Opportunities for marketing through social media are everywhere, and growing an online presence seems to be on everyone’s to-do list.
Construction professionals are especially suited to social networking due to the web of business relationships they maintain. However, contractors must exercise caution when entering this new world of marketing. Creating an online presence to help grow business exposes construction companies to unique risks and consequences. The Pros and Cons of Unlimited Exposure
The Internet is about immediacy. Post practically anything, and the whole world can access it. Friends and acquaintances can “see” and “talk” at all hours and at great length, at nominal or no cost. The marketing opportunities are endless—websites, blogs, personal networks (Facebook
), professional networks (LinkedIn
), micro-blogging sites (Twitter
), review pages (Yelp
) and bookmarking sites (Delicious
) all give business owners a platform for promoting expertise, products, performance and pride in the company’s work.
Once a company plunges into social media, the publicity enhances professional development and networking. But, traces of activity also may appear in numerous places the user may later regret.
Most sites can capture views and commentary, both thoughtful and thoughtless. Search spiders then make content readily accessible to the world with a few keystrokes. A thoughtless blog posting or an incomplete website makes a bad impression. Critical comments about competitors or their projects may mean the company will be held to a higher standard when its own projects are judged. Only the uninformed think no one will ever know who posted a sarcastic, critical or malevolent comment on a website, wall or blog. The Viral Effect
A company also may be accountable for what others put on the web. Using the company’s email system or a signature with the company’s address implies the company authorizes the content of that communication. Is staff communicating with owners, subcontractors or suppliers in ways they may regret?
Similarly, be wary of unauthorized third-party comments on company websites. A company blog that allows others to comment could end up hosting a critical remark about a client. Diligently review anything others write on sites and blogs.
Also, closely scrutinize what colleagues say in cyberspace about the company’s work. For example, if the company is part of a project that uses building information modeling (BIM), then be wary of what others describe or suggest as falling within the contractor’s areas of responsibility.
Errors on the Internet are more easily noticeable, more readily available and stick around a lot longer than in traditional print media. Local newspapers have limited distribution; not so with the Internet’s “viral” effect. To combat this long-lasting impact, quickly correct any errors posted online.
Gone are the innocent days of pages and blogs “just for friends.” An adverse party in a lawsuit may link an online persona to one’s professional role. Therefore, “connect with” or “friend” only certain people, and avoid posting photographs or opinions that others might find inappropriate. If work affiliation is listed on a social network, treat all messages on that network the same as any communication on the company’s letterhead. The Old Rules Still Apply
What a person says on the Internet about his or her workplace may be damaging in the event of a lawsuit. The standard by which a contractor is measured in a court case is that of a reasonable professional in his trade, acting with ordinary prudence, in similar circumstances. Touting oneself as better than competitors, however, may be used as evidence to hold a contractor to a higher standard.
Sensible businesspeople avoid guaranteeing a specific result in most situations. But people can be prone to saying just about anything on a social networking site if they’re trying to attract business.
A LinkedIn profile, blog or website that claims a contractor completes all of its work on time could lead a disappointed customer to argue the contractor guaranteed it would complete the job on time, even in the midst of material shortages, labor strikes, severe weather or other circumstances beyond the contractor’s control. Over-selling on the web can land a company in hot water, in a very public way.
The old rules still apply to the new media. For example, consumer protection laws prohibit false statements about a company’s services—including on the web.
With caution and preparation, a contractor can reap the benefits of an online media presence without exposing the company to unnecessary risks.