[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 ….
At 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.