The Construction Industry as a Social Network

You know the game 6 Degrees of Kevin Bacon? Well, we’ve developed a new version – it’s called 6 Degrees of the Construction Industry. You may be asking yourself why the FieldLens team would think of such a thing.

Reason 1: When we’re not in the field visiting construction jobsites, we’re sitting in our office developing our mobile app and we tend to get a bit punchy if we’ve been staring at our computers for too long.

Reason 2: We’re fairly certain that you could find a connection between just about any construction professional in the USA, due to the industry’s unique ecosystem of overlapping, intertwined and always-expanding professional connections.

The Social Network of the Construction Industry

Anyone who’s ever worked on any sort of construction project will tell you that this industry is unlike any other in the way networks are formed. Most people outside the industry don’t know that it’s typical for a single construction project to have about 30 to 50 (or more) different companies working on it. How many industries can say it takes more than 50 different companies to complete one project? How many industries can even say it takes just ten different companies to complete one project? Not many.

So here you are with many, many companies – and people within those companies – working on one project. Those same people are often working on other projects at the same time. And then when a company’s role on the project is finished, the cycle starts again, and workers move on to new projects. However – new projects don’t always mean new people. More often than not, longtime construction professionals find themselves on a different jobsite, working and collaborating with people they know from a job that finished a year or two ago. Then as workers venture out to new projects, new connections are formed and the network continually spreads.

The construction professionals on the FieldLens team often talk about the “unique network of the construction industry,” because it helps us better understand how the construction industry needs and wants to communicate. Relationships don’t begin and end on the job, and the shared histories of construction professionals means that the industry is best served when communication remains  open, organized and accessible for every construction professional in his or her network.

Construction folks get to know each other pretty well when working for months on a project with each other, and genuine relationships are formed on the jobsite. New projects could mean bringing a great team back together again, but it can also mean bringing a group of strangers together who must communicate and collaborate with each other throughout the duration of the job to ensure it is completed in a timely, safe and professional way. If you’re working with someone new, your network pretty much guarantees you can find valuable information about that person without having to go very far.  The social network of the construction industry allows you to reach out to others in your network to find out what it’s like to work with ‘John the concrete guy’ or ‘Joe the safety inspector.’

That brings us to reputation. The construction industry is driven by personal recommendations, whether they be for products or people.

“John at XYZ Construction says that Phil X the electrical foreman is fast and efficient – let’s get him on the job.”

“123 Electrical Contractor  says they were happy with ABC brand of Automatic Transfer Switches – let’s look into that.”

Professionals in this industry want people and products they can trust, and the insular network of construction professionals helps simplify the process of deciding who or what to trust.

So why does this matter?

This microcosm of the construction industry’s social network is a real world working example of the reason online social networks were created and why they thrive – to connect and share knowledge and information. The construction industry itself can be considered the social network ‘platform’ with everyone in the industry – general contractors, engineers, architects, subcontractors, designers and so forth – interacting and sharing information just like the users on a typical social network like Facebook. For example, these ‘users’ within the network of a single jobsite need to communicate locally with multiple people on various project details in as timely a way as possible. These same ‘users’ must also branch out to the larger construction network to communicate, understand and often determine the larger industry-wide trends – trends that are rooted in what is happening on the local level. This is very similar to the way we see things happen on social networks like Twitter and LinkedIn – friends and connections communicate with one another, but also branch out to the larger network to share or receive information on a larger scale.

A recent example of how the social network of the construction industry is rapidly changing the industry can be understood through the growing industry-wide demand for enterprise technology. As new technologies come onto the market, construction professionals are seeking tools to help them do their jobs more efficiently as well as information about those tools. Construction trade sources like ENR, Construction Dive and Constructech have evolved to meet this need and aim to ensure the industry is well informed on new technology tools and on how others in the network are using those tools.

Technology developers (FieldLens included) have also heard the demand for better tech tools from the network, and we are aiming to fill that need and provide what the industry is asking for. We believe that technology should be used to support construction’s inherent network to allow industry professionals to communicate more effectively on each and every jobsite.

The social network of the construction industry will play a huge role in impacting the future of construction industry communication and collaboration, as new technologies and social media allow the network to become tighter and more well defined. So go ahead and play 6 Degrees of the Construction Industry – you can start with our CEO Doug Chambers. Chances are, you’re connected somehow!