Yesterday I went to UBM’s Total Workplace Management event at London’s Kensington Olympia exhibition centre (I also strolled through its neighbouring sister events: Energy Solutions and M&E: The Building Services Event). The most outstanding announcement I heard concerned the launch of NetworkwithBIFM, a new community network launched by the British Institute of Facilities Management, but open to non-members of BIFM so that it can embrace a much wider community of people with an interest in FM.
NetworkwithBIFM is built on the Ning platform. This is the same system I used to start up the Be2camp online community (among others) just over two years ago, and which has also been adopted for two UBM magazine-related networks, the Building Network (post), and the Property Week Network (post). Ning allows anyone to create their own social network and is attractive to organisations that do not want to rely upon existing social platforms such as LinkedIn or Facebook – blocked in some organisations, of course – which also restrict how an organisation’s branding might be applied. NetworkwithBIFM shows how Ning can be configured to include the BIFM’s logo and other parts of its corporate graphic style.
(However, some people may still find that even this new network is blocked by their corporate firewall. Ning has been used to create over a million networks, and some were distinctly NSFW – not safe for work – and so got blocked by some firewall filters. In my experience, the best option is to ask the corporate IT department to review the website and then put it on the firewall whitelist so that it can be seen by users within the organisation.)
It is possible that Be2camp may have inspired BIFM to take this step. A week after the then BIFM chairman Iain Murray spoke at Be2camp@WB almost exactly a year ago, I met up with BIFM’s head of communications Richard Byatt and talked about how social media might be deployed.
Another explanation might have been Iain Murray’s launch in July this year of another FM network on Ning, ConnectwithFM (note the similar name, and the echo of Iain’s company name, ConnectedFM – indeed, the ConnectedFM logo is subtly used as wallpaper in the sidebars of the Ning network and the colour palette is similar). As of today, ConnectwithFM has 481 members, while the BIFM network – just a day old, mind – has 56 members, though I suspect this will grow rapidly as BIFM gets word out across the industry.
Looking at the two Ning networks yesterday, I wondered which approach is most likely to succeed. Will it be the network backed by an industry organisation (a top-down initiative), or one launched by an industry practitioner (more bottom-up)? Or will there be further, perhaps non-proprietary, developments in this market?
Let’s extend beyond FM contact networks
The launch of these network is perhaps timely. The first seminar I attended in TWM’s FM Academy space yesterday was a debate led by Andrew Brown, editor of FM X magazine, asking “Does facilities management get the media and events it deserves?“, and “can we change the way FM does its PR and editorial?”
He set the scene by showing how FM rarely featured in the broadsheet newspapers and management press, despite the critical importance of well-managed facilities to most organisations’ day-to-day business, and to their long-term competitiveness. One contributor suggested that this was partly because many people (office managers, building managers, etc) didn’t understand that what they did was actually FM. “Get the message out to the people actually doing the job,” seemed to be his message.
I supported this bottom-up approach, pointing out that the association between FM and day-to-day work could be made more explicit if, every time someone searched online for information on a relevant topic, it was people from across the facilities management industry (not just BIFM or the FMA or the industry journals, but people working for leading providers, for FM consultants, as in-house facilities managers, premises managers, suppliers, manufacturers, service providers, etc, etc) that provided expert responses.
Social media can help in that process too, of course, but many people in the FM sector (and it’s not just FM, it applies equally to architecture, engineering and construction, for instance) need to move beyond building up online contact books and look to use Twitter, LinkedIn groups, blogs, wikis, SlideShare, Flickr, YouTube and other online resources to collate, share and develop their knowledge and expertise, and to expand these online activities offline into media work and into events that do the same
(Incidentally, I will be talking about how public relations professionals might use Ning-type platforms at the last of the CIPR’s Social Media Summer events, in London at the CIPR, Russell Square, on 28 October 2010 – more details: Community management: Online, offline – it’s a people thing.)