Social media impacts how we network, research, communicate, market, and even sell. There are countless examples of how social media has helped today's concrete construction professionals make connections and even improve the bottom line. Though there are many success stories, too many companies in our industry are being caught off guard because their operating procedures and policies haven't caught up with the fast-pace environment of today's electronic world. The result can be catastrophic.

Case in point, a firm president recently was caught off guard when a client called to tell them the engineer assigned to their project had noted their stupidity on her Facebook page the night before. Another example was when an employee of a flatwork contractor tweeted about a potential project and innocently shared more than he should. They didn't get the job. There are also stories about owners and architects checking out the social media presence of potential project managers on their upcoming project so they know "what they are getting." Still other companies experience backlash after their employees share political viewpoints on Twitter or have had to deal with the reality of statements made by disgruntled employees.

Unfortunately, the examples of such offenses are endless, stemming from a perfect storm of the clash of our professional and private worlds. Because many companies haven't figured out how to respond to social media, they've opted to block access to social media sites from corporate computers. As such, employees participate in social media during nonworking hours in the privacy of their own home and on their own computer?creating the notion that it is a personal communication tool. Although that may be true, they fail to realize that clients or colleagues may see their posts. Further, many fail to recognize the power of today's search engines or the fact that once they put something out in the cybersphere, it is out there to stay. Still others simply aren't cognizant of the implications of their posts and how, though they may not be directly representing your company, it is easy to link someone to a specific organization in a few quick clicks. The medium makes it easy to share, even when they shouldn't.

However, the solution isn't simply to shut off all access and forbid social media. Rather, like any other form of communication, the key is strategy and education. With any communication tool, it is essential to outline a strategy in terms of corporate and personal participation, as well as the key messages that should be delivered. After all, you wouldn't publish a brochure or launch a new Web site without clearly outlining the themes that must be conveyed about your company and key differentiators. As we've established, the messages conveyed using social media spread wide and fast, for better or worse.

Beyond strategy, it is essential to help employees understand what you are comfortable with them sharing as well as how to present themselves. Building on an awareness of the different outlets, it is key to craft a policy that includes details related not only to when and how they participate, but guides their behavior.

As a final thought, don't let fear or lack of the unknown drive your decisions. The best way to determine what is right for your company is to participate and engage in social media and assemble a strategy that fits your culture and goals.

Follow @ConcreteConst or participate in CC's LinkedIn page to get involved in the social media environment. CC

The Key to Social Media

Key elements of your social media policy should include the following.

  • Stick to your area of expertise.
  • Post only meaningful and respectful comments.
  • Always pause and think before posting.
  • Respect proprietary information and content.
  • Respect confidentiality.
  • Remember that you are responsible for the content you produce.
  • When disagreeing with others, keep it polite and appropriate.
  • Comply with copyright, fair use, and financial disclosure laws.
  • When in doubt about posting content, get permission.

Kimberly Kayler, CPSM, CSI, is president of Constructive Communication Inc. and a marketing professional who works with a variety of concrete associations and professionals.