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Sep 17 2010

Best use of Social Media?

Last November I wrote about the Construction Computing Awards 2009, and suggested five reasons why we didn’t yet have an award for best use of Web 2.0 in construction.

Well, it’s now a whole ten months later, the shortlists for the 2010 awards have just been announced, online voting has begun, and – I must admit I was surprised! – there is a category for Best Use of Social Media! And the nominations are….

Is it still too soon for a construction Web 2.0 award?

Before we look in more detail at this category, let’s briefly look back at my previous post on this issue and what’s changed (if anything).

  1. For a start, Constructing Computing still isn’t embracing social media itself (no blog, Twitter, RSS feed, discussion forum, bookmarking tools, etc) …
  2. … which is surprising as the number of architecture, engineering and construction (AEC), property and FM users of the various platform is undeniably growing, albeit patchily (we’ll return to this below) …
  3. … though it remains to be seen if this category will attract a sponsor …
  4. … or if the voting for this category will be as open and transparent as many social media enthusiasts demand….
  5. Cynics might suggest that ‘Best Use of Social Media’ gives the organisers another gong to present, so that more firms are nominated, more people pay to attend the dinner (table costs are £1995 this year, from £1695 in 2009), and more awards are shared out.

While this new category might be a bit opportunistic just now, there is no denying that it will help highlight the potential value of social media tools and techniques to support businesses in the AEC computing arena, so I am broadly supportive. Adoption and use of social media is still at an early stage in many AEC businesses (some still ignore it or block it completely, of course), but the tactics are growing in importance in relation to a range of PR and marketing objectives, and awards such as this might cause more industry executives to wonder whether their businesses might be missing out.

But I think voters, in judging the merits of the shortlisted candidates, should be thinking about what does ‘Best Use’ actually mean. Are we simply talking about polished execution? Or about effective engagement? Or about business outcomes – improving brand visibility, user inputs to product development, new sales leads, improved customer/end-user service, etc?

It may be too soon at this stage to quantify some of these, but for future competitions of this kind, I would be looking for companies to show they have effectively deployed social media alongside conventional communications, and have achieved some measurable business benefits.

The contenders’ credentials

Should you wish to vote, here are some pointers on the seven firms “best use of social media”. I thought it might be fun to mark them out of ten on their efforts on some key platforms to date….

4Projects* is a firm I know well, having worked in the construction collaboration technology space for the past 11 years (see blog). But despite this sector’s early adoption of Software-as-a-Service approaches and its focus on sharing and collaboration, it has generally been slow to implement social media approaches to communication, and 4Projects has lagged a little behind some competitors (I started blogging while at BIW in 2005, and created BIW’s Twitter account in 2008; a year later (post), Asite was creating a community for its end-users – post – and Sword CTSpace launched its online community in May – post).  4Projects’ retail subsidiary, 4retail, started a blog and a Twitter account in July 2009, but the main business only started its SaaS Handbook blog in June this year; it began Tweeting a month later (76 followers; 34 tweets) – the same month a YouTube channel was created (one video, no subscribers, 26 upload views). The pwcom verdict: 5/10 (making good progress but too soon to show results).

AceCad provides steel design software solutions, and, from its website, its credentials for this category appear to rest on having links to a Facebook page (apparently now four months old; 102 fans) and a YouTube channel (20 videos, 21 subscribers, clocking up a collective total of 5,633 upload views since the Channel was created on 20 January this year). I couldn’t find an AceCad Twitter account or a blog. The pwcom verdict: 3/10 (also too early, and too little, to rate properly).

Bentley Systems is one of the biggest names in construction design software, and has sought to develop and maintain end-user loyalty through its Be Communities. Of the award contenders, this is perhaps the most mature and sophisticated. A Beta version was launched in May 2008 and was enhanced and updated six months later. It provides a social networking site for Bentley users in the AEC and related fields, and includes forums, blogs, resource galleries and wikis, enabling users to connect, communicate and learn from each other. From the BE Communities home page (which has an RSS feed), there are also links to Bentley’s Facebook page (1084 fans), the @BentleySystems Twitter account (1161 followers; following 852; 1087 tweets), and its YouTube channel (70 subscribers, 6955 upload views). And, as an industry IT blogger, I can also say that Bentley’s PR team actively cultivate their links to external bloggers too. The pwcom verdict: 9/10 (love the comprehensive, integrated approach).

BlueBeam provides PDF viewing and markup tools. The very polished and user-friendly corporate website (with a news RSS feed, I noticed) has a section devoted to ‘community’ with links to the PDF Insider blog (launched February 2009), the Bluebeam Facebook page (329 fans) Twitter (281 followers; following 143; 475 tweets) and a community forum discussion board. For a change, Bluebeam doesn’t seem to have a YouTube channel, preferring to host its videos with the WordPress service, VideoPress. The pwcom verdict: 7/10 (Bluebeam clearly understands the value of conversation).

Does Causeway Technologies use social media at all? A first look at the company’s website would suggest not, as there are no links to any recognised social media platforms. I did searches on Twitter and Facebook: nothing! YouTube? Nothing. Blog? Nope! I even looked for one or two of the product brandnames, such as Tradex or Vixensoft. Still nothing. Causeway, have I missed something? The pwcom verdict: 0/10 (Was it entered in the wrong category?) [PS: see update below].

RedSky IT is another conundrum in this category. Like Causeway its website offers no clue to any social media presence. There’s no Twitter account, no official Redsky IT Facebook page, no blog. But wait a minute…. YouTube has a RedskyIT channel created in February with one video (no subscribers, with the video upload viewed 151 times); my search also found some videos of the RedSky IT staff party, March 2010, at the Barcelo Hotel, Hinckley, complete with karaoke performers! Fun, maybe, but hardly effective use of social media! The pwcom verdict: 0.5/10 (Best Use of Social Media means more than one video).

By contrast, last but certainly not least, Woobius* has been almost hyperactive in social media since its official launch in Spring 2009, with the start-up’s Scribbles blog one of the first things that drew it to my attention as a provider of collaboration technologies (post). All of the key people in the company tweet regularly on their own account, which is probably why @Woobius isn’t a little more active (it has 154 followers, follows 41 and has tweeted 248 times) – but the architecture and IT-related outputs of @BobLeung, @Swombat and @JamesGoodfellow, to name but three, have done much to build Twitter conversations around the brand too. There is a Woobius Facebook page (just 14 fans), but the company has excelled in producing effective videos: the Woobian YouTube channel has 19 subscribers, but has amassed 12,014 upload views. The Woobians have also been enthusiastic contributors to the Be2camp construction social media advocacy movement, networking and gaining good visibility in that highly connected community.The pwcom verdict: 8/10 (You don’t need a big budget to get social visibility).

In short, for me, it’s really a two or three horse race between Bentley (big company with a well-funded, well-thought-out and integrated platform of communications), Woobius (a start-up with next to no budget but an instinctive grasp of what being ‘social’ entails), with Bluebeam trying hard just behind. But, of course, it will not be up to me. Another test of each company’s social media credentials will be how effectively they use their networks to get people to vote for them, with the final decisions (if not the detailed voting figures) revealed on Thursday 25 November. If size means anything, Bentley should walk it … but you never know….

[* Disclosures: I have undertaken paid PR consultancy work for 4Projects and Woobius; I was a co-founder of Be2camp and remain active in its events, etc.]

Update (17 September 2010: 1315 BST) – Just noticed that I’ve been followed on Twitter by @CausewayTech (account created and first tweet sent this morning). Coincidence?

10 comments

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  1. Daniel Tenner

    Hi Paul,

    Do we get an extra point for being the first of the contenders to reply to this blog post? 🙂

    Daniel

    1. Paul

      Hi, Daniel – well, it shows you’re monitoring social media channels and engaging in conversations. Let’s say half a point! 😉

  2. Su Butcher

    Aha!
    brilliant, well spotted Paul, and thanks for all the hard work on this putting together all the cross links. I know how long that takes…

    Wonder who put the shortlist together, because given the poor performance of some of the nominees I could come up with some better candidates. But if I’m going to have anything remotely new to say at CIMCIG conference in November I ought to keep that to myself!

    Right then, lets get voting!

  3. Paul

    I have seen some Twitter chat that suggests firms self-nominate themselves. This would be in line with previous years’ practice (for example, while I was at BIW, I would nominate that company in various relevant categories, and it would normally be shortlisted a few times), but there are certainly some quality control issues. It does the awards no favours if unqualified candidates make the shortlist.

    Also, the shortlists have – as I’ve suggested in my post on ExtranetEvolution.com – not included some prominent players in various categories (one prominent omission is the non-appearance of COINS in the e-commerce and accounting categories, for example).

    If the companies concerned don’t want to participate, that’s OK, but if the organisers aspire for these awards to be the ‘Oscars’ of construction computing, they should encourage the involvement of all the leading providers – otherwise, it’s like trying to do the Oscars without including any Hollywood big-hitters!

  4. Su Butcher

    Agree Paul.
    Awards only get credibility if they truly are a reflection of the best in any industry.
    There must be many people looking at the list and thinking – “where is X?” – and then thinking – “I don’t think much of this list then”.

  5. Social Media Guru

    I lately came across your blog and have been reading along. I imagine I would leave my first comment. I dont know what to say, except that I have enjoyed reading. Nice site. I will keep visiting your site very frequently.

  6. Juan M. E. Ruiz

    Hi Paul (et al) . Thanks a lot for your words!

    Just for accuracy and in addition to the social media channels you mentioned, we also have presence on Twitter with @BentleyAsia , Youtube.com/GenerativeComponents , Bentley User Groups fan page on Facebook, etc. Just a few more examples of Bentley’s commitment on Social Media.

    Thanks again for this post and

    PS: Couldn’t find any Tweets with candidates self-nominating themselves but did tweet this post though 🙂

    Juan

  7. Paul

    Thanks, Juan, for the additional information – good to see further examples of how the company is deploying social media.

    (For clarity, I believe nominations were invited via the Construction Computing website, but there was chatter on Twitter about companies nominating themselves.)

  8. Tim Cole

    Greetings Paul – hope you are well.

    I could not resist a quick response on this one! It certainly looks like you are not keen on the awards, which is allowed. The truth is that all awards are criticised somewhere along the line … from Oscars to OBE’s! As for your “Social Media” analysis, things are not quite as you see them, though we appreciate this is a journey.

    By the way …. just wondering …. could we count on your vote in this category?

    Take care,

    Tim

    1. Paul

      I’m very well, Tim, thank you.

      I have been an open critic of the Construction Computing awards for some years, and I perfectly accept that most awards programmes can be criticised to some extent. As a PR practitioner it is easy to see the upside of winning an award, but – for me, any way – it is sometimes too easy to win an award. I would love to see every awards programme fiercely contested by a large group of serious contenders, and judged independently by experts or respected peers…. but that’s not always going to happen, is it?

      If I have missed anything significant in Causeway’s social media journey, please feel free to share it. I am always happy to give credit where it is due! As for my votes, not sure yet….

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