Cut to the chase. Is the construction industry ready for social media? My answer is simple…No…..not yet anyway!! After attending the Social Media in the Built Environment workshop on Wednesday and the Construction Marketing event on Thursday it is clear to me that we, as marketers, are still too early for adopting a social media strategy for maximising business benefits and for strengthening relationships. Social media within the construction industry is at the ‘newborn’ stage and people are still unfamiliar with the whole concept, they are still looking around for answers and examples and success stories to build a framework upon.
Unfortunately I don’t think there is a wrong or right way of using social media. Every business operates in a unique way and all possess their own unique corporate cultures. It’s up to you as a marketer to be clever, unique, creative and experiment with social media and work out for yourself how this tool can help leverage your business.
My aim from attending this event was to get as much insight from other marketers within the industry on social media, some of the barriers they face and ultimately their own perception of social media. Do their thoughts match mine? It is also clear that the industry and the marketers within the industry are still yet to learn how social media can fit in, what social media represents and how it can be integrated as part of the marketing mix. There is a lot of education required. The number of people I had conversations with that started off with the phrase “Twitter, I just don’t get it”. The problem is that you will not get ‘it’ until you have experimented with ‘it’. We all use Twitter in a different way, some use it to promote their business, some use it to source information, some use it to build a network of like minded people and some use it to just listen to conversations.
So, problem number 1: Education. Lack of awareness of Social Media tools in the construction industry and exactly how they work and can be used.
The day 1 workshop event was very interesting. Chairing the event was @rosssturley, (Principal for Chart Lane) and he asked the first question of the day:
“How many of you (room of 28 delegates) use Twitter and tweet regularly?”
Only a few hands went up. Shocking in my opinion. As marketers should it not be in our blood to keep up with the ‘modern methods of marketing’ and social media being one of them? Ok, it’s understandable that most people will be there to learn more about Twitter and what it is but surely the best way of learning is to use it for yourself right? Twitter is free so why hold back? It didn’t take long for it to become apparent that the major concern was “What do I tweet about?” or “What do I say?”. Ahem, don’t get me wrong but we all have something to say on a personal level, corporate level and business level. Your telling me that when you go to the pub you sit their quietly? When you are at work you sit their quietly? When you go to marketing events you don’t talk to anyone? Again, there is no right way or wrong way of using Twitter. You only have to look at the presentation by Su Butcher (Practice Manager, Barefoot and Giles) and its clear that yes you do have to set objectives if your using it for business use but if you are merely experimenting on a personal level then their are no objectives. Play, use, test and engage with others. Keyword here is ‘engage’.
So, problem number 2: Too many marketers are afraid to get stuck in play, test, engage and keep up with new ways of marketing.
Finally, the room of 28 people also included some Managing Directors. Yes, believe it or not there were some c-level execs sitting in the same room wanting to embrace social media and to learn more about it. This bought a tear to my eye. No it didn’t really, but it was a very very encouraging sign that there are c-level execs wanting to learn about digital marketing and in particular social media. So the final barrier which is common amongst a large proportion of delegates over the two days is ‘buy in from c-level execs’. The pace of change is moving far too quickly for some c-level execs and because they are unfamiliar with the whole concept of social media, it fails to get adopted. The argument to this is “Are marketers failing to present a solid enough business case for utilising social media?”
This recession has forced many businesses within the construction industry to reshape business models, cut marketing budgets, cut staffing and revise strategies. Revising strategies means looking at low-cost marketing tactics and more and more c-level execs demanding ROI from their marketing departments. The problem here is that the new low cost initiatives being adopted are pushed ‘bottom to top’ up the chain of hierarchy rather than the usual ‘top to bottom’ flow. C-level execs look bemused when you mention Twitter in the workplace or SEO tactics or even Blogging (see the Red Cube Marketing presentation on Blogging by @gemmawent). Also, because of c-level execs failure to fully understand social media for business benefits they also realise that ‘corporate cultures’ will need to change too. How many marketers do not have access to Twitter, LinkedIn or Facebook at work? It’s a culture which needs to change.
So, finally problem number 3: Obtaining buy in from c-level execs is proving to be difficult amongst many marketers.
In summary, my opinion is that it is still early as people within the construction industry familiarise themselves with Twitter, Linkedin, Blogging and Facebook. Those who build a strong enough boat now will be ready to take on the storm when it arrives. However, marketers need to realise that they need to learn quickly. Social media tools available now will move on in a few months time and you will find yourself forever playing catch up. My message to marketing professionals is go out there, try it, test, play with it, engage with others, learn from others and use your intelligence to decide how it will fit in to your business.