Is the construction industry ready for social media? No!

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.

7 thoughts on “Is the construction industry ready for social media? No!

  1. pwcom

    As a contributor to the SMAEC event, and as someone who first started trying to explain the potential of Social Media to AEC PRs/marketeers more than a year ago, I share your frustration. But there has been movement over the past year.

    The number of AEC Twitter users has undoubtedly grown, and there are even household names (Tarmac) that are using Twitter as part of their communications mix. The construction industry is a large and fragmented sector (lots of SMEs) and it takes time to educate many of its marketing people, particularly when they have been struggling in one of the deepest recessions in living memory. Given that Web 2.o can be very cost-effective, it is perhaps surprising that it hasn’t been adopted more widely, and I think the C-level tier is at least partly to blame.

    My Crittall Windows example is informative here, as its Web 2.0 initiative was led by its managing director who saw me talk at a CIMCIG event last February. With his ‘sponsorship’, I led a half-day workshop and provided some mentoring support and Crittall Windows John Keleher is now a well-known voice in AEC, using Twitter and blogs and other tools.

    We certainly need more examples of such leadership. We also need more case studies and anecdotes of how Web 2.0 has helped AEC businesses build sales pipelines, improve their online reputation, manage crises, etc, etc. I attended a B2B social media conference at Dell in December, and it was noticeable that hardly any benefits examples came from B2B – most came from the B2C sector.

    It is high time AEC PRs and marketers took time to learn about the tools and techniques, the netiquette of using them and the opportunities and threats. They do not have to do it alone – there are practitioners who can provide consultancy support and training, and the benefits of practical hands-on experience of actually using the tools to augment and support communications projects.

    Your final paragraph also reflects a favourite message of mine. It is no use burying your head in the sand and hoping it will go away. Better to be preparing some foundations and getting your businesses ready to use an appropriate mix of techniques, because if you don’t your competitors will. You may end up facing a tough battle to retain your existing customers and to lure new ones already engaged in conversations elsewhere.

  2. @AdamsonMarland

    A really good article, and some insightful comments. pwcom speaks a lot of sense when he mentions about the challenges of educating the construction industry.

    I am the MD of 2 SME building contractors, and decided to get “into” social media only in November, opening a Twitter account.

    My companies are part of the “long tail” of construction, and whilst we have been hit very hard over the last 18 months by the economic downturn, there have been one or two positive stories around recently. The mood, however, is still one of great caution, and none of my peers are saying that we are “on the up” again just yet.

    With this in mind, I do think you will see more and more SME’s from the construction sector becoming more proficient through their use of social media, but as always, it will be those that see the opportunity and the benefits.

    Personally, I see it not so much as a tool to sell directly (we are B2B) but as a means of building relationships, strengthening our brand, and complementing our marketing mix. If it does get us tendering opportunities, of course, then great!

    It’s early days for us, but in 3 months, I’ve followed loads of threads with great interest, and taken inspiration from lots of people. Equally importantly….it’s actually quite enjoyable!

  3. priteshpatel9

    Thanks for your comments guys. Much appreciated.

    Paul, you mention that AEC PRs and marketers need to take the time to learn about the tools and techniques and using them, my problem is that ‘taking the time’ can take so long. By the time marketers in the construction industry have fully understood social media and the tools that go with it there will be something new around the corner and it means doing it all over again.

    People and businesses need to realise marketing has changed and is still changing, marketing moves quicker than the pace at which the construction industry is adopting new marketing techniques and technologies. We will forever be playing catch up and there will always be someone out there doing it better. Digital marketing is changing rapidly and as we all try to dabble at it we will end up doing it ineffectively.

    I mean just to give you an idea of the pace of change there is something coming our way real fast…and it’s called Web 3.0!

    Scary hey?

  4. pwcom

    I did qualify my comments about ‘taking time’ to say there were practitioners who can help. Get a consultant on board who can help you ‘fast-track’ your learning so that you don’t have to learn from your own mistakes, but can build on the learning of others. Experienced SM users will often also have found ways to be more effective or efficient, through, for example, use of Tweetdeck to manage multiple accounts, do searches, etc, or use of RSS and maybe Yahoo Tubes to create tailor-made monitoring and reporting dashboards. Thus, rather than ‘dabbling’, AEC people can learn from others (and perhaps also from other, more forward-thinking industries) and keep abreast of the developments.

    Failure to do so could result in still being at Web 1.5, when others are learning about Web 3.0!

  5. Scott Scanlon

    I would argue that there is more technology and complexity in construction then there is in social media engagement or online marketing.

    For an industry that is slow to change I can see how this can be a challenge.

    Social media is part of your web strategy. Your web strategy is part of your marketing strategy.

    To me its rather simple though, having a clear cut strategic goal and starting small. I’ve worked with mid sized builders and they have had success as a direct to consumer model. The B2B aspect of social media is still in the wild west stage.

  6. Nick Pauley

    In all industries there are pioneers. Savvy individuals that dare to tread the path least trodden.
    I salute those who take the plunge, but I respect only those who persist, those who build their boats both strong and early as Pritesh suggests.

    Persistent early adopters define best practice, create the knowledge, build experience, develop process and gain exposure. And by definition they force the rest of the industry to play catch up. They lead and, if they keep measuring and testing, they win. It’s all very well being the first to everything but if you don’t measure, test and update you will soon fall behind.

    I agree with what’s been said already; get involved now, fast track your learning by hiring a professional, share best practice and so on. I also completely agree that you will need to define your social media engagement in a strategic sense and then integrate the resulting strategy into your wider digital marketing strategy as identified by Scott [in his post above].

    And by your wider digital marketing strategy I don’t just mean the online stuff like websites, web apps, Social Media , email etc I include the supporting offline tactics like regular C-RM input, telephones, face to face meetings, direct mail and so on.

    Truly consistent business success is achieved through planning and research. A thoroughly integrated digital marketing strategy identified and implemented over time is a beast to be reckoned with. And any strategy which is driven by timely, relevant content (and deeply relevant content at that) will achieve a great many things.

    These things undoubtedly take time to conceive – make time, I say – It’s a cliche I’m afraid but there’s no time like the present if you wish to get ahead.

    Interesting, relevant content will mark the difference between effective engagement (social or otherwise) and making a noise. And now you mention it, aside from not needing installed software anymore, Web 3.0’s push/pull dynamics will demand relevant, focused content from your marketing messages otherwise your efforts will go down like a bad trip in a Welsh dressing room!

  7. Will Mann

    Speaking as someone who worked/works in the construction media, I think part of the problem is a culture within the industry of people being reluctant to ‘put their heads above the parapet’.

    It was often an almighty struggle to get a company to talk about a great innovation or project they had worked on.

    The same was true when I set up the old Contract Journal forum – with a few honourable exceptions, who have since followed me across to The Construction Index.

    And if you go back to pre-internet days, getting people to write letters or express opinions or promote themselves in any way was surprisingly difficult.

    But those that did/do, would always feel the benefit from a marketing/PR perspective.

    I guess we have the same battle on our hands now.


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