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The year is 2017. Software engineers and online gamers are designing our future as we speak — er, text. Consumers take pictures of their ice cream cones and post them on their Instagrams, reaping big, monetized benefits for Ben and Jerrys. Google reviews are kings. Political campaigns stream like flags across Facebook and Twitter. The internet, with its 3.4 billion worldwide users, is a fascinating and confusing place, and it has become a strong result and influencer of our daily habits, which businesses are still learning more and more about.
We decided to ask PHC News’ contracting community a few questions about their internet usage. We've taken note of the differences and similarities from last year, and would like to share.
The 2016 survey also paired our findings against those of leading annual internet trend reports, presented by Morgan Stanley analyst and investor, Mary Meeker. We have followed up with her newest research to help shed light on overall usage and how our audience reflects and deflects the national trends.
We distributed our survey to print and online subscribers, and the largest markets represented were plumbing (39 percent), HVAC (31 percent), hydronics (6 percent) and mechanical (6 percent). Our “other” category was also well-represented by respondents (17 percent); a lot of you responded that your geothermal and fire sprinkler services were most popular, which is worth mentioning. Close to 60 percent of you who responded said you are managers or owners, while 15 percent are vice presidents, followed by technicians at 7 percent.
I found that 56 percent of our respondents are 56 or older, while last year they were at 61 percent. Only 3 percent of our respondents were 35 years old or younger. Unfortunately, this has not changed much from last year. This number is to be expected with our current knowledge, but it needs to change in the next coming years if Boomers are to retire. Our industries are well aware of the age gap and continue to discuss and implement ways to engage the younger generation.
Online time and function
In her 2017 report (kpcb.com/internet-trends), Meeker found that the generational chasm is increasing, as shifts to internet-enabled media continue. She found that respondents over 50 years old spend between 9 and 10 hours on analog devices and between 1 and 31/2 hours on digital devices. While users under 30 are using both analog and digital devices between 4 and 5 hours a day. Overall, the survey finds that Americans spend roughly 4.14 hours on their phones a day, which has increased by two times over the last two years.
Our trade industries have also been more in favor of in-person interaction versus digital, and the results showed this tendency. Our survey respondents said they prefer face-to-face interaction (38 percent) or a mix of both online and face-to-face (56 percent). As technology changes and increases, it will be interesting to see if our trades can stick to their more personalized roots and maintain the level of service that is required of them.
Our survey also wanted to know how long our audience spends online, and how it helps or hinders them with their work. It turns out that 52 percent of respondents spend more than 1 hour online a day, while 17 percent spend less than 30 minutes a day online. 65 percent of our respondents indicated that their smartphone was their most used device, followed by laptop usage at 26 percent and tablets at 9 percent. Last year, smartphone preference was at 81 percent. This decrease could be due to the increase in people using tablet applications.
Mobile/tablet applications make up another side of technology that is surging through businesses. I recently attended AHR and was blown away by the level of thought and capability put into some applications. A lot of these apps help you with things like troubleshooting, invoicing, fleet management and inventory, ultimately bringing you closer to the customer. Many of your companies have designed their own apps (20 percent), or use third-party applications that assist you in your work (50 percent). Nationally this number is expected to grow, though we still have a long way to go with application security.
Given these results, we wanted to see how our respondents spent their time online and if they found themselves more or less productive. Roughly 49 percent said that smartphone technology has increased the amount of time they spend working. 52 percent said that smartphone technology has allowed flexibility in their work schedules, while 59 percent said that it has increased productivity.
Respondents said the most popular functions for mobile devices at work are calling (36 percent) followed by emailing (27 percent) and billing/invoicing (11 percent). Respondents said most popular internet applications that help them do their jobs better were GPS (25 percent), webinars (16 percent) and training videos (13 percent). Another popular response was “other” (16 percent), and a good amount of you wrote in “online research,” so thank you for that extra insight, which will be included as a designation in next year’s survey.
Some areas of growth, when it comes to performance, I noticed were in skill-sharing and mentorships. 73 percent of you said that your company doesn’t offer skill-sharing or lunch-and-learns, which I found to be surprising. And, 74 percent of you said your company doesn’t offer online or in-person mentorship opportunities. From most industry events I’ve ever attended I’ve heard that networking and ongoing learning are two essential functions of any business’ growth. It’s important that workers understand each other and their work, and mentoring and skill-sharing are some of the easiest ways to get everyone on the same page, not to mention increase morale.
One of the most significant areas of change that we found was in social media presence. Last year roughly 42 percent our respondents said that their businesses were not involved in any kind of social media. Thankfully, this year only 29 percent of our respondents said they weren’t on social media at all. This is good news from a business perspective because according to national trends, mobile advertising alone racked in 73 billion dollars. Google’s advertising revenue jumped from $30 billion to $36 billion, while Facebook’s advertising went from $7 billion and 13 billion, and other social media platforms together went from $22 billion to 23 billion.
Keep in mind that 69 percent of you also said that you haven’t attended any conferences, trainings or panels related to social media usage, and that as digital advertising and marketing become more competitive, strategy and content will become even more important. Your social media point person is essentially the digital face of your company, so hire wisely and make sure their training is current.
Facebook is the social media platform most frequently used by businesses in our industry (33 percent), according to our respondents. Contractors have been able to maximize their digital presence with a social platform that lets customers interact with them in personalized ways, leaving reviews and checking in on their favorite tradespeople. Contractors have even used their Facebooks to reel in new hires who fit their culture. The possibilities with Facebook are growing, so it’s a good thing you’re catching on.
LinkedIn (17 percent) is another great way for contractors to connect and join discussions related to their fields, as well as locate employment opportunities and follow news of national organizations, such as Plumbing-Heating-Cooling Contractors – National Association (PHCC). Contractors can join groups that offer a knowledge network for tradespeople of all different levels and disciplines.
I wasn’t surprised to see Snapchat and Instagram both at 1 percent, given that the target market for Instagram especially is millennials and younger. But I can see how service could be conveyed through platforms that are predominantly images or videos. Brands are quickly flocking to the platform, as the number of companies on Instagram is expected to double the amount on Twitter in 2017. Don’t believe what you hear? Go to Instagram right now and type in HVAC and see what kind of posts you come up with and what they can connect you to. Imagine what you could convey with one video share on a highly-populated platform and what kind of collaboration and learning that could inspire. Your reach may not quite hit Katy Perry’s 38 million followers, but in any case, it’s important the trades get into the mix and gain the view time they deserve. Test it out!
This concludes our 2017 internet survey report. I wanted to thank each of you who took the time to respond. Your feedback is essential to our understanding of our diverse and uniquely skilled readers. If you have any other trends/technology ideas you want us to cover or would like to write about pitch it to us at firstname.lastname@example.org.