March 1, 2012 by Jacob Stoller
As On-Site Editor Corinne Lynds explained in the February issue, social media can provide a variety of benefits to construction companies. Practices such as recruiting with LinkedIn, engaging employees through an internal Facebook page, or attracting traffic to the corporate website with blogs and social media brand pages are well-established.
Using social media to find and engage people with common interests is less clearly defined. To get a better grip on this topic, I spoke with social media guru and author Alan K’necht, who I met face-to-face in January at Socialize Toronto, a Mediabistro event.
“When done right, using social media is a great way to connect and receive and give valuable information within your industry,” says K’necht.
K’necht often begins his public presentations by observing that popular sites such as Facebook and Twitter are really extensions of earlier social media like email, the telephone, and yes, even the printing press. In a similar vein, the benefits of social media are no different than the well-known benefits of getting to know more people.
The key to connecting with the right people, says K’necht, is participating in the conversations that these people are already engaged in. The dynamics here are similar to cocktail party etiquette—the topic of conversation is the glue that draws people together, and that needs to be respected. You don’t break into a group talking about hockey and try to start a conversation about gardening.
Experts seem to agree that LinkedIn and Twitter are the most popular social media tools for the construction industry. LinkedIn provides a ready-made platform in the thousands of active discussion groups around a variety of construction topics such as:
construction management, structural engineering, construction news, construction materials, construction equipment,
green construction, construction training and construction software.
The bad news is that many of these groups are devoid of conversation—instead, the majority of participants use them exclusively to pitch their products and services. On the other hand, I did find some good conversations on construction software (pros and cons), green construction and current events.
A good way to find real conversations is through influencers who regularly engage in dialogue and attract an audience. “These are people who heavily use social media for disseminating information on the industry, or participating in conversations,” explains K’necht.
A handy tool for finding influencers is Klout.com, which tracks people’s social media activity, and rates them based on the number of people they engage on sites like Facebook and Twitter. K’necht suggests the following Klout / Twitter strategy:
Sign up at Klout.com (it’s free) and do a search on a topic of interest, such as construction, architecture or engineering. Klout will identify influencers in that area.
Click on the Twitter icon and identify the Twitter conversations that the influencer is involved in. These are identified by hashtags, which are keywords preceded by the # sign (for example, #construction, or #contractor).
Sign up for Twitter if you haven’t already (yes, it’s free), and follow and join the conversations of interest.
Continue the process. Conversations will uncover more influencers, and vice versa. Just like live networkers, online networkers succeed through sustained effort.
There are some unwritten rules that should be followed when engaging online. Rather than look for an opening to pitch your product or particular interest, actively look for opportunities to provide information that the group has demonstrated an interest in. Essentially, you should consider the value of the information you are able to provide. “You get back what you put in,” says K’necht.
It’s important, therefore, to understand what the group is all about before making comments. “I generally ease my way into the conversation,” says K’necht. “If you’re hit and run, the group will not respond.”
You will know when you are engaging people when they start answering and showing approval for your tweets or posts. This is where the magic of social networking really begins—those who approve of you signal that approval to their followers, and this can have a snowball effect.
Once you have created genuine interest in your contributions, you will have earned the right to talk about what you do, because people will genuinely want to know. That interest is the beginning of your career as a social media superstar.
Jacob Stoller is a principal of Toronto based Consultancy Stoller Stragies. Send comments to firstname.lastname@example.org