The age of social media and getting people to ‘connect’
Our current BIM position
Let’s take a hard look at where we currently stand. The British Government called for all centrally procured projects to be delivered through a BIM Level 2 process by 2016, as part of the Government Construction Strategy. This energised the UK industry and has resonated in other markets around the world. As we know BIM has its declared sceptics, its passionate advocators (largely #UKBIMCrew in our country’s case), those interested but slightly confused or hesitant… and then everyone else.
That last demographic is vast. It refers to over two million people in the UK alone – two million people that we need to convince to move away from business-as-usual to working in a BIM process. The cultural and behavioural shift is where the real challenge lies; not in technology adoption.
The advocators working away at the coal face to promote and implement BIM are all doing a great job, if I do say so myself. Events, initiatives, training, guidance – all great. But how many times do you see the same faces attending these events? In the grand scheme of things, the slowly expanding UK BIM Crew is a drop in the ocean of two million people in the UK. Look at the issue on a global scale and you have a similar ratio of advocators to ‘everyone else’.
The British Cabinet Office and their BIM Task Group acknowledge this position. Mark Bew MBE talks of a core-outwards ‘onion’ approach to BIM implementation; focusing on the large central-Government procured projects first. He and his team believe that delivering these through a BIM process will provide learning and early demonstrable proof of the benefits of BIM, feeding out into other Departments and Local Authorities. The expanding use of BIM by Government clients will ultimately drive all tiers of the supply chain to adopt BIM, significantly increasing its use and making it ‘the norm’. This would appear a highly sensible staged approach to reaching the masses.
When talking of the UK Government’s ambitions, we must not forget that BIM itself is a cornerstone for many other areas of their Construction Strategy document. In broad terms, this encourages the industry to become more asset-focused, providing customers with true built assets that support and sustain their activities at an optimum level.
In the noise and excitement around BIM it is easy to forget that point.The acronym ‘B.I.M.’ has become something of a monster. Talked about too much, drawing away from the ultimate focus and clouded in definition for many people out there in ‘the masses’.
Talk to people about built assets, providing better service to our customers and a better built environment and you’ll hook them. Talking in acronyms and jargon will scare them and switch them off. Worse, they’ll start pretending they know when they don’t.
So how do we get our current efforts to have more impact? How do we get two million people to engage? How do we reach them? How do we influence them?
The age of social media
In today’s world, social media seems an obvious answer to many of these questions but it is rarely used effectively. Some belittle it whilst others over-rely and see it as a silver bullet. Much has been written on the subject in the context of BIM adoption but if we are to truly understand its strengths and limitations we must look at the broader society-wide benefits and challenges it has presented mankind with to date.
We live in an age of social media. It is increasingly becoming part of the fabric of our society. Radio, television, news, entertainment, relationships, reputation, brand, politics – it touches many areas of life and the communities in which we live.
There are 7 billion people in this world but only 2.7 billion have internet access. Barriers include infrastructure, Government regimes, cost of hardware and the cost of data plans, amongst others. Whilst it might seem strange, the majority of people on this planet have never actually experienced the internet.
Of those 2.7 billion people online, 1.15 billion of them have created Facebook accounts; a staggering proportion and clear indication of the popularity of social media or at least Facebook’s interpretation of it.
Facebook, regardless of whatever your personal view may be, remains the biggest and most popular social network by far. If it were a country, it would be the third largest on earth. Its reach is visualised with the help of this ‘social graph’; an exercise undertaken by Facebook to map the connections of all their users. Note the intense white areas of major cities versus the dark areas you might expect; northern tundras, rainforests and deserts. China appears dark but has its own social network. The key point here is that where there are people, there is usually Facebook, or in boarder terms social media.
The influence of social media can be seismic and is increasingly playing a role in the development of our history. President Obama’s election victory in 2012 is partly attributed to the mobilisation of supporters on social media, who organically shared their involvement with friends and neighbouring communities. Policy, personalities and swing states aside, John McCain’s team didn’t have the same social media reach as Obama’s and this is likely to have been a factor.
Post-election Obama still uses Twitter through his ‘Action for Change’ team, to reach over politics and the media and connect directly with the American people.
In the UK David Cameron is already preparing for the 2015 election, employing Obama campaign strategist Jim Messina and increasingly communicating with the British public directly, again over the noise of politics and the media, through Twitter. His continued use of the site is building his following; all increasing reach for 2015.
Egypt’s uprising in 2011 would not have occurred without the building of shared resentment on Facebook, with the events feature used to organise mass rallies and communicate over the state-controlled media to overthrow the Government. Whether this has been good or bad for the region in the long-run is a matter for conjecture.
Away from politics the recent disaster in the Philippines has received support from many social media campaigns, virally spreading news and appeals at rapid pace around the world. Images of the plight faced are hard to ignore.
Honesty: a double-edged sword
In many ways social media has democratised the internet. It makes the world more open and certainly more ‘honest’. Not surprisingly this is a double-edged sword. Regime change and charitable support on the one-hand, ‘trial-by-Twitter’ for wrongly accused persons and hate campaigns on the other.
Honesty has its benefits. Social media has given Lady Gaga’s fans the chance to see her for herself. She personally runs her Twitter account and has connected with them at a very intense level. Song releases go viral, no matter what they sound like. Record labels like that kind of reach.
The same honesty and ownership of one’s Twitter account has not worked for James Arthur. His two million followers got to see a nastier side than that presented to us by the carefully choreographed ITV 1 show. As a result people’s opinions are now changing.
Whilst many a relationship has kicked-off online, recent work by San Diego News found that 1 in 5 divorces in the United States are now blamed on information inadvertently published on Facebook. Again, it cuts both ways.
Social media maturity
The basic problem here is that human kind is not really mature enough for social media yet. As ever we run to ‘what can we do’ rather than ‘what should we do’. Before the advent of social media, when we first discovered the wonders of internet 1.0, the most popular online activity was watching pornography. Not exactly inspiring stuff, given the potential.
Now with social media (internet 2.0) the most followed people on earth are the likes of Katy Perry and Justin Bieber. You’ll find the President of the United States clinging on to fourth place. That’s partly a symptom of the age and type of person that typically uses social media, and partly proof of our craving for the exciting over the mundane. The fun over the depressing. There’s a lesson here for BIM adoption which we’ll discuss later.
Life before social media (yes, really!)
Worryingly, we increasingly see social media dominating our lives and being heralded as a silver bullet for many challenges – including BIM. Yes it can help, but it must support, not lead. We must not become siloed in our social worlds. Get out there, talk to people, make a difference and build a reputation for who you are, rather than what you publish on your account.
Today’s online information economy and the noise that giving billions of people an online voice has created strangely encourages us to revert to type. As social technologies mature, the majority now crave the reliable, the trustworthy and the established reputations to cut through the vast swathes of published information.
Social media brought us online interaction and now increasingly works on recommendation. People are more likely to trust what their friends share or like than a cold corporate advertisement. A re-tweeted tweet carries more merit as others have chosen to publish it on their accounts, risking their own reputation. This is powerful for advertisers with well targeted campaigns.
Trusting a recommendation has been human nature long before social media came about.
Leaving contemporary times behind, consider for a moment the challenge that Abraham Lincoln faced in 1860, running for President. No phones, no internet, no planes for quick travel, no visual news media and no social media.
Now consider that the man did not make one single speech during his entire election campaign. Not one word muttered. In fact he steered away from cold direct marketing, relying instead on others to speak about him; to recommend him, reference him and explain why they would be voting for him.
That’s powerful stuff, especially if you hear it from a friend. It’s even more powerful in an age where few people ever saw or met the man, they just ‘heard’ about him. That dynamic elevates figures in the human mind to lofty heights. People began to think of him as a great man, an accomplished man; a President. Without social media you might say his ‘honesty’ was strategically hidden, though history tells us otherwise given his actions in office and the enduring resonance of his Gettysburg Address.
Getting people to ‘connect’
Moving forward to the first half of the 20th century, many Governments faced the challenge of calling their citizens to arms in the First and Second World Wars. Of course newspapers and radio played their part, but the compelling message and sense of national unity is what really underpinned support.
In the political arena (and on a clearly different level), the Labour party capitalised on the national mood with a compelling message to win a landslide victory in the UK’s 1997 general election. That Obama victory in 2012 is linked to his one word message – ‘forward’ – a word that rang positive with many people regardless of context or the issue being discussed. John McCain changed his slogan three times.
In 2013, music album releases are now preceded by the release of up to three singles. The majority of people take two to three songs to ‘connect’ with an album and purchase it. The initial quick-fire release or showcasing of tracks (at events like the iTunes festival) ensures a wide audience are engaged pre-release.
The point is that we’re dealing with human beings. As a species, we have achieved great things long before the internet on the strength of recommendation and a compelling message that ensures people ‘connect’ at a very visceral level.
Mobilising mass BIM adoption
The same challenge rings true for BIM adoption in our industry. It is our duty to set out a compelling message and demonstrate its benefits to a wider audience. Only then can social media support us in organically spreading the case to the masses on a recommendation basis.
The answer to engaging millions around the world in BIM is to get under their skin and compel them at the most primal of levels. People act when they can see benefit, appeal and purpose. They engage through the path of least resistance and are drawn to the interesting and fun.
It will come as no surprise that I think video offers that path as a medium, especially when used in a curated library that’s engaged with recommendations on social media. The fun point certainly rings true for us. When @TheB1M tweeted the link to PAS 1192-3 we got 11 re-tweets. Our BIM advent calendar idea got 57.
Let’s set-out our case for BIM in a compelling, fun and engaging way. Let’s get people past the acronym and show them the vision behind it. Let’s make it cool.
Only then can we expect mass cultural and behavioural change. Only then will we have earned it.
Fred Mills is Founder of The B1M (‘the BIM one million’); an online video resource for BIM focused on reaching one million members to mobilise global BIM adoption.