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Mar 02 2010

tCn – The Construction Network launches

tcn-logoLate last year I was contacted by Ryan Briggs, one of the co-founders of a new social network aimed at the construction industry. The Construction Network, or tCn, aims to become the sector’s most exclusive business networking platform and has some big name partners, most notably the Chartered Institute of Building (CIOB). Other construction associations and companies include CIBSE, the ICE, CIAT, Balfour Beatty, Glenigan, Mace and JCB.

tCn is being launched this week (2-4 March) at the Ecobuild exhibition at London’s Earl’s Court, and as part of its promotion campaign is offering the chance to meet former England rugby union international Jason Leonard OBE on its stand (394) on Thursday 4 March. The tCn marketing machine (see the tCn blog) is also promoting a prize draw for all those registering to join the network, with prizes including golfing breaks in Cyprus and St Andrew’s, rugby tickets and a rugby shirt signed by Leonard.

tCnscreengrabprofileThe site is still a little bit rough round the edges (occasional bits of ‘lorem ipsum’ show where text is yet to be placed in the personal profile pages, for example), but Ryan tells me these will soon be smoothed out by the site’s developers as they get more feedback from early joiners. (Disclosure: I have provided some paid consultancy advice to tCn.)

Will tCn succeed?

So is there room for another social network in construction? After all, there are already dozens of architecture, engineering and construction groups in LinkedIn, lots of company groups and pages on Facebook, Ning-based networks for the readers of Building and Property Week plus Ning sites such as the AEC network and Constructing Excellence’s G4C and Collaborative Working Champions (both of which I’ve helped with), and stand-alone communities such as Reorb – aimed at commercial real estate professionals (post).

I think there is an opportunity for tCn. In a very conservative market, there is some interest in utilising social media, but many organisations are (often understandably) reluctant to let their employees have free rein to access Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, YouTube, etc while at work, perhaps regarding these as non-work-related.

Having a network that is 100% focused on the construction sector, however, potentially overcomes that objection, with employees perhaps given permission to access this single platform because its main function is to foster business relationships. Moreover, tCn potentially offers organisations the chance to foster business networks among their employees or members and with companies in their supply chains at little or no cost to themselves. And it is being run be people focused on the platform, not as a ‘side project’ trying to nurture a community among readers of a print publication.

Its success, though, will depend on it drumming up sufficient subscription and advertising revenues from its partner industry organisations. We are, apparently, slowly emerging from a deep industry recession, but there is some uncertainty about whether recent ‘green shoots’ are premature, particularly as the forthcoming general election may yet mean further post-election turmoil as public sector spending is curbed. As I know only too well, marketing budgets are frequently the first to feel the pinch when money gets tight, but if tCn can show it is a cost-effective way to target individuals among potential customers and their influencers then it could thrive.

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  1. Will Mann

    I think TCN has a tough job on its hands. As you say, there is plenty of competition out there, and history suggests that social networking sites backed by big corporates don’t often succeed.

    On the other hand, if those big corporates are prepared to put their hands in their pockets it might have a chance…

    I’ll look in on their stand when I’m at Ecobuild.

    1. Paul

      I find myself thinking back to the early days of construction e-market places in 2000, Will. For example, we had AECventure, Arrideo and Mercadium, each backed by some very big names in the contracting and suppliers world, but all died a lingering death when the dot.com bubble burst in 2001. Major firms were hesitant to get involved with an online system that was being backed by one of their competitors for fear that their data might be accessible, undermining their commercial positions.

      Similar concerns were also made about collaboration platforms (for example, I believe BuildOnline’s shareholders included Balfour Beatty, prompting rival contractors to be wary of that particular system). Other firms (eg: 4Projects, BIW) capitalised on this uncertainty, remaining independent of direct industry investment so that there was no room for such doubt.

      We are talking today about a different type of platform now, of course, but there could be parallels with ten years ago. To some people, the backing of Balfour Beatty will be a sign that this is industry-strength, but to others it could ring alarm bells (“will BB be looking to cherry-pick some of my star people?”).

      However, the backing of the CIOB, CIAT, CIBSE and of other industry membership associations could be critical, helping lift tCn above commercially-instigated systems. These institutions have less of a commercial axe to grind, and to some prospective members tCn may therefore have a legitimacy that wouldn’t be applied if it was solely backed by commercial companies.

      A final thought: Andrew Woolstenholme has recently taken the industry to task for, among other things, its fragmented approach to industry governance (too many institutions – membership and academic – promoting professional silo-based approaches). As a champion of Constructing Excellence, I wonder if further pan-industry initiatives such as tCn might help break down some of this insularity?

  2. Will Mann

    Andrew Wolstenholme isn’t the first to say that and certainly won’t be the last. Some sort of unity is certainly desirable, and efforts to promote unity should be applauded.

    But it is by its nature a fragmented industry, and inevitably an interiors specialist will have different priorities from, say, a demolition contractor.

    It will be interesting to watch the progress of TCN.

  3. Nathan Surendran

    It’s a shame Latham, Egan, et al weren’t web 2.0 savvy. Maybe we’d have something government led by now. Hmmmm. A lobbying point perhaps with elections looming…?

    I agree that the silo’s need some deconstruction and don’t really understand why people can’t see that knowledge transfer is a real and pressing need, not a competitive threat.

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