The ripples from my talk at last week’s CIMCIG event have yet to stop. To date, the Ustream recording has had 76 views, the SlideShare deck has had 345 views, and I’ve had some interesting emails. In one missive, the writer wonders about the relevance of social media to us construction folk:
One of my concerns is the rate of uptake of social media by businesses. Our own research although conducted on a small scale shows a high level of resistance to social media – architects, it seems, being the exception! In the current economic climate I am finding that driving new media is like driving Miss Daisy! Without proof of ROI nobody is willing to commit! A bit like ‘sustainability’, unless it’s backed by legislation it’s just a marketing gimmick! So the question is: who’s buying it?
I am not sure that it is completely a case of resistance. In many cases, it is simply a lack of awareness of the opportunities presented by social media. It is tempting for businesses, for example, particularly in a time of recession, to believe that social media could be distracting and time-wasting, as opposed to potentially opening up new and cost-effective channels of communication. By educating businesses in the architecture, engineering and construction (AEC) sector, it is possible that some of this apparent resistance may be overcome.
There are also parallels with the introduction of websites, I think. In the early 1990s, it was common for companies to restrict employee access to the web on the basis that it had little relevance to business. However, it quickly became an important additional channel of communication, and now no business worth its salt is without a website, and most employees are now trusted (within policies governing acceptable internet use) to access the web at work.
We may see the same happen with some social media. Judging from feedback among some of my AEC contacts (see also Blogs, Twitter, social networking: your new business tools), LinkedIn is growing in importance as a means of professional networking, as are some AEC-oriented networks, blogs and discussion boards, and some firms are already noticing significant improvements in their website search engine performance through deployment of blogs, RSS and Twitter.
And even if firms still prefer to ignore social media, in my opinion, they should be aware of its potential to manage threats and opportunities just in case they are suddenly presented by issues – criticism in blogs, YouTube videos of employee malpractice (Domino’s) or poor customer service (United Airlines – below, 5.5 million view so far!), Facebook abuse of customers (Dixons/PCWorld – not Comet, as I mistakenly said in my talk last week), Flickr photos of poor health and safety, malicious rumours spread by Twitter, etc – that are best countered by prompt social media engagement.
There are also competitors out there. If your business decides “social media is not for us”, doesn’t that open up opportunities for your competitors to step into the vacuum? If you are not talking about your specialist products, services and skills, you may find others are talking about their’s and catching the eyes and ears of potential customers or their trusted influencers.
As a PR practitioner in the AEC sector, I also look at the take-up of social media by a good proportion of my AEC journalist contacts. If they are employing the tools and techniques then it is obvious that I (and therefore other businesses that want to deal with the same journalists) should be using these channels to engage with them, particularly as some existing channels (eg: magazine editorial, display advertising) are potentially diminishing in importance (the subject, incidentally, of a forthcoming CIMCIG event with International Building Press at London’s Building Centre on 15 October).