Over the weekend, I enjoyed reading a BBC Business article by Tim Weber from last week’s economic summit in Davos. In How companies tackle the interweb thingy, he points out that while every company worth its salt has a website, many “are still struggling to move beyond having a colourful website towards really using the internet to their advantage”.
“And to make things worse, hardly any company knows how to cope with the rise of social media – the Facebooks, Twitters, blogs and YouTubes of the digital world.”
Tim goes on to say that companies must tackle the “killers of digital confidence”: not just the standard ‘techie’ things such as spam, privacy, fraud prevention and network security, but also the ethical aspects such as “being honest and upfront with your customers“.
The internet is proving a challenging environment for traditional media, turning what used to be a tightly controlled “walled garden” into a vast digital universe with multiple sources of news and comment, much of it – of course – of variable quality and accuracy. Drawing on debate at a Davos seminar last week, Tim picks out ‘social media’ as one of the most disruptive developments. Behind “human interaction in a virtual world“, is a “teeming jungle of social networks that allows people instant communication with hundreds or thousands of ‘followers’, ‘friends’ or plain old readers.”
Yet most companies have not got a clue about social media, he says (“for example, they run sanitised and boring corporate blogs, from which critical customer comments are purged”). This is risky: “failing to engage with social media … could potentially lead to the destruction of a company’s brand“. However, he continues:
“… used the right way, companies can turn customers into partners, through instant feedback that allows constant product development. Even better, done the right way (and with the right product or service), you can gently persuade happy customers to commend you using social media. That is advertising that no money can buy.
The AEC challenge
I know I may sound like a stuck record, but I believe this lack of appreciation of the potential impact of social media is even more marked in the architecture, engineering and construction (AEC) markets. As I suggested last week, the AEC media are realising that the print ‘walled garden’ has been breached, and – particularly with recruitment and other advertising revenues under severe pressure due to the severe recession affecting the whole construction sector – they are looking to diversify into the ‘interwebs’, but many of their existing and potential readers (or ‘friends’ or ‘followers’) have yet to follow them in embracing and interacting with social media (see my follow-up Few architects Tweet… post).
One example: just this morning, my friend Brian Green, of the Contract Journal-endorsed Brickonomics blog, was bemoaning to me the lack of feedback from readers to his posts, some of which he had written to be as provocative or gloomy as possible simply to evoke a reaction. I suggested that it was perhaps a symptom of low awareness and/or of industry professionals’ conservative approach to ICT. Another indicator of this might be the relatively low levels of traffic through AEC-focused discussion forums (the CJ Construction Space forum now has 115 users, while Building‘s slightly older community has grown to 555 users).
Update (03 February 2009): I meant to add a further question that Brian and I discussed: are the commercial teams of traditional media businesses comfortable with e-media ? I won’t labour the point as this Econsultancy blog article, Publishers must adapt to economic and digital trends, makes some valid points.