John Wheaton Reveals the Secret to His Productive Social Media Presence
John L. Wheaton, P.E., LEED AP is the President of Wheaton & Sprague Engineering, a Northeast Ohio-based professional engineering company. In his limited spare time, he continues to build the type of personal social media presence that’s hard to find among AEC executives: active, engaged, productive, and consistent. There are many lessons to be learned for construction executives in the following Q&A session.
FRALEY: When did you start using social media? Can you take us back to that time and explain the thought process and ultimate decision behind investing your time and energy?
WHEATON: I can’t remember exactly, but it’s been 5 to 8 years. It started with Facebook and LinkedIn and moved to Twitter and Instagram. I saw what was happening with influencers, with the need to leverage information and to support branding, to attract young talent, to buoy the marketing and business development efforts already in place, to connect with other companies in other geographies, and to promote differentiation. Communication is a huge differentiator in successful companies. We need to focus more on brand differentiation, rather than just brand improvement. Doing the same thing everyone else does and improving it isn’t bad, but it has diminishing returns.
FRALEY: Do you have a formal strategy or do you just post whenever time allows?
WHEATON: I MAKE time to post and there is a strategy in part. But the big strategy is to just be present, natural, organic and real time. Ideally, you can tie it back to your website, demographics, and analytics, but as it comes to personal use of social media, just do it. Get it out there.
FRALEY: Which platforms do you use?
WHEATON: Between myself and for my company (full-time social media person), we actively use Facebook, LinkedIn, Instagram, Twitter, Facebook Live, and Periscope.
FRALEY: How often do you post on each platform?
WHEATON: Twitter is your billboard. I post frequently throughout the day.
Facebook: Weekly as a business and daily as an individual.
LinkedIn: Generally daily as an individual and about four times monthly as a business.
Instagram: I try for daily posts for both personal and business platforms.
Periscope: I’m less consistent with this. I’ve got about 60 broadcasts from 2 to 8 minutes long. I want to post daily, but try for at least once a week.
FRALEY: How do you find time to remain active on multiple social media platforms?
WHEATON: 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.
FRALEY: Which platform is your favorite and why?
WHEATON: Twitter followed closely by Instagram. Where else can I interact with business guru Tom Peters, join online communities, influence thought, and gain quick access to many, many inputs and conversations? Instagram is going to be HUGE as well. It’s got some real power.
FRALEY: You seem to spend a lot of time engaging with your followers? What impact has this had on your success with social media?
WHEATON: This is a big deal. It’s all about CONNECTION. It’s about Digital “face to face” interaction, and creating relationships! I am serious about connecting with people and companies. I was at a trade show earlier this year and four people, three of whom I hadn’t met prior, came up to me and said: “Oh my gosh, I LOVE YOUR TWITTER FEED!” I was stunned. A couple others chimed in as well, and I learned that they are watching, reading, and absorbing. I would have never known. One showed up three months later here in our office for a continuing education presentation on sealants and waterproofing. I have also gotten blog assignments and committee invitations through this medium.
FRALEY: Some executives aren’t comfortable showing a personal side. You post about sports, family, your schedule, and whatever thought is on your mind. Why do you feel so comfortable showing your personal side? What kind of impact has it had on your success?
WHEATON: I actually try to be careful to keep the separate posts aligned with the various mediums, but when the personal side comes out, it says “I am a real person.” It provides a connection and can sometimes even help people to be more motivated and influenced in a positive manner. Plus, appropriate vulnerability and transparency is the key to connection and relationship depth or impact. One must be discerning and establish his or her own comfort factor in this regard.
FRALEY: The construction industry is facing a significant shortage of workers and we all know that cherry picking happens. Many executives are reluctant to promote their team, but it hasn’t stopped you. How do you get past this?
WHEATON: This one almost makes me laugh. Who are we kidding? If you try to keep things close to the vest you will LOSE people and you will attract LESS people. Put it out there. Create content. If your culture sucks it doesn’t matter if you post or not. If your culture is positive, it will make people PROUD to belong and attract others that like what they see. The world is up for grabs. People can go to work wherever they choose. Not being on social media actually works against what companies are trying to achieve.
FRALEY: You started a vlog (video blog), which is highly uncommon among AEC executives. Why did you start it and what kind of results are you getting?
WHEATON: I started it for a number of reasons. The first is that all of us need to view our companies from the standpoint of a MEDIA Company. We are in a NICHE business so I think it’s appropriate. Plus, I have a background in music performance, theater, and am used to being “out front” publicly, so I am comfortable with it. I love to write, communicate, and connect with people.
FRALEY: If you could offer construction executives one piece of advice to succeed on social media, what would it be?
WHEATON: Be PRESENT. Be CONSISTENT. Be NATURAL. Make it Organic. Tell people through social media channels about your day, your work life, your company, your people, provide real-time experiences and thoughts, take pictures, and tie it all together. It’s not an activity. It is part of “who you are” expressed through the medium of social media. It happens throughout the day in a natural way.
It’s also not much about our technical knowledge. It’s about who we are as a person, and what makes us and our company “tick.” It’s about our values, experiences, and providing inputs and information to benefit the audience and followers. The majority of posts should be to benefit others, and to a lesser extent, show your work and capability.
FRALEY: Many construction executives question the ROI of social media marketing. It sounds like you’ve generated new business and related opportunities through social media. Can you provide some specific examples?
WHEATON: 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.
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.
FRALEY: You’ve obviously invested a great deal of time in social media. Let’s travel 10 years into the future. Facebook is the last bastion of the social media platforms and it’s on the verge of collapsing. The concept of social media is about to disappear. How would you react?
WHEATON: Great! No problem, I’ve already thought that through. 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.
ABOUT JOHN: John L. Wheaton, P.E., LEED AP is the 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. He is a company founder, owner, business developer, and engineer who has devoted his career to supporting commercial construction by providing system design, structural engineering, consulting, project management, product development and related work to the curtain wall, building envelope, architectural component, and related industries.