From here to ubiquity? Why the property industry shuns social media

What is it with the wider property and workplace industry and social media? The professions that sit both side of the supply and demand fence (lets not kid ourselves its anything else), and manage aspects of the entire property lifecycle, have barely scratched at the opportunities to broaden the networks, thinking and creative potential that social media affords. The FM sector has a small and passionate group of bloggers, micro and not-so-micro, and some property journals and web sites push out their daily headlines in a just-before-the-pub batch. Yet otherwise it’s a world strangely not as yet inhabited by the “four-shirts-for-a-hundred”-quid sector.

Here are a few thoughts as to why:

Interest

Property is not – in general – an industry that has readily embraced communication technology. Many senior professionals still appear to rely on subordinates and colleagues to do the keyboard thumping, while they stick to table thumping. 

The property world – again in general – belatedly deployed Web 1.0, and has barely dabbled with Web 2.0. So it may struggle with the realm of Web 3.0 (as it has been called in some quarters and deemed to be upon us), where “the internet” as a separate entity no longer exists, and the boundaries between our life on line and off line have disappeared. Ask a property professional about Mark Weiser’s 1988 “ubiquitous computing” and they may well tell you that they probably have it on vinyl somewhere. And how many property professionals think SXSW is a train operator?

The property industry still considers life online in terms of the flat URL websites of Web 1.0, as distinct from the opportunity to create and expand an active “online presence”. I’m online – look , I have the BBC News up.

Metaphor

The metaphors of social media are less easy to understand than those of previous waves of communication technology. The telephone was real-time face to face communication from anywhere. Fax and then e-mail were registered post by electronic means, the later allowing all sorts of enclosures. Text was a short voicemail message. They were all the replication of an established practice, for which there was a clear and defined need.

However, take micro-blogging – a highly public conversation in which you can hear as many people talking as you like, that you can join and leave at any time, and what you miss doesn’t really matter? This metaphor does not fit any established practice that might now be performed more effectively and efficiently. Dissect the metaphor and it is uncomfortable on a number of levels – public, inclusive, transitory.

Anathema

Following the metaphor thread, the property industry has not yet found a use for social media. While most adopters know that it facilitates research, contact creation and network building, ideas sharing and a widening of mindset, the industry overall appears uncomfortable developing relationships, ideas and perspectives whose potential use has not yet been explored or established.

A culture gap is therefore opening – social media thrives on unpredictability, chance and uncertainty – the property industry the opposite. In many respects the gap is widening, not closing.

Time

Having explored some deeper conceptual reasons, we revert to a simple premise. We are all too too busy. Too many projects, too many meetings, too many…. letters, e-mails, texts and return-call messages. How can I find time to answer all my Tweets as well? From the above, which go some way to exploring the misperception of social media, comes the net result – no time for it.

My response is always the same – I don’t understand how property and workplace professionals can find the time NOT to use social media. There is still a place in most industries, including property, for formal and legally visible communication. Yet the old ways are so much more time consuming, less efficient, and far less interesting.

Must go, @mentions to read….

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