Commercial property: why is the most sociable of industries so anti-social?

June 2013

Given that property people love to chat, network and exchange gossip you’d have thought that they would be amongst the first to embrace social media. You would think that an industry that makes so much of being ‘a people business’ would flock to an outlet that was centered entirely around people.

Unfortunately not. In fact commercial property (office, retail but not residential) is maybe the least social sector out there. With a few exceptions the whole industry in social media terms is pretty much offline. Hardly anyone (in percentage terms) tweets, blogs, podcasts, produces videos, shares photos or otherwise engages with the ‘sharing economy’ at all.

Why is this? Frankly I’ve no idea. It’s not that the industry lacks brains, or personality, or bonhomie. The base ingredients for successful socialising. It’s not a stuffy world, in fact it is generally meritocratic and ‘go getter’. So why is it not, as an industry, knocking social out of the park like Angela Ahrendts of Burberry fame?

The answer surely is the perversely luddite take the industry has regarding technology. The times one comes across technological ignorance being worn as a badge of honour are legion. It’s almost like the aristocracy luxuriating in their scruffiness. The done thing is to not DO tech. I exaggerate perhaps, and an increasing minority are rebelling against this mindset but nevertheless the point is valid.

Does this matter? Well, I’ve certainly been challenged to explain exactly why ‘ I should bother’ many times. What’s in it for me?

SO, WHAT IS IN IT FOR YOU?

In summary the following; but it’s THE BIG POINT that counts (more on that later).

Personally you can meet a lot of very interesting people. It is unlikely where you work has a monopoly on brains so a shortcut to enquiring minds has to be a good thing.

Personally you can also demonstrate to all and sundry that you too are an interesting, skilled person with an enquiring mind. If you are not, try harder.

When interesting enquiring people, in the same line of business, collaborate and communicate then business gets done. It really does. You don’t sell on twitter, but it is a great sales tool.

Corporately you can do the same. With a twist. By showing you are a skilled outfit, employing enquiring interesting and engaging staff you will attract the best young talent. And without them, long term you are in trouble.

Corporately you can also turn yourselves into a real time, committed service provider. For example, why do annual tenant surveys when you could solicit the same information on an ongoing basis? Annual reports aren’t really actionable are they? Social media allows for a conversation with your customers. Both sides benefit. Do it. Your competitors will (sooner or later, even in property).

For individuals and corporately Twitter is an awesome ideas factory. Follow the right people, and you will come across a cornucopia of new ideas. And if you are familiar with The Wisdom of Crowds By James Surowiecki what could be better?

The above should be enough to answer ‘what’s in it for me’, though McKinsey in their report The social economy estimate that internal use of social media tools are three times more valuable. I’ll return to those internal tools in a later post. That value by the way is estimated by McKinsey at $900 billion to $1.3 trillion annually across just four business sectors.

However, all the above is to me missing THE BIG POINT;

Which is that if you do not interest yourself in these technologies the penalties will, given time, be huge. This is not a passing fad, something that is just for the kids or geeks. Sharing, social, collaborative and above all mobile technology is reshaping society and in turn will reshape all businesses. The glory days of 2002-2007 are not coming back. Most of the factors governing demand prior to ‘the great crash’ will not return. Demand will return, but it will be different quantitatively and qualitatively.

Servicing the new demand means understanding what users/customers want and how they want to be serviced. And emphatically you will not understand that staring at a Blackberry. You have to dive in and figure out the way things are now. Why has Facebook One Billion users? Or LinkedIn so powerful? Or mobile so pervasive? How will Cloud Computing make certain offices, businesses or people obsolete?

I have seen so much money wasted and opportunities lost by property related companies doing things the ‘old school’ way and completely failing to engage with their audience, their customers. Websites that cost a fortune to build but lack all interaction. New product/building launches that are just brochureware. Reports offered online that are unreadable on mobile devices. All because those commissioning these things do not use the technology and therefore have no idea how to do it right.

So THE BIG POINT is that all else is pointless unless you go with the flow and get social.

After all as @garyvee said just yesterday :

‘The best way to go out of business is to be romantic about how things used to be’

Antony