Twitter, AEC media and the noble art of PR for the built environment

12. October 2009 14:40

This was the title of my 10 minute slot at last week's B2Camp event at the Working Buildings expo at Olympia.

It won't surprise many of you to know that we are using social media tools, particularly Twitter, as part of our PR and media relations work for clients as well as building awareness of the consultancy itself.

So I thought it might be of interest to post my slides here, with a commentary (as the slides themselves won't give you the detail of what was discussed). You can also see copies of the other presentations on the B2Camp ning site.

In a later post, I will also let you have a list of our top 10 journalists that we think you should follow if you're interested in architecture, construction, building, engineering and sustainability in the built environment.

My first point was that Twitter can be seen as a huge, packed party. Full of people you probably don't know, but who are friendly, happy to chat and will happily introduce you to others you'd like to meet. The noise is almost deafening and like all good parties, a lot of tripe is being spoken...

But in this party you will find lots of journalists, many of whom are interested in what you're interested in.

Research due to be launched in the States next month suggests that 70% of US journalists use social media networks to help them with their reporting, up from 41% last year. About half of all the respondents said they use Twitter. (Read the full report on the Journalistics blog here).

Although the figures are not so high in the UK yet (see this interesting research on Twitter use in UK national newspapers), the trend seems to be towards greater use of Twitter by the media when they want to find sources, research stories and post feature requests.

In fact, at first glance Twitter seems to be a party with an A-list of media celebrities in attendance: the editors of Building magazine, The Architect's Journal, Building Design, New Civil Engineer and Construction News... they're all here!

Of course, not all these journalists and editors use Twitter to its full extent. Some don't even like it.

But thanks to those that do, there's an interesting opportunity opening up which allows companies, their PR professionals and journalists to share information, help each other and build closer working relationships.

How it works

Here's a quick snapshot of how it can work at its simplest level.

First, you need to know where to find journalists on Twitter.

There are several generic directories which might be of use:

There are also some useful wikis collecting information on the media on Twitter:

But as you can see above, our main recommendations are to check out media websites, delve into the list of people a few journalists are following (you can bet they're following other reporters too), and also your PR company's contacts.

My proposal to the B2Campers was that we should set up our own wiki for media contacts relevant to our sector. (Want to help? Please contact me or Paul Wilkinson).

You should choose a few relevant journalists to follow on Twitter, but don't necessaily expect them to follow you back straight away. You will need need to prove your worth as a source first - and that may be best done offline in the first instance. (More about that in a later blog post).

Listening in on a journalist's Twitter feed can tell you much more about what they're interested in, and the things they like/dislike. You can also spot any requests for information - responding to these opportunities has created coverage for our clients in the Times newspaper and many online channels in the last month alone.

Keep an eye out too for the hashtag #journorequest - this is increasingly used by freelance journalists to tag tweets when they're looking for help and information.

If there are journalists following you on Twitter, you may find it useful to post updates with links direct to your press releases (created as pages on your website, full of links to useful information, images etc. rather than a downloaded PDF - see some examples above). There are different ways to do this, but my best advice is to make the tweet itself interesting rather than posting an update that says "Just uploaded an interesting press release http://blahblah". Do not bombard the journalists with messages telling them to click on your stories!


A quick search on the hashtag #PRFAIL reveals a litany of complaints from beleaguered journalists who have received poor service from companies and their PR representatives. Any bad practice will be broadcast on Twitter, you can count on it.

Our advice? Be professional, know what you're doing, and follow the CIPR guidelines on social media.

So in conclusion...

My final thoughts at the Olympia event are summed up in these last two slides.

This one was a tweet I stumbled upon from @Ahaley, someone I don't know or follow, but someone who has summed it all up perfectly:

Yep, that's it in a 140-character nutshell.

It doesn't matter what media you are using, the usual rules of PR still apply - PR is not about broadcasting your news at anyone in the near vicinity, it's all about relationships.

And good, strong, loving relationships are built upon some age-old rules...

I think those bullet points are probably pretty self-explanatory, but if you have any questions please just ask!

There was an interesting discussion following my presentation into the whole issue of how we can evaluate 'social media coverage' (if there is such a thing) in our PR evaluation for clients. I do believe that it should be included as evidence of the value we can add, but the evaluation tools available today are pretty poor.

Although, as I pointed out last week, the whole Web 2.0 environment is changing and developing in sophistication so fast... maybe I shall have lots to present on at the next B2Camp.


Communicating with Generation Y

30. June 2009 20:14

I am about to employ my first new recruit in her 20s. Like many bosses, I will be facing the issues of communicating with 'Generation Y' (loosely defined as people born since about 1980). And if you believe all the hype, it isn't going to be easy.

Generation Y are supposed to be "demanding, selfish, text-addicted job hoppers with little loyalty to their employers". Also known as the iPod Generation, they are the focus of a shed load of research and comment by management journals, business schools and market trend analysts.

But some recent research on 'Bookend Generations' from the US-based Center for Work-Life Policy suggests it may not be so bad after all (phew).

Just like the Baby Boomers (folk in their 50s and 60s), they "crave flexibility, personal growth, connection and opportunities to 'give back'." That sounds just like the sort of person I really like working with!

Ashridge also has a fascinating Generation Y research project which tested peoples' ideas of the stereotype Gen Y'er with the reality - see the picture below for the alleged characteristics that were found to have strong, weak or mixed support in their research findings:




Some tips for communicating with Generation Y

So given all this stuff I've been reading and thinking about, I thought it would be worth sharing with you a few lessons I have pulled from the research regarding the art of successful communication with your Gen Y employees:

1. Guess what. For the most technologically-savvy generation who spend their lives on Facebook, they actually prefer face-to-face communication to emails, texts or phone calls. In that respect, they are the same as... um, let me see... 100% of the rest of the population. Get out there and walk about. Be visible. Your accessibility, your personal connection with staff and your willingness to chat seriously but informally on a wide range of business issues are very, very important.

2. They crave frequent and honest feedback - and quickly. They're not as much 'impatient' as 'immediate', according to Tammy Erickson, author of Plugged In: The Generation Y Guide To Thriving At Work. So good communication means talking about issues promptly and decisively, or at the very least managing their expectations explicitly about how long it will take before you can have that conversation. Don't let things fester.

3. They have little interest in traditional corporate rituals. So if your internal communications systems are all based on a staff newsletter plus monthly team meetings to cascade information in a structured way, expect to see Gen Y'ers looking for ways to short-cut the system so they can get the news much quicker.

4. They love the chance to offer ideas and suggestions, and expect these to be taken seriously. But look for faster ways to capture and move on these ideas - the old-fashioned 'suggestion scheme' or postbox in the corner of HQ won't really cut it. Be aware they may need coaching and support to learn ways to put forward their ideas in a constructive and positive way. Be open to learn from their ideas and their understanding of the potential internal communication uses of new technologies and social media.

5. All the research points to a clear need to communicate your corporate vision and values clearly from the start. Corporate responsibility and reputation really matters to Gen Y'ers, as do things like community involvement.

6. Unfortunately (she says with an old-fashioned sigh), English grammar has not been taught well in schools for some time. So don't be surprised if your Gen Y'ers also need your help to improve their writing skills, and to learn the need for professionalism in even casual communications. They will take their lead from you on this.


The best employee communications advice for the construction sector

My colleague Paul Wilkinson at pwcom 2.0 has also written an excellent blog post about Generation Y. He points out that the current construction industry, faced with a deep recession and the return of adversarial behaviours, will not be an attractive industry for these young people. To attract them, we would need to achieve "a committed change in culture... and any change shouldn't be reversed simply because of a worsening economic climate." 

These are wise words - already I see communication suffering as doors close. Across the industry managers are retreating into their offices, huddling in secretive Board meetings, emerging tense and taciturn. Swift, open, relaxed employee communications is rarer than hen's teeth right now.

However, the recent Channel 4 'Undercover Boss' programme gave me more cause for optimism.

Last week's programme showed Stephen Martin, the boss of the Clugston Group, a medium-sized civil engineering company in Humberside, go undercover for a fortnight - posing as 'Martin Walker', an ordinary co-worker learning the ropes.

In doing so, he got the opportunity to listen purposefully to what his employees really thought about the company and to learn what their communication needs are.

"Our key messages were just not getting through to people... People working on shift on a large site do not have time to read newsletters or log onto websites. You have to communicate with people on their terms, and it is different for every location. One size does not fit all," he told the FT (an interesting article to read also for tips on how best to deal with staff anxiety in recessionary times, by the way).

Stephen Martin has published his own '10 tips' sharing online what he learned from the experience. Everything is about communication. It is the best advice for businesses in this sector that I have seen in a long time. There's also a good podcast to listen to.

By the way, one of the other excellent things Stephen Martin did, in my opinion, was to link up the old-timers (Baby Boomers like Dick Sutton with 36 years' valuable experience) with the youngsters (Generation Y new recruits like Les Parker). Thus Clugston has established a scheme called 'Bridge the Gap' to promote communication, mentoring and knowledge transfer between the generations.

This is everything that the Center for Work-Life Policy, Ashridge and other researchers highlight as a vital way to get the best from Gen Y - and all our generations of workers.


About the author

Liz Male

Liz Male is a PR and communications professional specialising in construction, property and sustainability in the built environment. This is Liz's blog on the foundations of good communications, covering everything from the basics of media relations to topical ponderings on strategic comms issues. Follow Liz's more concise thoughts on Twitter: @lizmale

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