September 2014

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Therese SullivanEMAIL INTERVIEWTherese Sullivan and Ken Sinclair

Therese Sullivan, Content Marketing Consultant, Principal, BuildingContext Ltd

Contributing Editor


I called my marketing agency BuildingContext because it captured in two words what I wanted to do — bring some context to the crowded and noisy smart building marketplace.

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SinclairHow does BuildingContext educate and change industry?

Sullivan:  I called my marketing agency BuildingContext because it captured in two words what I wanted to do — bring some context to the crowded and noisy smart building marketplace.  The words reverberate with extra meaning today, as the two big mobile computing platforms are in a contest to develop a contextual O/S.  So “building context” to them means teaching our phones and tablets to always recognize where we are, our usual activities at that time and place, and the environmental conditions. The contextual O/S will be the browser of the Internet of Things. Unlocking and locking physical security, brightening and dimming lights, adjusting interior temperatures—these are the first few use cases with clear value to people, both home owners and commercial building occupants. So one of my first education charters for the industry is to follow and report on moves by the big mobile platform players - Apple, Google, Samsung - in the home or building automation space.

Next, my intent is to build context for this market on what’s happening in social media. There is no noisier place these days than social media platforms— Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, Instagram, Google+, YouTube.  I’ve made it my mission to ‘tame that beast’ for the relatively specific markets of smart building system integration and energy efficiency, and then report back about how this can be done.  I think it’s important because social and search technology are how customers get their information today. It can be a long journey between the moment when a building owner starts to contemplate a major retrofit and when the project team decides which firm wins the contract. Customers are more inclined to select the company that excelled at educating them along the way.

SinclairHow important will social media be moving forward?

Sullivan:  Many perceive social media as a time sink and have been turned off by the high levels of clutter and irrelevant items in their feeds. In its current state, it’s hard to argue with that position. The free-to-try platforms are in a constant state of flux as the providers try different schemes to monetize their traffic. These services and their users work at cross purposes by default: the platforms are incentivized to widen your areas of interest by feeding items from paying users, and you want your feed narrowed down to only relevant pieces of information. Why invest in a digital property that you cannot completely control? The one over-riding reason: it’s where your customers and future hires are likely spending their time. Also, there is a general trend toward information of substance and quality being shared on social channels driven by:

SinclairWhy does mobile versus PC make a difference?

Sullivan:  This first driver is a fact of real estate and connectivity challenges: long and cluttered feeds turn off users when they’re viewing on a small screen and must wait for downloads over a slow connection. Apple iPhone fans are waiting with high anticipation for the release this month of the iPhone 6, expected to have a bigger screen like the Samsung Galaxy and some Android models. The trend toward bigger phone screens makes them more convenient reader devices, heightening demand for useful content to read.

SinclairHow do the social networks decide the rank of items that they feed us? Are the underlying algorithms evolving? Can we tune them?

Sullivan:  That’s the question of the moment: as the general populace relies more and more on their social feeds for news, the platforms acquire more and more power over what people know.  And, of course, their algorithms are secret, intellectual property. So it’s becoming civic duty to understand the platform’s methods and motivations and your own feed tuning options. Here’s a nice, friendly diagram that explains the top few levers that Facebook uses when determining your feed. Twitter, Google+ and others have similar algorithms:


Facebook has just made an announcement that it is adjusting its ‘edge rank’ algorithm to discourage the practice of hiding spammy content under enticing headlines. In other words, they are putting in a factor to capture and weight ‘Time spent with Content.’  Google made a similar adjustment when it last updated its search ranking algorithm.  Its objective was also to give preference to quality long-form content. Content from a recognized and respected journalist and/or blogger (based on number of posts, shares of posts, comments, likes) gets an extra boost according to some who have studied the results.

Users that want to tune their own feeds must engage in a game of trying to out-think the secret machine-learning algorithms.  An ‘edge’ event as recognized by an Edge Rank algorithm is a ‘like’ or a ‘share’, for example. So to get more items of a certain topic in feeds, they make a purposeful effort to get more people that share on that topic in their network and to ‘like’ and ‘share’ a lot of items on that topic themselves.

SinclairWhere is the best place to start?

Sullivan:  Many readers have joined LinkedIn, created a business profile, and follow the Automated Buildings discussion group as well as sub-groups and similar controls- and facilities-centric groups. That’s a good start. Linkedin’s first paying customers were recruiters looking to hire talent, and the site evolved with an emphasis on that. However, recently it has taken a number of additional steps to secure its position as the place business people go for their information. It owns which is a great place for reaching a larger audience with presentations. It also now has a publishing platform that I use for posting in addition to my own Wordpress blog.

You don’t have to invest energy in every social platform. But, you should know the strengths of each so that you can match your social media presence to your goals:

Twitter is strong in news dissemination and discussion, whether news of the world, news that you have a job opening, or news that you didn’t like menu changes in a favorite restaurant. (Manny Mandrusiak does an excellent job of explaining Twitter in this article.)

Facebook is for friends and friend wannabes, including Big Brands. Could be effective for reaching recent college grads with employment opportunities, i.e. they haven’t discovered LinkedIn yet. Disclosure: I’ve never invested in a Facebook presence.

Google+ is strong in the software development community and those involved in tech in general.

Youtube and Vimeo are for sharing video content. International Systems of America is leveraging its youtube channel to build brand, and attract a much younger demographic to the HVAC industry.  Thanks to for sharing one video of Grant - the youngest HVAC reporter working today.

SinclairWhat tactics to you see working in social media for our industry?

Sullivan:  My talent is for long-form content: thoughtful blog posts, customer case studies, whitepapers, solution brochures, etc. They’ve been just the content I’ve needed over the last 9 months to participate enough on the LinkedIn platform - and by extension Twitter and Google+ to get a signal and tune the channel as to what works and doesn’t. With good content, a following grows.

The kind of evangelizing that Fred Gordy of McKenney’s and Marc Petock of Lynxspring are doing regarding cyber security is very effective. Their frequent strategy is to create informative, well-written and researched long-form content and then promote it through all the right groups on LinkedIn, Twitter, Google+, etc. Marc’s ‘Cyber Security Executive Briefing’ campaign is a great example.  Some factors that make their social presence ‘Best Practice’ are 1) recognized expertise in the subject, thus authentic voices. 2)  quality and quantity of posts 3) stick-to-itiveness 4) sense of urgency because everyone should be informed about developments in Cyber Security. 

[an error occurred while processing this directive]SinclairHow would you integrate social marketing with other aspects of marketing like PR, advertising, lead generation?

Sullivan:  Social media is swallowing up big parts of all those functions - and the B2B trade press and much of the industry analyst functionality as well. Search technology has put greater emphasis on communications that are digital.  So, the output of all these formerly separate disciplines has melted into one big digital puddle of content assets that need to be found at the right moment along the customer’s journey from awareness to purchase. Likewise, personal relationships with press and analysts are not built by phone calls and personal visits on press tour. Rather they are built by responding thoughtfully to their blog posts and having the insight to advance the conversation. Not many press agents can do this on technical topics. Moreover, a press release that is mostly fill-in-the-blank boiler plate is not going to get the likes and shares that elevate rank in search results. To be worth the effort, any piece of content - press release, infographic, or video - should be of high quality and interest or it will remain undiscovered. 

Even for quality content, it’s a challenge to increase discoverability when the topic is highly specialized. To give news from our industry a higher profile on social media and to facilitate storytelling and easy sharing among our community, I’ve put together a series of magazines. Follow this link to my Flipboard profile where you’ll find BuildingContext magazines on Analytics & Continuous Optimization; Data Interoperability & Protocols; M2M & IoT; and Retrofit Financing. If you have press releases and articles that you’d like me to Flip into any of those magazines, send the links to me at Therese(at) I’m just getting started. More topics to come.


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