“The more things change, the more they stay the same” Jean-Baptiste Alphonse Karr, 1849
Construction marketing in the past has been quite poor. And this was not a significant problem as most companies were equally at the same standard so there was no impetus to improve. Also, the reality in Ireland and indeed the UK construction sector is that new business was based on established reputation. In this respect, not much has changed. Reputation is still the single most important asset for any contractor, followed closely by its people. However, in the digital world, raising the visibility of a company is a vital part of establishing, maintaining and protecting that reputation.
Marketing is as vital to individual contractors as it is for a firm with thousands of employees, and the line between traditional or offline marketing and digital marketing is blurring. There ought not to be two different marketing strategies, rather one that integrates both on and offline resources. For most companies, the focus will be on B2B or business-to-business marketing. For this, trade publications and networking at industry events remain important. Post-Covid, events will likely be more strategic and compelling in order to compete with online offerings.
For the digital component, social media marketing is vital to the continued success of any construction company. The tools of marketing for construction companies have changed, but the purpose has not changed. As mentioned above, construction success depends heavily upon reputation. To be clear, no amount of marketing or social media will compensate for poor quality workmanship, poor client relationships and poor employer standards or practices. For isolated incidents, crisis communications has a role to play in keeping the brand ‘on message’.
On social media, there are many businesses in a range of sectors that claim excellence without demonstrating it. Across the construction industry, it is quite the opposite. Every day we meet with robust companies that are growing steadily and this is due to excelling for repeat clients, receiving well-deserved referrals, and they are recognised as good industry employers who reward and elevate their team members. This comes down to the ethos of the company and the management team. Ethos is difficult to fake, thankfully. Good practices breed good results. Marketing simply shares this to a wider, targeted audience.
As seen in Property District’s 2021 report on social media trends for the real estate industry, due to the Covid-19 pandemic, more people than ever are now switching to the internet as a source of information and entertainment. In 2020, Ireland saw an extra 242,000 people get online, with 76.4 percent of the population claiming to be social media users. Through the use of digital marketing, construction businesses can easily tap into this growing audience, generate leads, and develop a trusted brand.
Why Use Social Media Marketing?
As with any industry, building trust in a construction company’s brand is important. By developing a reputation as reliable and trustworthy, the company is more likely to secure business, which gives brands the opportunity to deliver for clients. This successful delivery is key to repeat custom. And this goes for both the business-to-customer (B2C) market and the business-to-business (B2B) sector. This involves posting content that aligns with the business’ philosophy and managing the impression people get, with original content designed to highlight what makes the company stand out. Establishing a strong online and social media presence allows a brand to control the narrative of business and to become a voice in the wider industry – thought leadership is an underused tool in traditional construction, but this is changing for construction technology with a number of early leaders emerging.
Social Media Strategy
For modern businesses in the AEC sector, the key objective of social media marketing is to develop a brand and build trust. With the strategic use of different social media platforms the company can target specific audiences directly, relatively inexpensively. A recent study showed that Irish people check their phone up to 60 times every single day, so the best way to get noticed on a platform is to post a variety of content regularly. While original content is king, it is beneficial to curate relevant and useful media that the target audience would appreciate. To avoid repetitive content and excess self-promotion, Property District advocates for the 80/20 rule. This is the general rule of thumb where 80 percent of content shared should be curated from other sources, and 20 percent is original content created by the brand. These ratios can alter depending on the target audience and the platform used, for example, original material appeals more to visual B2C relationships. For B2B construction posts, project images or work-in-progress images perform better than sharing the finished product. Also, contrary to the statistics from other industries, images and infographics outperform video on construction social media accounts.
Which Platforms to Use?
A full overview of the various social media platforms relevant today can be found in Property District’s 20201 Social Media Trends for Real Estate report, where the same principles apply. Namely, every platform can be utilised to generate leads and build brand awareness. Even platforms with a younger audience such as TikTok can be engaged with, building brand awareness with a demographic that will soon be potential customers, however they will likely not be a priority for brands with limited resources looking for a return on those resources.
The latest figures show that, in Ireland, Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter are still the most popular platforms, with market penetration between 45 percent and 60 percent.
A list of relevant platforms to the construction industry in 2021 are:
- Facebook: Wide reach, paid promotion of business pages, accurate audience targeting
- Instagram: Image-based platform, great for behind-the-scenes videos and photos
- Twitter: Good for sharing news and articles, allows text-based engagement with followers
- LinkedIn Company Pages: Quantifiably the best social media platform for Irish and UK construction firms. Team members ought to be encouraged to have LinkedIn Profiles (not the same as Company Pages!)
- TikTok: Younger demographic, more casual video-based platform, good for brand building amongst upcoming demographics – highly personality driven so this is not for outsourcing.
- Clubhouse: Voice-based social platform, allows users to join clubs, hear and interact with experts in the field. Traction has not been great for traditional construction in Ireland or the UK to date, however there are plenty of interesting discussions happening about construction technology and property development generally.
Top of the class still are LinkedIn Company Pages for business-to-business reputation building, or FacebookPages (again, not personal profiles) for more consumer-focused brand building. The latter is still highly relevant in 2021, with a wide-ranging demographic. As of May 2021, over 3.6 million Irish users logged onto Facebook meaning nearly 75 percent of the population can be directly connected with, this is particularly powerful as a recruiting tool for the industry. Creating a business/company page enables a brand to post content and immediately start appearing on the feeds of followers and intended or targeted followers. Built into both platforms is also the ability to see profile visits and key demographic insights. These analytics, when monitored and measured, ensure optimum understanding of who is interested in the business.
Despite LinkedIn and Facebook’s dominance, other platforms should not be neglected, especially Instagram and Twitter. If possible, having a team member responsible for posting content to each platform can ensure a steady curation stream that keeps followers engaged.
What Sort of Content?
While the content will depend upon the brand, platform, intended audience, and campaign objectives, the type of content posted should always be interesting and engaging. Consistency is vital for online communications, and credibility is key to establishing trust. Curation is another underused tool that, when done right, can yield terrific results. Content typically comes in four types: written, images, video/gif, and audio. Immersive technologies are opening up some interesting alternatives to these so keep an eye out for changes. Varying the type of content shared will keep social media fresh, however, remember that some platforms such as TikTok and Clubhouse are video and audio-based exclusively.
Some examples of the type of content a construction company can post are as follows:
- Before and after photos/videos: This sort of content is satisfying to watch and allows a business to showcase craftsmanship.
- Customer testimonials: These can be photos with accompanying text, or videos profiling satisfied customers who affirms the value of using the company.
- News articles from the industry: Sharing credible news shows an awareness of what is impacting the industry and affords an opportunity to voice options on matters of policy.
- Responses to comments: Highlighting particular comments and responding in a respectful way is important for engaging with the audiences of other brands.
- Behind-the-scenes photos/videos: Content of this sort can show the personality of a construction brand. It also allows potential leads to feel like they are interacting with real people (which they are!). This is great for building customer relations. ‘Meet the team’ is a good example of this.
- Educational videos: Giving unique insights into modern methods of construction is fascinating to viewers. Sharing content such as the use of heavy machinery or smaller DIY projects is especially popular.
- Time-lapses: Showing a build from start to finish is great for all platforms, however, the style and duration will need to change to fit the platform in question.
- Funny pictures/memes: Memes relevant to the construction industry can be entertaining and reveal a different side to the industry, however, remember that humour is subjective so tread lightly.
- Community work: Showing your team giving back to the local community is a great way to engage audiences both on and offline. This can be charity work, fundraising, pro-bono work, or community interaction. Irish firms are particularly good at doing this but not so good at talking about it!
Lastly, as touched on above, it is important to limit the amount of blatant self-promotion by sticking to the 80/20 rule. Demonstrating expertise and authority within the industry can be done through the showcasing of work and the sharing of relevant content. Some studies even suggest that too much self-promotion on social media can lead to a 50 percent drop in customer trust [Kentico, 2014]. That being said, social media is a potentially powerful way to boost your business’ brand and establishing an online presence should be a priority for any construction company.