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Whitepaper for the construction industry: Finding a Contractor in the 21st Century
Contractor networking has changed more radically in the past 15 years than it has in the entire century before.
Traditionally, finding a building contractor was a word-of-mouth prospect. Contractors seeking subcontractors for business-to-business collaboration and homeowners seeking contractors for home improvements or remodeling used to dial rotary or push-button phones, calling around to friends and business associates for recommendations. They relied on ads in their local newspapers, made cold calls, or let their fingers do the walking in the Yellow Pages. The Internet and the rise of social media, both now a portable, active part of daily life for so many of us, changed the way we network and communicate both socially and professionally – forever. If you are looking to find a contractor (or want to attract one to do business with you) and you don’t remember those days, or especially if you do, you understand that the contractor game has changed more radically in the past 15 years than it has in the entire century before, and this whitepaper is for you.
Let’s take a look at trends in how the construction industry is using social media.
According to 2012 and 2013 social media for construction surveys conducted by the Construction Marketing Association (CMA), construction professionals reported the following data about their social media use, presented comparatively as follows:
- Use social media – 90% 2012; 97% 2013 (7% increase)
- Internally manage their social media – 91% 2012; 93% 2013 (2% increase)
- Use Facebook – 81% 2012; 83% 2013 (2% increase)
- Use LinkedIn – 88% 2012; 91% 2013 (3% increase)
- Use Google+ – 24% 2012; 40% 2013 (16% increase)
- Use Twitter – 71% 2012; 84% 2013 (13% increase)
- Use YouTube – 56% 2012; 68% 2013 (12% increase)
- Use Pintrest – 18% 2012; 26% 2013 (3% increase)
- Use Blogs – 39% 2012; 47% 2013 (8% increase)
One thing is clear from these results: the vast majority of respondent construction companies are making an effort to harness the power of social media networking and marketing as part of their business development strategy.
Here are the CMA survey statistics on how the construction industry is using additional sites that are newcomers to the social media scene; no data is available for 2012, but we can see how prevalently they were used in 2013:
- Instagram – 5% 2013
- Tumblr – 4% 2013
- Own Community – 4% 2013
- Houzz – 2% 2013
CMA survey statistics on the construction industry’s use of paid advertising on social media:
- Facebook – 11% 2013
- LinkedIn – 12% 2013
- Twitter – 2% 2013
- None – 83% 2013
Now, let’s take a look at what construction professionals reported in terms of the effectiveness of their social media use, and whether it improved their business objectives.
CMA survey statistics on what the construction industry reported in terms of the effectiveness of the social media they used:
- Most Effective
- 2013 – LinkedIn, Twitter, RSS Feed, Facebook, YouTube
- 2012 – LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook, Other, RSS Feed
- Least Effective
- 2013 – Facebook, Twitter, Google+, Houzz
- 2012 – Facebook, Twitter, Google+, Other
With respect to some of the popular social media networks (particularly Twitter and Facebook), there were vastly different experiences reported regarding effectiveness among different construction businesses. We can speculate about the reasons, but the solution this whitepaper will propose points to increased effectiveness regardless of whether or not your current social media plan (if you as of yet have one) has been effective to this point.
It’s important to note that this whitepaper interprets “effectiveness” to mean that the social media being used leads to real connections with real people that yield real business.
Construction professionals also reported on how they perceived social media to have helped improve their goals; data from the 2012 and 2013 CMA surveys is presented comparatively as follows:
- Improved awareness – 69% 2012; 86% 2013 (17% increase)
- Improved web traffic – 65% 2012; 63% 2013 (2% decrease)
- Improved search rank – 44% 2012; 39% 2013 (5% decrease)
- Improved sales leads – 40% 2012; 39% 2013 (1% decrease)
- Nothing improved – 17% 2012; 7% 2013 (10% decrease)
- Other improvements – 1% 2012; 84% 2013 (13% increase)
Notably, these statistics suggest that while social media is perceived by the survey respondents to have called attention to their construction businesses, it has not done as much to improve sales leads. We infer that among these survey categories, (improved brand awareness, website hits, search engine rank, etc.,) all serve a single paramount goal: improved sales leads that increase contracting and ultimately, increase business income.
A word on referral sites such as Angie’s List…
Angie’s List is not a social media networking platform, and is not included in these analyses. Instead, it is a referral site, a composite database of contractor and other local service provider reviews by their customers, along with information about the credentials of these providers. Customers are required to pay a fee to leave and/or read reviews. There are other contractor and service provider referral sites that do not charge fees, but again, they are not networking platforms. Social sites, by contrast, typically provide opportunities for establishing relationships, community, and “conversation” through networking features that are not characteristic of referral sites.
Why is social marketing and networking imperative for 21st century contractors?
The Age of Technology and the Communication Revolution have provided the construction industry with new opportunities to advance contracting and grow business. To compete in today’s marketplace, it is necessary for construction companies of any size to have a presence on the Internet. More and more, contractors and homeowners rely on the Internet, often exclusively, to find contractors to meet their construction needs – building, remodeling, architectural design, engineering, electrical, HVAC, masonry, dry-walling, roofing, and much more. At the same time, the post-recession economy has left many construction businesses with the need to do more with less. For too many contractors, budget priorities make it next to impossible to invest adequate time and resources into planning strategies for affordable, effective business marketing and networking. Still, the impact of 21st century technology and communication calls for construction companies to keep up…or be left behind.
Although, as the CMA survey indicates, construction companies are using, trying to use social media to advance business, the most commonly used social media platforms were not designed or intended for that foremost purpose. Even LinkedIn, which facilitates professional networking, was not designed to increase commerce. More than a decade since social media burst on the scene, some of the popular sites warn, penalize, or terminate members who are using the site to promote their business.
Many contractors will continue to join social media communities like the popular ones considered in the Construction Marketing Association (CMA) surveys. This is not necessarily because these sites are the best place to connect with new partners and customers to advance business, but because companies believe people expect to find them there. People might be more likely to perceive a business as credible if it has a Facebook page or is sending out some captivating content via Twitter (and have managed to collect some followers), but as the CMA surveys demonstrate, being there does relatively little to help these companies forge the kind of networking relationships that improve leads and yield tangible, profitable business. The solution calls for a new generation of networking sites that are designed to advance the particular needs of niche communities, such as the construction industry.
Andre Borque, Managing Editor of Technorati Media, in an article for the Internet publication, Social Media Today titled, “How Niche Social Networking Sites Empower New Businesses” (posted July 1, 2014), writes:
“Industries still wrestling with their efforts to make effective use of the digital marketing space include the legal, oil and gas, and construction industries. But a whole new crop of niche social networking apps - including UBuildNet.com, Foxwordy, and Oilpro - have surfaced to help these industries overcome their reticence in participating.”
We predict that niche (social) networking will overtake the first-generation social media sites we know today. For many businesses, these niche networks will provide more time- and cost-effective vehicles to advance the networking, marketing, and comprehensive business needs of particular industries to increase real business. The vast majority of the members of today’s social sites are there for purposes other than to find a contractor. In fact, most primarily are there – surprise, surprise – for social reasons. Instead, niche networking will bring people with common interests and goals together to form a real community. Niche networking sites like UBuildNet.com will provide the most efficient, effective solutions for finding contractors, making and managing real business contacts, and increasing real contracting and income. They also have the potential to become one-stop-shops for a variety of daily operational and administrative needs, from creating an estimate to managing a project.
Here are the key features contractors should look for in a construction niche network for the purpose of business-to-businesses and business-to-consumer networking that will lead to increased contracting and income:
- Business profile – the ideal construction niche networking site should give you the ability to set up a searchable profile with your logo, business contact information, credentials, and photos of your work
- Targeted search function – the construction networking site should have a simple-to-use search function that lets you identify the businesses you might wish to find from a wide variety of business/product categories (builders, designers, realtors, lenders, and much more), along with the ability to enter a location radius so that you can easily find the ones in your area
- Connections – the site should let you connect with those businesses and individuals who you believe can help you advance your business goals and theirs
- One-on-one communication – the site should allow connected members within the construction niche community to personally (and privately) message one another
- Public/”social” communication (“conversation”) – the site should allow connected members to share content useful to the construction community, including, but not limited to, promotional information about their company’s products and services (this is like free advertising among the people who are most likely to be interested in your products and services, folks!)
- Recommendations – optimally, connected members of the community also should have the ability to recommend or endorse one another’s businesses
- Contacts management – ability to organize contacts into groups for targeted relationship-building, communications, and promotions
- Optional prominent paid advertising – the site should provide members with the option to purchase advertising that would be prominently displayed on the site; again, since this is a niche contracting network, unlike on non-niche sites (LinkedIn, Facebook, YouTube, etc.), you would be assured that advertising on the niche site would reach your target audience – the construction industry, its business partners, and its consumers.
Additional features recommended in a construction niche networking site to make it useful not only for managing relationships, branding, and marketing/promotion, but also, for managing day to day operations:
- Tools and materials – value-added resources to support critical business functions such as estimates, bids, budgeting, contracting, loan amortization, project management, etc.
- Customer portal – a facility that permits homeowners, facility managers, etc., to join the community; ideally, this would include tools to manage their building, remodeling, renovation, and maintenance needs using tools and resources designed especially for them (such as task lists, budgets, wish lists, etc.)
- Photo gallery – an area of the site where builders and consumers can view work samples shared by other members of the community for project ideas, and to identify and connect with contractors who are behind the work they most like
- Project dashboard – a utility for adding projects, identifying corresponding budget items, and tracking costs and payments.
In article posted on FORConstructionPROS.com on July 24, 2014 titled, “Would You Join a Social Media Network for Construction Professionals?,” author Kimberly Hegeman writes:
“We've said before that social media is everywhere, but the perception is that the construction industry has been slow to adapt and incorporate social media. Maybe it's because contractors don't see a value, don't know which in the multitude of social channels to use or don't have the time. But now there is a new site designed specifically for social networking and marketing for the construction industry. It's called UBuildNet.com.”
Industry-specific niche networking sites will have the potential to eliminate the problems associated with existing social media sites. The most significant of these issues is that they were never designed to facilitate business solutions. Niche networks like UBuildNet.com will be built expressly to meet industry-specific needs, and will provide a better, more evident value and clear social media choice to contractors. The best niche social media sites for the construction industry will be designed by experienced contractors who understand the needs of fellow contractors. As the Borque and Hegeman articles cited in this whitepaper point out, this is already happening. Our final prediction is that within the next five years, niche networking will become the social networking choice for anyone looking to find a contractor…and to do real business with them.
So, to find a contractor (and more) in the 21st century, your fingers still will do the walking…across your keyboard, tablet, or smart-phone, using niche networking designed to advance construction business.