Plumbing Engineer looks at internet usage in the industry

For a while now, our sister publication, PHC News, has conducted an annual internet usage survey. It has been interesting to see how technology has developed on jobsites, in work trucks and in the office. This year, we decided to see how the engineering and design community is using the internet, as software and programs such as BIM, CAD and Revit have become workplace staples. 

In doing so, I turned to one of the leading annual internet trend reports, which is presented by Morgan Stanley analyst and investor, Mary Meeker. I wanted to use Meeker’s findings as a baseline for the data discovered in our survey. I am always intrigued by comparing insights from the business-to-business (B2B) community with those of the business-to-consumer (B2C) community.

We distributed our survey to print and online subscribers largely in the plumbing market, as 43 percent noted this as their most popular service offering. Of the survey respondents, the largest showing was engineers and designers (45 percent) followed by CEOs and presidents (21 percent). As I have found in other industry surveys, the majority of our respondents (63 percent) were at or over the age of 56, which reflects that currently the decision-makers in the industry who respond to these surveys are Baby Boomers. 

The survey began with a question about what could be considered standard in business technology, and that is a website. Respondents said that the two features on their websites that have proven most useful for business are the services (40 percent) and contact (32 percent) sections. The other sections listed were: about/history, scheduling, specials/promotions, testimonials/reviews and multimedia. It was interesting to see that multimedia (6 percent) did not rank higher. According to Meeker’s insights, internet users rely heavily on images and image-driven content when making purchasing decisions. Generation Y, commonly referred to as millennials, still turns to text-centric internet avenues like their predecessors, Baby Boomers. But Meeker’s research shows that group entering the workforce, Generation Z, prefers multimedia communication with photos, videos, and combinations of both, such as GIFs, which are commonly used for small, low resolution animations. Meeker added that the new generations also prefer handling business online, rather than over the phone.

Keeping in line with internet business basics, we also asked respondents about their company’s work on social media. As I have found to be the case since I entered the industry in 2012, it remains that our industry is not present on social media. To be exact, 48 percent of respondents reported not having a presence. Additionally, it does not seem that leaders in the industry want to learn how to use social media in business, as 69 percent of respondents noted that they have not participated in related training or conferences within the past five years.

Of those respondents who are on social media, the platforms that they reported as yielding them the most success are LinkedIn (23 percent) and Facebook (15 percent). To those on LinkedIn, Meeker’s research warns against focusing your efforts there, as this platform and Twitter are text-centric and will not be the hot spots for business in the new workforce. However, if you are on Facebook, then you are on the right path, according to Meeker. Her research showed that more than 3 billion images are being shared on the applications Facebook Messenger, Instagram and WhatsApp — all of which are owned by Facebook. A keyword there is applications, or apps, as mobile is now dominating the internet space.

In fact, mobile trends are where our B2B world begins to align with B2C. When respondents were asked which mobile device they use most often for work, the majority (74 percent) said smart phones. Following smart phones was laptops at 20 percent and tablets at 6 percent. Meeker and many others in the tech arena have reported that mobile is king. We have seen evidence of this trend in our own website metrics. Plumbing Engineer’s mobile website visits are now six times higher than they were at this time last year. Consider it a requirement now that your business’ website be mobile optimized, or, at a minimum, function via responsive design.

While much of Meeker’s research pointed to the power of mobile devices as it relates to social media opportunities, our industry seems to be on their devices during business hours for other reasons. Respondents said that the during the workday they are either using their mobile device for email (53 percent) or cellular/video calls (25 percent), as opposed to internet browsing, GPS, billing/invoicing, social media, manuals or music streaming. This was not a surprise to us, as we have invested in our e-newsletters more this year to support the trend.

Meeting customers in their inboxes was further supported in one of the final questions that we posed in our survey: How has the internet made you a better professional? 40 percent of respondents that said newsletters, digital publications and white papers have helped them improve at their job. Coming in at a close second (34 percent), respondents also said that webinars have helped to make them better employees. This figure is in line with Meeker’s predictions for the evolution of video in business. 

Meeker said that though on-demand video has grown significantly, the future is live broadcasting. Look at the example of the recent “Chewbacca mom” video that went viral on Facebook Live. In the video, the mom only mentions the retailer where she bought the Chewbacca mask, Kohl’s, twice. But since the video was posted, the Kohl’s app has been a top download in the iOS Apple Store. Meeker said that metrics like this exist because this new generation of consumers wants to see products and services in authentic environments and described with genuine language. Meeker believes that live broadcasting facilitates such placements through off-the-cuff conversation and the intimacy of direct communication.

To see what else Meeker predicted, view her full presentation at www.kpcb.com/internet-trends. Many thanks to those who participated in our first internet usage survey!

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