A social media success story: How one engineer gets results

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wheaton sprague twitter
Wheaton & Sprague's Twitter feed -- just one of several social media channels for this Ohio engineering practice

Brian Fraley has published a worthy interview with structural engineer John Wheaton, where Wheaton explains how he has applied social media to build his practice’s reputation and relationships.

Wheaton concludes his remarks with these observations:

If the solar flare or grid collapse knocked out social media tomorrow, I will have been HAPPY to have invested the time and effort to build and use the medium because it will have made a difference in what I’ve done to date, and in the future. It still ties me to people with whom I’ve created a connection. Plus, we will go back to other social communication means like smoke signals, carrier pigeon, Polaroid photos, letter writing, face-to-face communication. Remember, people want to CONNECT. They want to belong to COMMUNITIES in many forms, shapes, and sizes. In 10 years, we won’t even know what the social media and connectivity channels will look like, but I can guarantee I will be involved in some way, and that attention will shift and utilize the platforms that are commanding attention.

Wheaton is president of Wheaton & Sprague Engineering, a Northeast Ohio-based professional engineering company providing design, engineering, and consulting services for the building envelope and curtain wall industry.

While his company employs a full-time social media person, he says he actively posts on Twitter several times a day. “We actively use Facebook, LinkedIn, Instagram, Twitter, Facebook Live, and Periscope.”

Fraley asked him how he finds time for all of this activity:

It’s quick, organic, and real time. It’s a conversation to the world and to other folks out there absorbing and creating content. There are gaps and downtime during our days and it is very easy to communicate between meetings, tasks, and on breaks – checking in as we do with email, etc.

What about the return on investment for the time spent?

He didn’t answer with the type of specific quantifiable numeric, but still suggested the payoff has been significant.

Well, I don’t want to give too much away (I say with a smile), but those who question the ROI on social media should really do a gut check and understand the forces and undercurrents of change happening. Don’t wait any longer to get involved. We are only on the front-end of it. Social media supports your personal and corporate brand.

Examples of generating new business include a connection I made with an Executive Vice President on LinkedIn that was a manufacturer. I sent a direct message related to a trip I was taking. He connected me with their Product Specialist and Marketing Vice President and we met at a coffee shop in Southern California. I am now carrying on a discussion with their North West representative related to a new proposal for supply chain and market channel business development.

I’ve generated RFPs and deeper connections through LinkedIn and Twitter with those in our industry. I’ve also started conversations on Instagram and intend to meet some people at a conference soon to discuss a product development and how it can differentiate them and generate additional revenue. I’ve recruited through social media channels, met people of influence for lunch, and gotten blog and industry involvement requests through the use and presence of social media. I am presently in a discussion with a younger company President (successor and 2nd generation family owner) through Instagram direct message regarding potential technical support for a new system approval. As a minimum, social media supports and buoys the brand and emphasis of a company and leader or influencer, and provides further foundation and visibility to the overall structure and marketability of the organization.

As for the issue of time, here is the relevant question and answer:

FRALEY: What would you say to construction executives that think social media is a waste of time?

WHEATON: They need to take the blinders off and see that the world is changing, and that day-trading attention is the rule of the day. Think about how relevant you want yourself and your organization to be in ALL mediums and age groups, and that social media is a necessary COMPONENT of a comprehensive Public Relations and marketing focus. Think about recruiting, public awareness, differentiation, and ROI for the future. You will become less relevant as a minimum without an investment in social media. You may in fact become irrelevant and wonder why you just can’t attract “those kids” to the company. To the 18- to 25-year-olds that will support the large volume of your technical work now and in the near future, you do not exist without a social media presence. Our employees are the differentiator in today’s economy. We are selling influence and experience. Think “millennial.” Think about the 18-year-old who will be working for you in 5 to 8 years and that they communicate and work with people on completely different terms. Think about each decade, each platform, and each channel. It’s all interactive and connected.

It’s an impressive message. I don’t know if many professional engineers will spend as much time in the social media world as Wheaton does, but certainly there is food for thought in this conversation.

How much time are you spending on social media, and what is your ROI? If you wish, connect with me at buckshon@constructionmarketingideas.com and share your story.

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