#SocialSpec – A New Channel for an Old Idea

Is Social Media the new channel for sourcing building products? Darren Lester, founder of SpecifiedBy, explains more. 

The construction industry is not exactly renowned for being quick to adopt new technologies and innovations, or for being overly open and collaborative. A lot of processes need to be changed and/or updated for the industry to progress.


But sometimes the old tried and tested processes do work, they just need updated a bit to suit the digital age we live in. And that’s exactly what #SocialSpec is all about. Updating an old-fashioned process that works, but can be improved with the use of modern technology.


Word of Mouth


There probably isn’t an older process for selecting a product or service, than a recommendation from a relevant and trusted source; good old-fashioned word of mouth. It’s been around forever. What has changed though, is where these conversations can and are happening.


No longer restricted to the site or a chance encounter with an old colleague, these conversations are now happening online, powered by social media, and specifically on Twitter. And it was these very conversations on Twitter that led to #SocialSpec


The Idea


There was a large element of luck involved in how the idea for #SocialSpec came about, with two events within the space of a week leading to its creation. Firstly, I had been chasing up some of the manufacturers who use SpecifiedBy, for some nice testimonials about how we help them get their product information in front of potential specifiers.


Craig Sewell, of Cubicle Centre, provided a really nice quote where he profoundly wondered ‘…could this be the start of ‘social specification’?’ With my opportunist hat on, this immediately got me thinking; ‘That’s awesome. How could we use that?’


Sadly, I wasn’t struck by a moment of genius, so it was safely tucked away and I got on about my business. Then, literally a couple of days later, I was on Twitter (working!) when I saw a tweet from an architect that read along the lines of, ‘Looking for a company who provide [insert specific building product]. Anyone got a recommendation?’


Trying to be a useful and helpful Tweeter, I retweeted this to the SpecifiedBy network and within a minute, another architect had chipped in with a recommendation, which even included the @handle of the manufacturer in question, plugging them directly into this conversation.


Now that is Social Specification! What I had seen was that architects and other specifiers are actively turning to Twitter to gather recommendations and advice when it comes to selecting building products, materials and services, just like they do offline. It makes sense.


People love recommendations and advice when it comes to decision-making, and Twitter potentially provides instant feedback and makes it is easy to check out the credibility of the source of any replies.


I thought this was fantastic, but there were a couple of obvious problems with this process:

1) The responses you get from putting a tweet out asking for some help are limited to the number of followers you have, and;

2) As you are not asking any one individual in particular, there is always the danger of it being lost within a sea of other tweets.


So I began to think about how we could tap into this process that is already happening, and make it better for everyone. The conclusion was that by adding a bit of structure to this process, everyone can be connected to a much larger network and we are able to make each tweet more visible due to the use of a specific hashtag, #SocialSpec.


I set up a twitter account, @SocialSpec and a web page which explains in a bit more detail how the process works. It took a grand total of around 30 minutes to get everything up and running! And that was it. It’s such a simple idea, but the simplest ones are often the best. And we believe the potential is massive.


Building Product Manufacturers


Not only are we building a network of industry professionals, eager and willing to share their knowledge, experience and expertise, we are creating a new platform for building product manufacturers to engage with this audience.


Clever manufacturers are closely following and listening in to the #SocialSpec tag, ready to provide their expertise, advice and guidance as required. If you are a specialist manufacturer in triple-glazing windows, you want to be around when someone is looking for just that, not to be salesy, that puts people off, particularly on social media, but to offer to help the specifier find what they need, and let them know you can provide a solution.


In some ways, #SocialSpec has the potential to flip the process of a specifier searching for manufacturers and products to suit their needs, to a scenario where a specifier simply announces what they require and manufacturers provide the answers and solutions.




All this has led to fantastic interest within the industry. Lots of people have written blog posts and tweeted about how useful a tool it could be, some even going as far to say it could revolutionise how the specification process works.


Only time will tell how far it can go, but for now we are happy that it is a simple, free service that can help people do their jobs a bit more efficiently. And the best thing is, we aren’t breaking any new ground, we’re simply using a modern technology, in this case Social Media, to enhance the good old-fashioned word of mouth recommendation.



To join in with #SocialSpec, simply follow @SocialSpec on Twitter and tweet your product requirements and questions using #SocialSpec.


About the Author: Darren Lester is the founder of SpecifiedBy, and a Resident Entrepreneur in Design Informatics at the University of Edinburgh. You can find him on Google+ and Twitter.