Can The Built Environment Benefit From The Social Web

Last night I attended a networking groupfor marketing and communications folk in the built environment (thanks to Cany Ash from Ash Sakulafor the invite!). talk to people online Held at the Camden offices of the Mace Group(project managers for The Shard – you might have seen their brightly coloured logo on Andrew Marr’s Megacitiesthis week), the event was a chance to share best practice and network.

There was a good introductory talk by Vicki Ansell of social media training company Happen Factory on location-based services (LBS) and the built environment. Alison talked about four areas of LBS: apps such as Foursquare or Facebook Places; QR codes; augmented reality; and group marketing.

She gave some great examples of how companies can use Foursquare to ‘push’ offers onto potential consumers who ‘check-in’ at a particular location. Brands such as Starbucks have used this extensively in the US to entice customers and reinforce brand loyalty. But, as Vicki explained, brands do not have to be a location, they can attach deals/offers/information to any location. Organisations such as the New York Times, The History Channel and Zagat Guides have all used this to good effect.

The second type of LBS is a QR code – a barcode that links to a piece of text, usually a URL (Here is a short article on QR codes for dummies). Many of the newer smart phones are coming with a QR readers already installed or you can download a free app (I use QRReader from the iTunes app store).

They are easy to generate and can be used in locations to provide more information or a web link about that location which is great for engagement. Tales of Things is a Digital Economy funded project that have used QR codes successfully to embed cultural memory into physical objects including buildings.

The third location-based service was augmented reality which uses the camera feature of your smart phone and layers information over the top, whether that’s images of historical buildings (the Museum of London’s Street Museum app) or where a digital nomad can find a good place to work with free wifi and great coffee (WorkSnug).

The final LBS was group marketing, the most famous of which is Groupon.

The reaction to Vicki’s talk was mixed with the usual debate about how relevant any of this stuff is for the built environment. While I agree that not all industries can benefit from all aspects of social media, I tend to find that if you think creatively, there may be one or two aspects of the social web that work brilliantly to fulfil your business or project objectives.

So here are 10 quick ideas for how companies and individuals in the built environment can engage with the social web:

1. A project team within a architecture firm that uses a micro-blogging service such as Posterous or Tumblr to curate a rolling blog on a project from conception and design through to construction and completion. These services allow for almost instant updating with text, images and videos uploading straight from your smart phone. The blog can be used to engage the local community and stakeholders to feel part of the development and informed.
2. A built environment consultant who uses Twitter to keep up to date with sector developments so she is well informed when she speaks to clients (and she uses it to keep an eye on the competition too!).
3. A marketing manager who uses LinkedIn as a live database of industry contacts and connections.
4. An urban design firm who uses a Facebook Page to involve a local community in the vision and conception of a community space project.
5. A small group of niche architects or designers that use a group blog to position themselves as thought leaders and experts in a particular niche area e.g. sustainable build.
6. A construction firm using Twitter to provide real time updates to local people to reduce the impact of the build on them and to increase engagement.
7. An architect using a QR code (and web link) on the hoarding/perimeter of a new build site to show passers-by what the new building will look like.
8. A town planning consultancy that uses YouTube videos to illustrate the answers to common queries received by clients which has the added benefit of driving traffic to their website (YouTube is the second most popular platform for search after Google).
9. The property management firm that works with their tenants to help them develop offers and deals to ‘push’ out to location-based services such as Foursquare and Facebook Places.
10. The built environment networking group that uses Linkedin to host a platform for discussion and sharing best practice, e.g. BuildUp.

That was just 10 ideas off the top of my head and you could do the same exercise for any industry. Why not have a look at what other industries are doing and see if any ideas are applicable to your company. Also look at what platforms, apps and tools are out there and brainstorm potential applications for your company.

Thinking creatively about the social web could give your company a competitive edge.

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