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Lessons builders and roofers can learn from Twitter

Twitter bird with tool belt

We’ve all heard about how social media is an incredibly powerful tool for businesses. Services such as Twitter allow you to stay connected with customers, clients & contacts at all hours of the day, broadcasting every snippet of your news to a willing audience and receiving instant feedback. There’s no denying that it’s been a game-changer for public relations and many businesses have taken the wise step of dedicating personnel and resources to monitoring social media in order to protect and promote their brand.

For the past month or so, I have taken on the duty of manning the Maxiflow Twitter account and quickly found the value in programs such as TweetDeck and Seesmic, which enable you to organise the constant steam of information into something more manageable. In addition to displaying your lists of followees in columns, a lesser-known feature is the ability to store search terms and have the results returned to you as they happen.

An example of TweetDeck's columns

“Great!” I hear you cry, “I never have to worry about missing someone complaining about me on Twitter!” which is an obvious, and very useful, application of this technology. However, there is much more that we can learn about the public’s perception of our industries than can be gained from simply monitoring for mentions of our company name or products.

By setting up columns which search for terms related to your business (but non-specific to your company) you can catch a huge amount of worldwide chatter on the subject(s) of your choice. Now, I’m not going to pretend that this will instantly expose a rich seam of data which can be mined for your marketing purposes, as 90% of the results will be irrelevant or spam. Sometimes it will seem like you’re listening to a hundred people talking at once but only hearing half of each conversation. But if you keep returning to the data, glancing at it during the course of your normal Twitter activities, you’ll start to notice patterns, attitudes and opinions which can help to inform your strategies.

Because Maxiflow is split into several divisions (Building, Roofing, Drainage and Solar) I have quite a lot of search columns set up for each speciality and have gathered together a few lighthearted observations related to our trade. All of the example tweets are from public accounts and none are aimed at or are referencing Maxiflow:

1. Unless you’re a body builder, keep your shirt on

The cliché of construction workers ogling and wolf-whistling at passers-by has been neatly inverted in the digital age. Nowadays you’ll find plenty of women (and more than a few men) heading online to critique the attractiveness of the strangers they’ve invited into their homes. But before you start thinking of taking a Diet Coke break, it’s worth bearing in mind that Tweeters are quick to point out that desiring their tradesmen is a rare exception rather than a rule.

Had never come across a builder who wasn’t ten stone overweight and old until a second ago. YUMMMMY! #hotpieceofmeat

2. Be respectful to all of your customers’ senses

Ew the creepy roofer was in my livingroom. It smells like roof now.

Building, roofing and drainage are tough trades, and it’s normal to spend long, uninterrupted stretches up to your neck in dirt and grime. When you take as much pride in your work as we do, there isn’t time to scrub up and freshen yourself constantly – you stay on the roof or in a ditch until the work is done properly. However, it’s worth bearing in mind that your customers may not share the tolerance towards unpleasant odours. Acknowledging the problem and keeping your distance will likely do wonders for your customer relations.

3. We’re early risers, but not everyone else is

If anyone gets in the roofing business, implement a strict no roofing before noon policy and you will have my business

The problem with roofing is that there isn’t anywhere to do it expect above peoples’ heads. And people generally don’t appreciate the banging that accompanies roof work, no matter how necessary and unavoidable it is. Oh, and they are especially touchy when it’s being done while they’re trying to sleep.

Keep people awake and they won’t have much else to do except complain. No matter how urgent the job may be, for the brief window in their lives while you are performing your duty, you will become the single most hateful thing in their universe. Extending as much courtesy towards them as possible probably won’t stop this, but it will hopefully reduce the amount of vitriol they spit over Twitter.

4. People won’t mention your name if you do badly

You may have noticed that in all of these examples the tweeters don’t mention any company names. This is a remarkably common thread linking together most of the negative service-related tweets I have monitored. Except for extreme cases, people tend to prefer the path of least resistance and avoid confrontation, even when it’s as indirect as a message on a social networking site.

Made a cup of tea for the builder & he complained because it wasn’t a full cup. I’m filling it up with orange squash.

If you’re thinking that this is a good thing because your mistakes won’t be traced back to you, well, for one, that’s a terrible attitude, and two, you’re not taking full advantage of the medium. In the age of social media, every job is an opportunity for publicity. You should be aiming to produce such high-quality results that your customers will want to mention you on Twitter, like your fan page on Facebook and subscribe to your blog. Every time you underperform in a job you’re missing out on another piece of the social media puzzle.

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