How can organisations and professionals in the construction industry get the most from social media?
Social media goes far beyond Twitter, Facebook, Linked In and Google+. It encompasses a wide range of websites, blogs, forums, and media delivery platforms (YouTube, Flickr, Instagram, Pinterest, RSS feeds, etc.) which allow people and organisations to interact.
Use of social media has grown at a huge pace over the past few years (Twitter launched in 2006 and now has 400 million users worldwide). It is becoming a key part of marketing strategies and is changing the way in which organisations engage with their target audiences.
How social media has changed marketing & PR
It is not so long since the majority of marketing activity was ‘broadcast’ or ‘one-way’. Promotional strategies were based on the idea of interrupting the audience in order to gain their attention and deliver a message.
Previously, target audiences were bombarded with messages on TV, in printed media and by direct mail. Success was almost exclusively dependent on how much money was available for creative content and media space. However, few of the traditional mass media channels now reach the large audiences they once did; a proliferation of media channels has spread the target audiences across a greater number of media and technology enables viewers, readers and listeners to filter out commercial messages.
The construction industry has seen similar changes, with more and more titles claiming to reach the same target audiences. The challenge for the reader is to sift out the chaff in order to find the information most relevant to them. The challenge for the advertiser is to select the media which is most relevant to their target audiences and, therefore, being read.
Plus, the internet has changed the way in which people seek out and receive information, both in consumer and business to business markets. News is available more immediately, information on specific topics is more readily available and data can be filtered more easily.
Finally, the ability for people to gain useful information without divulging their names or contact details is now widely accepted as being essential in all but a few cases, typically where the information is of such a commercially sensitive nature or has such a high value (monetary or utility) that people are willing to release personal details in order to obtain it.
The marketer, therefore, is faced with a situation of only being able to reach target audiences when they want to be reached and having to provide information without knowing who these people are, something which the sales department would traditionally find particularly irksome; if they don’t know who has asked for the information, how are they supposed to follow up a potentially useful sales lead?
Social media helps to fill this gap in the modern marketing world. It helps organisations to establish meaningful (or as meaningful as possible) relationships with existing and potential customers, and moves marketing from a one-way to a two-way process. Like it or loathe it, the popular term for this is ‘engagement’.
Successful social media marketing seeks to engage the organisation with its target audiences, with the aim of encouraging them to view web-based content in the form of articles, images, video, etc.
This engagement with existing and potential customers is becoming a key method of generating exposure, building awareness and driving sales. Defined objectives and goals, such as promoting a new product or demonstrating technical expertise, can be achieved with the right use of appropriate online channels.
Why social media is important for your company
There are many ways in which you can benefit from social media:-
- It will help you to build and maintain relationships with potential and existing customers – it can allow you to network with architects, consultants, contractors, suppliers and clients.
It can enhance your website’s position in search engine rankings.
It is key in driving traffic to your website, which means increased exposure for your products and/or services.
- You can share your expertise and gain the benefit of others’ expertise within the market place.
- You can monitor interest in your products or services and discover what is working for you.
- You can gain intelligence – your organisation could be talked about, issues that are important to you will be being talked about and issues that are important to your customers will be being talked about. You need to be involved!
- You can’t run your business in isolation; the internet is here to stay, ignore it at your peril!
Planning your social media strategy
Good planning requires an appreciation of what is and is not possible within the various constraints under which you are operating; time, staff, budgets, etc. You also need to be aware of the potential pitfalls – as with any relationship, things can go wrong for what might appear to be the most innocuous of reasons. The problem is that with social media, this breakdown can go global (viral is the common term), and once it does, it is very difficult to recover the situation.
Examples of social media gone wrong abound, with even the most well-meaning of intentions leaving major organisations with egg on their faces, or negative news exploding beyond control as it goes viral. Enter ‘social media fails’ in your search engine for some noteworthy illustrations.
What do you want?
As with any other area of marketing communications, the success of your social media strategy can only be measured against the objectives you have set. They will give direction to your content and activities, but they need to be realistic and achievable. They might include:-
- Raising awareness of your brand and/or company
- Changing market perception of your company
- Increasing sales
- Managing and enhancing your reputation
- Developing relationships with industry leaders – influential architects, large contractors, interior designers, etc.
- Increasing your online visibility to increase traffic to your web site
- Improving customer service
- Surveys and research
What will you show?
Once you are happy with your objectives, you can then consider how you are going to achieve them.
A content strategy will determine how you will use blog posts, podcasts, graphics, photography, video and anything else which makes up a page on your website, or any combination to achieve your objectives.
Ideally, content needs to be useful to your target audiences and not simply a collection of promotional messages. Useful, relevant content informs your visitor and will encourage them to return to your site, subscribe to newsletters, RSS feeds, e-zines and other messaging from your company and, possibly, refer or link back to your content.
You need to think about what your target audiences are looking for, what challenges they face, what can assist them in their working life and what they find interesting.
Possibilities for subject matter for companies working in the construction industry might include:
- Legislation or building regulations that impact on prospects or customers
- Clarifying complex specification processes
- Online calculation tools to carry out commonly-used complex calculations
- Videos on installation and fitting products
The final destination for your online marketing will be your website. This needs to be found by people searching on the web for your products or services within the major search engines.
Your search engine ranking can be enhanced by social media activity, but social media platforms can also be used to connect people to the content. Consider using:-
- Blogs – articles about your products, services or industry news, plus technical advice on product specification, installation, etc.
- Twitter – short messages to direct people to your site and/or share views
- LinkedIn – personal and company profiles plus the opportunity to join interest groups
- Forums – engage in ‘meaningful’ conversations with subscribers, answer queries relevant to your markets, products, etc.
- Online publications – share optimised news stories related to your brand, product or services
- YouTube – upload your own videos; becoming increasingly influencial in search engine results
- Flickr – upload images and link to/from them
- Pinterest – share visual content that interests you, your company and your target audiences
- Building Industry specific platforms – publisher websites (Building, Building Design, RIBA, etc.), DIY and building forums, etc.
As with any marketing activity, the results of your efforts need to be assessed regularly in order to find out what is and is not working and adapt strategies accordingly.
From your website’s perspective, Google Analytics can provide a wealth of information on visitors and what they are looking for. The utility offers what can be a bewildering array of options, from simple numbers of visitors to sophisticated, tailored campaigns.
Obviously, there is a danger of becoming bogged-down in statistics and constantly chasing improvements in certain areas, but useful metrics might include numbers of visitors, popular pages, how long visitors spend on the website and how visitors have reached your site; search terms used, referring sites, etc.
Remember to set a benchmark for the various areas you need to measure before your campaigns start so that you can properly compare the results of your activity over time.
On the social media side, there is a range of tools available that will help you to assess your reach into the various platforms; how many people are talking about you, what subjects are being talked about, how often people are using your content, etc.
Again, you need to be clear on exactly what you want to measure to make sure that it is useful to your overall marketing strategy and provides information that you can use in enhancing your presence on the internet and promoting your company.
Despite its massive appeal to the general public, and consequently to companies involved in consumer marketing, it is fair to say that social media in the construction industry is probably still in its infancy, with a relatively small proportion of companies undertaking regular activity.
Even if it is only used to increase the number of visitors to a site, social media is useful as it provides a company with a number of different ways to reach its markets and influence specification and procuremnet decisions. Beyond this, as discussed, it has the potential to enhance a company’s image, present the company as an expert in its field and make the company (and its website) a go-to resource for its target audiences.
A successful strategy needs careful planning; think about what you are trying to achieve, how you will achieve it and how you will assess its success. Naturally, the strategy will need resourcing to ensure that appropriate content is generated on a regular basis and that activity is being monitored and adjusted to meet your needs and those of your target audiences. Whether you manage this internally or seek outside help will obviously depend on finance, but it is not something that will achieve results through a half-hearted, sporadic approach.
We always advise clients to think along the lines of a magazine in planning content well ahead of publication date to assure a flow of information. For this reason, social media activity and the content that accompanies it is a natural extension of PR as this is the area that most often creates or discovers newsworthy content.
If developing and implementing a successful social media strategy is one more task you know you should be tackling, but don’t have the time for, why not contact PSL for a free, no obligation consultation?