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May 17 2010

Are property people more ‘social’ then construction people?

Preparing a talk for the South London Society of Architects last week, I updated some slides from a previous presentation covering online communities for the architecture, engineering, construction (AEC) and property sectors. I had a quick look at the the number of members of  some of the groups, and noticed that the property groupings on my radar seem to be bigger and growing faster than the mainly construction-oriented ones. Are property people more ‘social’ then construction people?

For example, looking at the number of people who have joined the two Ning-based networks run by UBM publications (see post) showed that (as of Tuesday 11 May, at least) the Property Network was more than twice the size of the Building Network:

Property Network 2,589 members
Building Network
819 members

Similarly, two networks built on proprietary platforms also show a lead for property over construction. Reorb (post) is currently more than twice the size of tCn – the Construction Network (launched in March; Disclosure: I provide consultancy services to tCn).

Reorb c. 2,440 members
tCn - the Construction Network
c. 1,000 members

Possible reasons

The maturity of a particular network will, of course be a factor in how big it is. The Property Week Network, for instance, was launched two months ahead of its Building stable-mate; Reorb launched in August2009, so has had a six-month start on tCn. But I wonder: are there industry or professional traits that might make people more likely to use networking platforms? For instance (and in no particular order):

  • Fragmentation – Many commercial property and real-estate professionals tend to be members of the RICS, while there are numerous professional bodies for individuals in the AEC sector (CIOB, ICE, RIBA, CIAT, etc). Having frequent opportunities to network with one’s peers through one institution may make it easier for property people to build up lots of contacts, while construction projects are more multi-disciplinary.
  • Duration of projects – I get the impression that projects in the property sector tend to be completed more quickly, and professionals will often be engaged in several parallel assignments. Construction projects, on the other hand, tend to take longer, with individuals often solely focused for weeks, months, even years, on delivery of a single project.
  • Scale of personal networks – Both of the above potentially make it more likely that property people will encounter a bigger network of contacts, and with scale comes the challenge of keeping tabs on everyone – something readily answered by inviting those contacts to join LinkedIn or an industry-specific networking platform.
  • Business-to-Consumer – Particularly among professionals involved in house sales and lettings, there may be a marketing driver to target consumers through use of highly interactive websites and social networking platforms, whereas business-to-business use – most construction PR and marketing is B2B – has tended to lag behind in its use of these newer tools and techniques.
  • Corporate acceptance – I wonder if AEC organisations are more likely to block employee access to ‘social’ network platforms than businesses in the property and real-estate sector?

What do you think? Have I missed some potential explanations for the differences? Or is there actually little or no difference between the two sectors and their use of social media?

5 comments

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  1. Pritesh Patel

    Interesting post Paul.

    However, numbers don’t mean a thing to me. Throw me large numbers and I just don’t care….what I care about is the level of activity and discussions on a site.

    Property Network has 2589 members and Building Network only has 819. So what? What if I told you that Building Network has a far better number of discussions and comments (participation) than Property Network? Now which one is better? Which one would add more value to me?

    Note: I just made the above scenario up and is not really what is happening.

    I don’t think its about membership counts on particular networking sites but more about the levels of engagement going on.

    A networking site with smaller numbers but with high engagement levels adds much more value to me than one with high numbers and no engagement.

    Would it not be great if social networking sites were rated by ‘engagement levels’ rather than membership counts?

    Number of discussions * Number of Comments / Number of Members

  2. Paul

    Great point, Pritesh (and one I’d expect you to make!).

    Having spent the past ten-plus years working in the construction IT sector, I know how frequently some companies can churn out numbers that appear to show how big their user-base is and how many logins they had, etc. What these figures failed to show, however, was how many individuals were currently or recently active users (vendors often counted every user registration since the system was launched in, say, 1999), or how frequently they used the respective systems.

    Like you, I would welcome some kind of metric – an “engagement index”, perhaps – that looks behind the membership counts and shows the quality of interaction and participation within a particular community.

  3. Derek Mynott

    Paul,
    I cannot comment for the tcn network as I have only just found it via twitter, and I cannot comment for property week either, but coming from the building network perspective they don’t seem to be actively marketing it at the moment, the activity if any, seems very small or non existent and the more interesting dialogue I find is via Linkedin. But equally then via the specialist groups that you need to join. I think if you could get information on the extent of discussions taking place and the level of actual interaction you will have a better measure of the levels of engagement.
    Having said all of this I think your take on it is probably about right, I was going to mention age being a factor …. but then we aren’t allowed to talk about that are we?????

  4. Thomas

    I agree with Pritish. I relied heavily on networking to grow my business. When it came down to it, the best leads I got were from the paid networking sites. Everyone on there seemed to be serious about networking and even though my cost was higher than a free site, my take away was much bigger. I posted the site I use up in the website.

  5. Phil Clark

    Hi All,
    (Health warning: this is from the guy who works with the teams that have developed these networks).
    I would broadly agree with the reasons Paul gives in the post. One point I’d make to counter it somewhat is the behaviours we experience on our virtual events. Socially the activity at shows such as Sustainability and Housing Now – largely populated by construction peops – is significantly higher than the property virtual events we have run. I’m not sure how much this indicates: perhaps if you create a more niche subject-based event for construction audiences there is more willingness to engage. Which plays somewhat to Derek’s point about specific groups in the networks.
    Thanks
    Phil

  1. Revisiting Reorb « pwcom 2.0

    […] and using Reorb” (3,089 according to the website today – up about 600 from the 2,440 I noted two months ago), and says the Edinburgh-based company is about to run a substantial marketing […]

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