Building Socially

Forty-two years ago, the first email was sent between two computers, side by side. Additionally, eight years ago, Facebook was launched. Today, roughly one in every eight people on Earth has a Facebook profile.

Three months ago, during the final 57 seconds of Super Bowl XVLI, 12,233 tweets per second were sent across North America. No matter how annoying the email notifications and constant flood of updates, social media is here to stay. So it’s about time we all got a little more comfortable with using it for personal and professional purposes.

Dozens of construction organizations across the United States and Canada are all saying the same thing, “We know about social media. We don’t know why we need it in the workplace.” The social media hype may have started after your college years and maybe you prefer to keep it personal, but the bottom line is that social media offers a variety of collaborative tools and resources that can be employed within the workplace.

Essential Awareness

In today’s market, it is vital for architecture, engineering and construction professionals to be aware of social media’s capabilities. Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, YouTube and Google+ have become part of every professional’s vocabulary and provide significant benefits to business processes.

Facebook is hard to ignore with one billion projected users worldwide by the end of 2012. Facebook groups and pages are ideal for centralizing information around a project, brand or group of individuals to stay connected.

You can post events, send communications, share project and plan files, job site photos, and generate discussion and feedback with complete control over who has access. Facebook can be used internally, on a small (i.e., project team group) or large scale (i.e., company page), as desired.

Sometimes called the “Business Facebook,” LinkedIn provides a host of capabilities and objectives unlike other social media outlets. It is better suited for business, even without the sheer user numbers that Facebook flaunts. By creating and building a personal profile, users open their professional network to over 150 million users specifically looking to engage on a professional level. The company page is especially important.

With product and service offerings, recommendations, news and events, companies are able to build reputation and increase geographic reach through an extensive network of LinkedIn users. With detailed resume display and search options, it is also the premier social media platform for recruiting, job hunting and searching for vendors.

In addition, the LinkedIn Answers forum resembles a human-powered search engine. Users can ask their peers, inside and outside their network, for feedback and for answers on a variety of issues, such as whether or not someone might recommend building in a certain region and which software provider offers the best support services. Some of the most active, industry-specific, discussions on the web take place within the LinkedIn group discussion forums, which can be made public or private, and can serve as a valuable whiteboard for peer collaboration.

Twitter, often times, suffers the most critics and least adopters among AEC industry professionals. In reality, there is no more efficient platform for disseminating project news, jobsite blasts, company announcements and event dates. Companies can create a private feed for individuals and project groups or a public feed for open bids, vendor invites, job openings and company news. From an individual’s standpoint, there’s no better way to follow your favorite publications, thought leaders, organizations and companies for the most up-to-date information and links.

YouTube, though not as valuable from a project collaboration standpoint, is still an incredibly accessible and convenient way of sharing recorded information with clients and prospects. Video tutorials, jobsite walkthroughs and training webinars are just a few of the occurrences that can be recorded and posted for reference by all those interested in your latest development.

Nearly Essential

Google+ is also working its way into the “essential” mix, with combined benefits from Google Search, Google Places, Google Maps and Google+ Pages, which make for optimal searchability. Other than having an attractively sleek user interface and being essential to a brand’s search engine optimization strategy, Google+ still has a long way to go. That being said, the Hangout feature is second to none. The multi-party video conferencing available in Hangout can put you in a video chat of up to 10 people, for free.  At the end of the day, it isn’t how many of these social media tools you employ on the jobsite, on your estimating team or for company communications, but rather the quality of your strategy for integrating and evaluating social media across the board. Using metrics like Google Analytics Social Metrics and Facebook Insights to analyze the reach and engagement of your social media presence is essential.

Knowing how your peers, prospects, clients or employees are engaging will tell you if the tool is actually worth the time. And programs like HootSuite and TweetDeck can help you manage multiple accounts from one platform and streamline your interactions.

To tie it all in, the ultimate goal is to learn and master the social media platforms that work best. It all comes down to a little thing called “augmented reality” – an enhanced, alternate reality produced by combining real world data such as jobsite location and computer-generated data and sensory input shared through social media outlets.

On YouTube, you can watch a video about Google’s Project Glass. In everything from contact lenses to headsets, solutions like Project Glass will overlay the entirety of the technology in your repertoire (mobile, laptop, building, office, software and the list goes on) and apply it to the world in real-time as you view it.

When, and not if, this becomes mainstream, the better integrated your company, personal, social and work data already is, the easier that your life will be. Until every ounce of data that you could possibly need is stored in a piece of eyeglass, I’d say that social media is a great place to start.

James Benham  is the founder and president of JB Knowledge Technologies Inc., an information technology services provider and maker of the SmartBidNet and SmartCompliance software solutions. For more information, contact him at 866-888-8538 x 901 or james@smartbidnet.com.

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