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