In Search of WaterBook: Impact of Social Media on the Water Industry

Recently, I learned from my sixteen-year-old that she has dozens of siblings and is married to numerous people—for short periods of time—on FaceBook. As a typical flabbergasted father of a teenager, I smiled, tried to be calm about this new revelation, and mentally shook my head.

May 1st, 2012

By Zain Mahmood

Recently, I learned from my sixteen-year-old that she has dozens of siblings and is married to numerous people—for short periods of time—on FaceBook. As a typical flabbergasted father of a teenager, I smiled, tried to be calm about this new revelation, and mentally shook my head.

One of the most significant changes during the last decade has originated from the proliferation of social media; this has significant impact on how we interact with people, how we choose those we listen to, and who recommends what. In the consumer space, social media is driving numerous changes in consumer behavior and in buying patterns that were unthinkable in the past.

We in the water treatment industry may think this will have very little, if any, change on how our slow-moving industry will behave. I encourage readers to think again.

Just as social media is changing other business-to-business (B2B) behaviors in different industries, changes are already occurring in our space, which, if not acted upon, could affect market standing and market share of our own enterprises. There are at least three such changes already underway:

1. Word of Mouth (WOM) marketing: If book reviews posted by readers on Amazon.com are significantly affecting both negative and positive outcomes of book sales, what do you think word of mouth will do to the sales of water-related technology/services? There are at least 24 bulletin boards with water industry-related postings at any time. Some of the postings are meaningless or rudimentary—however, many engineers, especially GenX/Y engineers, are already using LinkedIn discussion forums to post technical questions and to gather valuable information about their needs. These discussion forums will become more specialized and mature quickly—providing opportunity for the savvy marketer to tap into the independent-thinking engineers and their needs to serve their customers. The scores of magazines cluttering our desks with hard copies will eventually fade away as we switch to iPads and Tablets that have apps and search mechanisms for instantaneous delivery of content. If I want to buy a pump, the site that provides the most information on all possible pump options will get the most attention from an engineer.

2. Recruitment: A great percentage of Gen X/Y engineers in the U.S. today are using social media sites and networks to land internships and jobs. Recruiters are using sites like LinkedIn to do their initial research on candidates and companies. If you believe that hiring "A-level" talent is critical for the future of your enterprise, you already have access to that dynamic website and social media presence. Without connectivity, your corporate brand grows stale as the engineers may think you don't care or want change. Young engineers want to work in dynamic environments where they feel fulfilled and connected to the outer world. Potential employees are using sites like GlassDoor.com and others to research employers' practices and results. Companies that are committed to transparency and connectivity are most likely to win the battle for talent.

3. Collaboration, Knowledge, Sharing, Learning, Understanding, and Choosing: Today, our industry activity is focused around shows like WEFTEC or ACE to drive people to interact and share knowledge and make decisions. Recently, leaders of top engineering firms went to WEF and told them that they don't intend to participate in large, expensive shows in the near future. Ten years from now, these shows will likely become less meaningful and effective in the delivery of their original mission unless they choose to modify the frequency and setting of the show. One option would be to merge the WEFTEC/ACE shows and have it every other year in a specific city (Chicago) and make it a more desirable show for the Americas (in contrast to IFAT). I think both exhibitors and visitors would NOT want to miss such a show!

Steven Kotler and Peter Diamandis state in their new 2012 book Abundance, that information availability is now synonymous to Google searches; people in remote parts of the world have the same level of data/information available to them as those in the developing world. The future of "value creation" of enterprises will come from integration and synthesis of knowledge and ability to create new options—not only from providing new data and information. Lectures and papers from WEFTEC or ACE will be webcast simultaneously and/or posted on blogs by the presenters—immediately available for everyone to see. During the last two WEFTEC shows, I believe our company did not generate a single new lead from engineers or municipal and industrial owners. As a corporation, it is difficult to justify significant dollars spent on a show without an appropriate return on investment.

Not all change is synonymous with progress; however, the revolutionary changes taking place in our lives since the advent of the internet, and, now, social media, are mind-boggling. As business and industry leaders, it behooves us to understand and be part of that change—to lead that change where the technologies and processes we represent are used for the benefit of a greater good. Many of the changes taking place may not stick—or be accepted by everyone. However we must design our own marketing, recruitment and other internal strategies to adjust to this "new normal" of the social-media enterprise.

About the author: Zain Mahmood is President and CEO of Parkson Corporation, a provider of advanced solutions in water recycling and treatment, headquartered in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. He serves as Chairman-Elect of the Water and Wastewater Equipment Manufacturers Association.

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