In a bid to understand the growth of social media, we caught up with internet guru and social media professional Paul Wilkinson to find out how social media can help the landscape

Paul Wilkinson
Social media guru Paul Wilkinson

Please tell us a bit about your interest in social media.
Other than working for my PR company PWcom, I’ve personally been blogging for five years about niche construction technology. It’s a testament to the importance of content and how much you can grow your site by adding a blog. I now have more hits per day than my old job’s corporate site – I won’t name the company but they’re not small.

So, if we can simply update a blog, why use social media?
Sharing information works on all levels with the internet. Whether that’s sharing knowledge through blogs, sharing information and links through Twitter, connecting with fellow professionals through LinkedIn, or even online communities dedicated to particular sectors of the market. A blog is good, but Twitter can be great for promotion.

There’s lots of opportunities to share content of varying types: videos on YouTube, a presentation via Slideshow, or photographs through Flickr. If you’re prepared to take off copyright protection and share information with your colleagues, you’ve got the opportunity to contribute to the greater good of the industry, while also demonstrating your own professional knowledge, expertise and ideas.

Where does Twitter come into that?
You may share a project on Twitter and find that someone then contacts you directly regarding a work opportunity. It is also great for creating an online profile and personality so that when you go to an event or meet a client you have already interacted online. You can Tweet interests as well as work related content – its like networking but without any effort.

Is there a limit to what can be done in the virtual world?
The only limit is at the governmental level, but social media is even infiltrating that. There are organisations committed to making public information more public and shareable. Planning applications online are now shared via Twitter – you can go online and ask to be updated to any plans submitted to your local authority, making you aware of areas in need of improvement.

Fixmystreet is another great online service which allows users to identify problems in their local environment and alert the local authority. This open source information means public needs can’t be covered up and, from a landscape perspective, local needs can be measured.

So if people don’t get involved in social media are they at risk of falling behind?
There is a danger of that. A lot depends on the extent to which clients use social media to engage with their professions. I think when you’re looking to get on to shortlists and raise your profile, social media is a great way to go about it. A blog can be a very powerful way to show a track record of your achievements, knowledge and perspective in your field.

Is social media making the world a smaller place?
You can get international business perspectives on events very quickly online. I ran an event for RIBA and we got contributions coming in from Shanghai, Canada and Sweden – practising architects discussing the issues in the room without being there. They sent links in and suddenly we had opened up all new areas of information. The presentations end up online for others to see and when people run events on a similar theme they build rather than repeat. It creates a spiral of good content that can grow and be pushed forward without wasting time going over the same ground.

A lot of social media seems to be about bringing people together. How does LinkdIn work to this end?
It used to just be a ‘CV online’ but now it offers group functionality to help link people from institutions and companies. Of course there is the danger that it is becoming a happy headhunting place – lots of self promoting spam and very little useful content – but people who are egotistical about the use of social media will just get blocked. I like to say, they will vote with their Tweet, vote with their feet – and leave.

How can a company make themselves more aware of their industry’s activities online?
Google alerts is perfect. You can setup a phrase and when it is searched you are alerted via email. I’ve got work through making contacts via the alerts. It’s a great way of learning about your sector while gaining contacts and work along the way.

If everyone is connected online, working towards the same goal, will physical workspaces or even companies be needed in the future?
I wrote a book about construction collaboration technologies and one of the things I talked about was the virtual company. It would take a big step forward to overcome issues like professional indemnity insurance, risk and copyright issues. If the industry addresses structures that prevent people working as individuals it could allow them to group together and pitch for work. Previously, as sole traders, they couldn’t have won big jobs but in collaboration they will be able to punch above their weight.

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