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Apr 26 2013

RICS members: Twitter’s not about “what I had for breakfast”!

[Warning: rant] If RICS wants to help building surveyors use social media effectively, they should invite conference speakers who know what they are talking about.

I attended the RICS Building Surveying conference in London yesterday* and sat through a couple of break-out sessions that took my fancy. The afternoon one was on BIM for building surveyors (featuring an excellent presentation, including a lot on laser scanning, by Shrewsbury-based Severn Partnership‘s Nick Blenkarn – who I’ve tweeted to a few times and finally met face-to-face), but I got a bit riled by one of the morning’s sessions.

Not best use of social media

The one-hour session – on “Media and business development for the building sector” – wasn’t presented by the scheduled speaker, but by his PACE Partners colleague Paul Matthews (on Twitter). The conference flyer said it would cover best use of LinkedIn and other social media, business development for all size businesses, and specific media tools for construction and surveying. However, we got none of the latter, a lot on business development for professional services (clearly PACE’s core business, which was well described), and – in the time available – a very superficial and often quite cynical view of social media (apart from LinkedIn).

Almost from the start, Matthews was, I think, anticipating his RICS audience would be sceptical about Twitter (only a few hands – under 10 out of 80-plus – went up when he asked who tweeted) and, perhaps buoyed by this low showing, he asked if anyone was interested in what he’d eaten for breakfast. “Let’s face it, nobody’s interested in what you’ve had for breakfast!” he ranted, seizing upon a commonly used and cliche-ed misunderstanding about people who use Twitter.

Curbing my irritation, I listened patiently to his outline of the PACE pipeline management strategy for business development, and we then returned to the subject of, in his words, “appropriate use of social media“. It was rightly described as part of the marketing mix – but Matthews appeared only to rate websites (in his view, part of social media!) and LinkedIn as worthy of detailed attention by delegates. Other platforms (Facebook, YouTube, Pinterest) were mainly good for search engine optimisation, SEO, blogs were good for writing and sharing articles, and you could monitor clients and competitors on Twitter, but you didn’t need to tweet a lot, and people who used hashtags  – presumably like the (somewhat unfortunate) #BSconf – and tweeted too much were “Twitter tarts“! (OK, then, I am a Twitter tart – perhaps even a ‘Strumptweet’ – a word coined in a Twitter conversation happening in parallel with his presentation!). No mention of Wikipedia (the 6th most visited website in the world), RSS, Flickr, SlideShare, Google+, online construction communities, the growing importance of mobile tools for sharing links ….

PACEtweetsAt PACE Partners, Matthews said he mainly uses Twitter to “add value” (he’s been on Twitter since 1 February 2013 – woo! – and so far has tweeted eight times – busy! – to his 10 followers – popular!), with the corporate @PACEPartners account used perhaps once a day. A quick glance at that account’s timeline also shows little use before January 2012, and little conversation or engagement (seemingly contradicting his earlier stress on ‘contact marketing’) – it’s mainly used in ‘broadcast’ mode: with few @replies (under 3%) and few RTs of people other than PACE partners (149 of its 1152 updates have been RTs of PACE consultant John Ranson alone).

Of course, I may be being unfair to Matthews (he wasn’t the scheduled speaker, after all, and maybe the brief was to focus on business development), but, on the face of it, he dismissed Twitter as a professional tool based on almost no personal user experience and drawing on stereotyped views of the platform as place for trivia. He was clearly more comfortable talking about business development strategies than about social media and, perhaps as a result, we got no encouraging anecdotes or case studies about ‘best use of social media’. Instead, over 70 industry professionals were largely discouraged from doing more than email, direct marketing, websites, events, LinkedIn and ‘social media for SEO’.

If RICS want to help building surveyors use social media effectively, they should invite speakers who know about the subject. For example, Su Butcher is doing some great LinkedIn workshops, I run workshops on Twitter and on blogging (here‘s a presentation I did on Twitter for Workplace Trends last month), and CIMCIG events have also featured numerous construction-specific social media case studies.

Thankfully, some of yesterday’s conference delegates may also have heard Nick Blenkarn (Twitter handle on his business card) mention how Twitter and other social tools can help people learn from online communities about BIM and other subjects (the #UKBIMCREW are frequently commended by senior figures from the government’s BIM Task Group), and the chair of that BIM session mentioned the flow of helpful tweets shared online.

Sadly, surveyors are sometimes stereotyped as laggards in adoption of new ideas and technologies, and – in my view – this RICS session did little to help many attendees move forward with social media.

[Rant: end] [* Disclosure: I attended free at the invitation of a conference sponsor, SaaS/mobile software vendor Kykloud, about whom I’ve written on my tech blog.]

5 comments

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  1. Su Butcher (@SuButcher)

    I’m glad you wrote this up Paul.

    I came across the event via twitter whilst I was in London at other meetings. I wasn’t aware of it before (one of the ways in which twitter is useful for business development).

    In some ways you’ve been quite kind to Paul Matthews. If he or his colleagues don’t know how to use twitter they shouldn’t be giving a talk to professionals about it, because they are misrepresenting their expertise. Not very professional, is it? Only yesterday I was asked if I’d speak on sustainability at a major event next year; I turned down the offer because there are many people much better qualified than me to speak on that topic. I recommended some of them instead.

    But anyway I thought I’d add value to the conversation by providing some information that readers who attended the conference didn’t get.

    Even without a proper twitter strategy for the event, 48 people on twitter used the #bsconf hashtag over the last 3 days, tweeting 162 times and sharing 51 links and generating over 150,000 impressions. The last 50 of these tweets reached over 57,000 users on twitter. Attendees might like to search an archive of the twitter messages here:
    http://bit.ly/bsconfarchive

    Or play back a visualisation here:
    http://bit.ly/bsconfexplorer to see what we were talking about.

    As a comparison, when we launched the Cabinet Office supported BIM4SMEs working group last week the tweeters in the room (about 30) were joined by another 130 elsewhere across the UK and abroad, and between them they shared the content of the talk to over 240,000 twitter users creating traffic to the live blog (http://bit.ly/BIM4SMElive), the working group’s website (http://www.bim4sme.org/), the speaker’s websites and Linkedin profiles, their presentations and to online resources such as the Technology Strategy Board’s Innovation Vouchers Scheme so SME’s can get funding to implement BIM. There was even a worked example of a successful voucher application shared!

    Of course those 48 people using the #bsconf hashtag on twitter yesterday are probably going to be a bit miffed about Paul Matthews’ views, so it won’t have done Pace Partners reputation much good. But hey, we’re only talking about what we had for breakfast, so it doesn’t matter.

  2. Paul Wilkinson

    Thanks, Su.

    It was interesting to read the online feedback about RICS members during the event. Not all fit the stereotypes, of course; there were clearly some well-informed social media users in that session (I was impressed by a good definition of Pinterest from two rows in front of me).

    The conference is, I believe, one of RICS most well-attended events (easily 2-3 times the size of that BIM event we both attended last week). Yet, it had a poor hashtag (a source of some derision from one Twitter follower) and the organisers did little to actively encourage Twitter sharing and conversation; briefing some delegates to use the (excellent) wifi to tweet and share photos, links and soundbites would have enabled RICS messages/content to reach members and other industry professionals who couldn’t attend. But – as you demonstrate by the comparison – the opportunity was missed, and RICS might unfortunately conclude that Twitter sharing doesn’t work.

  3. Neutral observer

    I absolutely agree that speakers should be those with the greatest expertise. They need to inspire and give positive advice rather than rehash (pun intended) the same old stereotypes about (i) how particular media are used, and (ii) the audience’s probable naivety and apathy.

    I was there, and had to keep my mouth shut when (having requested that all mobile devices be switched off before a session) the host voiced disappointment about the lack of twitter questions during the talk!

    1. Paul Wilkinson

      I noticed on the event brochure that delegates were urged to submit questions by email and Twitter for one of the afternoon sessions, but I saw no Tweets in response – though that’s not surprising if attendees were told to switch devices off (switching to silent is more than enough at most events, IMHO).
      – Paul

  4. Bill

    Hey

    Very interesting. I thought you raised some good points about the future of this industry. I agree with Su and Mr Neutural though it is hard to step into someone elses gig. I prefer to silent my device. I think its unreasonable to ask to turn off these days.

    Seeya

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