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Jul 16 2010

Construction companies could do better on social media

After my recent trip to Spain (post), I’ve been almost too busy to blog, and it’s taken me a while to catch up with some of my reading. Something that caught my eye though was an item by Peter Hay in PR Week on 18 June: Corporates ‘must act’ on social media, not least because it echoed some findings from recent views of construction and housebuilding businesses.

Online comms agency Furlong PR studied the websites of FTSE 100 companies and found that more than three-quarters (78%) lacked basic social media functions such as blogs and RSS feeds. Only 12 per cent had a blog linked to their site. And less than a quarter had a Twitter feed to reach their audiences, despite almost 40 per cent of financial journalists being on Twitter.

Pauley says AEC companies do social media, er, poorly

These findings are pretty much in line with what you would find in the construction industry, though – when you look beyond the websites – there are signs that some construction businesses are beginning to embrace social networks, etc.

Pritesh PatelIn a couple of recent blog posts, my friend Pritesh Patel of Pauley Creative, looked at the social media practices of the top 15 UK contractors, and the top 15 housebuilders (some of them FTSE-listed too). From their websites, only two contractors had direct links to social media platforms, and only one housebuilder.

But when he examined their activities in social networks like LinkedIn, Facebook and Twitter, the picture was more encouraging. For example, Pritesh found seven of the 15 top contractors are on Twitter (but only three actually Tweet!), 12 had LinkedIn company pages, and 14 had a presence on Facebook. Similarly, 11 of the top 15 housebuilders were on Twitter (only four tweeting), 11 had LinkedIn pages and 10 had Facebook pages. But only one housebuilder had a blog (and no contractors?), and only two housebuilders had RSS feeds on their websites; contractors were a bit better with RSS: seven out of the 15 had RSS feeds.

Pritesh’s concludes that contractors are making an effort, but that it’s a bit half-hearted:

Current state seems like ‘we must do it because everyone else is doing it’ type attitude with very little strategy implementation or integration with other business objectives. … These are all big companies  and they all talk about CSR policies, brand characteristics, how they give back to the community, how green they are and how they look after their people. Erm…..come on then…..show me!

While he singles out Miller Homes for praise, the housebuilders fare little better in Pritesh’s view, with poor integration between websites and other online platforms:

The lack of focus on integration and treating Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn as individual channels is just shocking. What marketers must learn is to integrate everything…email, website, social media, print advertising and direct mail to work together. Brands must learn to develop and show the same personality across all channels…..

Of course, Pritesh has only looked at 30 businesses, and – according to the 2009 Construction Statistics Annual – the UK architectural, engineering and construction sector comprises over 202,000 private companies (and employs almost 1.3 million people). Nonetheless, they are likely to be representative of the 1400 firms employing 80 or more people (totalling 456,000 employees), which collectively account for over half (52 per cent, or about £57bn) of the total value of work undertaken by the UK construction industry.

In addition to the contractors and housebuilders, I would be interested to see if the consultancy sector (architects, consulting engineers, project managers, quantity surveyors, etc) display any greater enthusiasm for social media. There are some good examples out there (I’ve written before about HOK Architects, for example, and recently highlighted Mace’s enlightened attitude), but I suspect the communication practices of many industry consultants will be similar to the poorly integrated, piecemeal approaches that Pritesh found among our contractors and housebuilders.

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  1. Paul Lincoln

    Have you also looked at the issue of the way in which construction companies use media: writing quality, editorial policy, timeliness of communication? Be interested to explore this. By the way were you at Cipr on Thursday?

    Paul

    1. Paul

      In some companies, editorial policy is covered in social media guidelines, along with timeliness of communication, but the quality of writing isn’t always included in such guidance – perhaps because quality of writing (ie: style) will be down to each individual. I have talked to companies who have blog editors to ensure consistent quality; they correct grammar and spelling but leave the content largely as the author originally wrote it, and do not censor content (unless, of course, it falls outside the editorial policy, eg: breaching client confidentiality, etc).

      Yes, I was at the CIPR on Thursday afternoon, attending the Social Summer to hear Tweetdeck’s Iain Dodsworth.

  2. Will Mann

    One other point on the ‘quality of writing’, which relates to the whole construction and social media debate – the vast majority of people who work in construction are from technical backgrounds and are not really wordsmiths.

    So, regardless of other barriers to adoption, construction people may simply not have much flair for blogging and other forms of social media interaction.

  3. Paul

    Good point, Will, particularly when it comes to blogging. (And, to be fair, you could probably say much the same about employees in many other industry sectors, including other professions such as law or accountancy.)

    But micro-blogging doesn’t always need great writing skills to share links, add comments, offer advice, etc – more important are timeliness, accuracy and attention to detail (and AEC people are often good at these).

    On the blogging front, the challenge for PR and marketing people within an organisation is to identify people with the right (write!) skills, attitude and commitment, and to help and encourage these individuals to use their talents appropriately.

  1. Websites overhauled at BIW and 4Projects | Extranet Evolution

    […] I am minded to do a detailed comparison of the main collaboration vendors and their use of social media tools – similar to ones undertaken elsewhere in the industry looking at the Web 2.0 activities of leading contractors and housebuilders (see my pwcom blog post, Construction companies could do better on social media). […]

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