mike at Jump Social Media – [email protected]
Hope this helps!!
Philippa Grantham (architect) says
Hi – ok I will do a direct link later this week.
I think you have to stick at it, it’s a long term investment of time and is about relationships that build slowly and trust I guess takes time… your netwrok of contacts will grow but if they are to be relevant then not over night. I also think it is imortant to have a real person at the end of all social media – and to actually meet up in person with people to. Everyone says content is the key, which is very true, so you need to make sure you get involved in the industry so that you have somethng to say. Although sharing links is also useful to everyone. I think it goes to show that it’s the doing that counts……… and the knowledge sharing. I think there are a lot of talented interesting people in the world that hide away, have poor social and communication skills and don’t engage. I have yet to meet you Su! BUT sure it won’t be long!
Niki Rosenbaum says
We’ve been using social media for 2 years now, including a lively Facebook page, Blogger account and Twitter feed where we interact on all sort of topics. We’ve got followers on all of these who are neither employees or clients, but people who just like to read what we have to say. We also refresh our website regularly with up to date news and images, to keep things energised and create feedback. We’ve used Twitter and Facebook to generate feedback for articles in our company newsletters, share information and updates, and we have followers from all around the World.
If anyone wants to know how it’s done, we’re happy to tell you – be yourselves, be honest, involve your teams, communicate with great energy and NEVER ignore anyone with something to share.
james Butterworth says
interesting blog, I think what alot of companies (not just construction) think is that there are few immediate and direct sales and so dont like to spend a lot of times using it?!
I believe social network sites are just that, a way to network in an organic way not a place to give a sales pitch.
Thanks for posting your point here as well as commenting on twitter. Must get the Disqus comments sorted on this site so it is automatic…
I agree with you wholeheartedly on both points. As Philippa and others have mentioned above, it is a slow process, not a get rich quick scheme. Unfortunately there have been plenty of snake oil salesmen trying to convince people otherwise.
The purpose of my post was to start making connections between the existing strategies of construction companies and these new tools, an altogether healthier approach. Whilst these tools are different and don’t work for a ‘push’ approach, they are a natural extension of what good companies are doing already.
Niki Rosenbaum says
Great comment James, and the sooner people start interacting on social media and using it as a conversational tool rather than ‘talking at’ their audience, the better the results they will see and feel in their relationships with employees and clients.
Paul Wilkinson says
Thanks for the link, Su. As you know, I have been running social media workshops for construction organisations and a common question is “how to make an easy start?”, and I think your points about customer and investor relations could be amplified.
Sometimes Twitter and other online discussions are among the first places that you will find conversations happening about you and your organisation or its services, products or project. If those conversations are negative then you need to respond – and quickly – to the points or criticisms being made (Eurostar, for example, initially failed to hear the increasingly angry comments on Twitter from stranded passengers at Folkstone 18 months ago). So, as you say, you can think of social media as one of the tools that you might use for crisis management.
This isn’t just about reputation management; it is also about maintaining your market position. In business, failure to ‘listen’ (ie monitor) can quickly mean you hand a gilt-edged opportunity to your competitors, who – if they are switched-on and social media-savvy – won’t just be keeping an eye on what’s said about them; they will also be monitoring what’s said by and/or about key rivals, ie: competitive intelligence.
So as a start, I advise businesses to routinely monitor social media comment about competitors (simple Google Alerts can be one tool, for example), so they can respond quickly if, say, a competitor gets into difficulties. For a start, you don’t want to get tarred with the same brush if the criticisms make sweeping generalisations about your industry sector, but if they allow you to explain why your business is different (ie better), then you may reap a competitive advantage.
Niki Rosenbaum says
I’m of the opinion that Grant Shapps resists everything that passes for common sense.
The link to this post has, as I post, been clicked on 274 times – click for statistics
Ian Simpson says
I think one of the main reasons social media in the UK is slow on the uptake in the construction industry is because they’re all too Americanised and the Yanks don’t half talk some rubbish.
Say social media and the Yanks are on it like fleas on a turd.
Then you have a catch 22 because all the social media sites target the American market.
I have read through a few groups on Linked in and i pitty most of the people on there.
I would honestly worry about them if i saw them on a construction site.
Brits are too straight forward and logical about making money in construction and at the moment there’s too much carbage to wade through to make social media a viable option.
Then you have all this querky gobble-de-gook they talk on these sites.
You almost have to learn a new language to understand anyone.
It has a long way to go yet and could start by being simple, straight forward and to the point.
Philippa Grantham (architect) says
A direct link to my new blog post… http://blog.studioklaschka.com/?p=395 including slides from the London Construcing Excellence Club talk last week which I spoke at with Paul.
Thanks Philippa, I like the video extracts you’ve linked to as well. Have you had much good feedback from the event? I noticed that Robert was on a BIM roundtable for NBS last week, another win!
Philippa Grantham (architect) says
Hi Su – hope you had a good weekend.
We had good feedback at the LCEC event – seems a lot of people are still only just starting to get involved in Social Media and a few people said they could understand why it was worth getting involved in after the event.
Interestingly – our average blog visits per day is 80 but on the 19th of May when I posted about the LCEC event as above, we got 224 visists.
Robert does quite a few industry round tables in relation to BIM. The NBS blog is a great resource for all… http://nbsbrightsparks.wordpress.com
Sean McVey says
Thanks for the advice Su. I just found your blog today and I’ve already learned much about marketing for architects.
I’ve been studying trends on how professional services firm are using social media and other online marketing tactics. Some are moving more quickly than others, but the AEC world seems to be very with it. Some people underestimate the potential to find partners and clients from platforms such as LInkedIn and Twitter. I think you, and others like you are proving that interacting and sharing information online is a prime method for generating visibility.
Social media has been set up for social networking. Many of the tools available do not fit well into a business marketing strategy. If you have enough contacts posts fast become streams of gibberish that few have time to read even 5% off. As for blogs, there are thousands of them. You need ability and marketing skill to attract a CONSTANT audience.
Nothing beats referrals and building up networks person to person.
With Social media, and internet generally, you need to have a very clear strategy of the market you are aiming at, and how to turn the virtual contacts into real contacts.
Time for Sunday lunch with some friends.
Great article, Sue,
As I’m sure everyone is aware, a lot of social media is visual and smart-phones make it really easy to capture the moment.
Unfortunately, if the only tool to hand is a hammer, every opportunity starts to look like a nail.
It’s always worth remembering that the photographs which capture the quality of your work, are the ones created carefully by an experienced architectural photographer with a pride in their work.
So the next time your social media guru, web designer or PR company ask for top notch images you can be proud of, it will be great if you have a library of stunning images to hand.
And of course I’d love to have a chat about that….