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Old/New Media: Making the Connection

What will be the role of “Web 2.0” and “Social Media” be in the construction industry, and why should you care?

twitter-pageIn the August 3rd issue of Engineering News-Record there was an article on Textura, a construction e-commerce firm with 38,000 users, including 25% of the ENR Top 400, that’s venturing into social networking.

The firm, which GCs use to facilitate payments, will now offer a Facebook-like component that will allow contractors to distribute their resumes, balance sheets, and other supporting documentation online. Owners and GCs can decide who they want to “friend,” to borrow a term from Facebook, and allow to bid on a project.

The construction industry is one of the strongest industries in terms of communication, connection, and the importance of relationships. It is also an industry that struggles with implementing new technologies, particularly when they relate to communication or marketing.

A couple of months ago there were two excellent pieces on the transition in media on CBS Sunday Morning.

One was a “Fast Draw” piece Blogging Through History. The video traced the evolution of participatory journalism from America’s first newspaper Publick Occurrences which had a blank last page for people to type comments and pass the paper along,  through the growth in newspapers to today’s blogs.

The second was a commentary by Nancy Giles on Twitter entitled Tweets, Twits, and Twitter, Oh My! . You should listen to the second piece just to get her punchline at the end.

Part of the problem with “Social Media,”  “Web 2.0,” or anything that came before or after it is that the public discussion and the buzz focus on the medium, rather than on the end result.

Having spent a large part of my career in business media, I am fascinated as I read in e-newsletters, blogs, and magazine articles about the ways in which business publishers are struggling to “monetize” social media.

Somewhere in the midst of the focus on technology there’s a total lack of understanding of the reason that people use any form of communication: to connect. They want to connect with an idea, with a friend, with a business, with a solution to a problem, with a good laugh. Anything else but human connection might be technology, or noise, or commerce, but it’s not communication.

When I was beginning my career in the early ’70s, the phrase “The medium is the message,  coined by communication theorist Marshall McLuhan received great attention. McCluhan meant the form that we use to commuicate embeds itself in the message, and directly effects the way in which the message is understood. He also noted that the actual words or images of a message may be less significant than the impact of those visuals, sounds, or text – in other words what the overall package communicates.

In Understanding Media, the book that he wrote in 1964 to explain his theories, he pointed out that we could reread any page of a book but that a movie needed to be re-screened to study it. (Who knows what he would have made of the thousands of clips from vintage movies that now reside on YouTube.) His point was that  the medium through which a person encounters a particular piece of content would have an effect on the individual’s understanding of it.

A piece I wrote this week for the St. Louis CNR Weekly Enews pointed out, “There’s currently a lot of buzz about Web 2.0 and social networking. But St. Louis construction companies are also networking in  tough times with proven technology: a cold beer and a good story.” The article talked about the high popularity of informal networking events as a way to connect and gather information in tough times.

Another recent Enews article covered a YouTube post by A. J. Ford, vice presiBudrovich 550dent for sales and marketing for Budrovich Crane Rental. After I posted the article with a link to A.J.’s video, 196 people viewed it a total of 248 times. The time-lapse video of the setup of a 550-ton crane tells a compelling story.

As we explore the use of Social Media and Web 2.0 in the construction industry we need to remember: Whether the “medium” is a cold Bud and a story or a Tweet, the important thing is making the connection.