Less width, more depth

Yesterday evening I talked to London Constructing Excellence Club, the capital’s branch of Constructing Excellence, on the subject of social media. (There are more than 40 of these clubs around the UK, all focused on improving the way the architecture, engineering and construction (AEC) industry delivers its projects, and – as a result – generally comprised of people who take a more progressive approach, eschewing adversarial ways of working and perhaps instead looking to employ more collaborative partnering- or framework-type approaches.)

About 35 people attended the meeting, and I started by asking how many were on Facebook. About half put their hands up, but only two kept them up when I asked “who uses Facebook as part of their business networking?” Enthusiasm for LinkedIn was higher – about 75% of the audience put up their hands – but Twitter barely figured: only two people admitted to using Twitter. Undeterred, I ploughed on and delivered my talk (a slightly updated version of my presentation to the SMAEC training day last week).

I may have opened a few people’s eyes. I’ve received feedback from the evaluation forms completed after I finished answering questions, and they were generally quite positive:

  • a great event – pertinent and thought provoking
  • very interesting but worrying in terms of the information now out in cyberspace
  • first event and thought the speaker was excellent – content of the presentation very useful for networking
  • very interesting and informative look into technology
  • useful but daunting!
  • limited relevance
  • presenter very good and enthusiastic – took away some fresh ideas, would have liked more contractual focus
  • very interesting and insightful – of use – different social media avenues available, perhaps more detail on how exactly could assist in the construction industry
  • good questions and afterwards link … to use – the Q&A was useful
  • excellent and very informative
  • exciting times!
  • Alternatives to the headline network sites – case studies of how construction orgs are using social media would be helpful

I draw a couple of other conclusions from these reactions:

  • limited relevance” – Talking regularly about social media in the architecture, engineering and construction industry, I get this kind of reaction regularly, so it comes as no surprise (indeed, I would be more surprised if I didn’t get such an opinion!). But it was encouraging that only one such view was reported.
  • more practical examples needed – My presentation included some personal insights and corporate examples like HOK, Crittall Windows, the RIBApedia, Building magazine’s discussion forum, the Building network and its bloggers, plus around a dozen AEC-specific applications such as EarthExchange, Pachube and YouCanPlan, but it seems there weren’t enough of them, and that people perhaps wanted a little more depth to the information about some of these construction-specific solutions.

Given the apparent widespread awareness and use of some of the mainstream social networking platforms, I may in future briefly acknowledge Facebook and LinkedIn, but then look in more detail at (a) how AEC firms are deploying solutions and deriving practical benefits, and (b) how software developers are creating applications specifically to address the needs of architects, contractors, facilities managers and others. This may be useful advice for other social media enthusiasts to apply when they are trying to evangelise about Web 2.0 and its applicability to the AEC sector.

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