Ever heard of Facebook, Twitter or LinkedIn? What about YouTube, TweetDeck or HootSuite? Do you know what a Tweet is?

All of these terms encompass social media, with Facebook, YouTube, Twitter and LinkedIn being popular social networking sites and TweetDeck or HootSuite being websites designed to help send and receive Tweets, which are essentially micro-blog posts on Twitter.

To some, these terms may sound like New Age slang, but many custodial operations are making it their business to learn more and capitalize on the social media craze.

"Social media is an incredible tool and our ability to use it effectively is very important," says Justin Goodman, head custodian at Hot Springs School District in Rapid City, S.D. "People might argue that it increases our dependence on computers and technology, but I believe this technology was developed to make things more efficient."

Even so, implementing it is a slow process in an industry that’s long been behind the eight ball where technology is concerned.

"The use of social media in the custodial industry is significantly less than other industries — it’s almost anemic," says Chris Terrell, consultant at IAT Consulting Services, Fayetteville, Ark.

He explains that the difference is in-house custodial operations do not stand to increase market share or build brands through social media’s use, but stresses it can still play an important role. He says social media serves to connect industry professionals in ways unheard of until now.

"It’s a means to connect us to large groups [of peers, building occupants and coworkers]," he says.

Experts all agree that the industry’s future includes social media.

"Ten years ago, departments didn’t have a website, now you do," says Terrell. "In 10 years, every janitorial operation will also have Twitter, Facebook and YouTube accounts."

The Power Of Communication

Goodman says the Hot Springs School District is already beginning to embrace social media. In fact, the department recently asked the school board to approve purchasing smart phones for staff cleaning the district’s nine buildings.

The phones would replace the e-mail system the staff currently uses to communicate between buildings. The reason? It’s a more immediate means of communication.

"An e-mail system works but it’s not very effective," Goodman says. "People don’t look at their e-mail very often."

Armed with smart phones, custodians will know immediately when a message comes through on Twitter, for instance. Their phones will beep and the message will pop up on the screen.

"It will help us quickly communicate between buildings," he says.

Experts comment that Facebook and Twitter offer an excellent means of disseminating information to many people at once. For instance, if a facility closes due to inclement weather, the facility manager can send a Tweet to every staff member with a Twitter account and post that information on the operation’s Facebook page.

Social media also opens the lines of communication with building occupants. If the operation plans to deep clean carpets, for instance, they can post information about their plans and ask occupants to make sure they have everything off the floor. If the operation switches to green cleaning, they can post messages as to why the change is being made and how building occupants can help.

"There are many online groups that have been formed by building occupants to discuss problems and issues they face," says Ron Segura, owner of Segura & Associates, Burlingame, Calif. "Online groups that include both building occupants and facility managers as members allow for constant dialogue. These sites can increase the awareness of normally non-communicated issues between facility managers and occupants."

Social media, such as YouTube, also offers a means of training employees on new equipment and procedures.

"You can load a video on how to use a new piece of equipment and have staff watch the video to learn how that tool is to be used and maintained," Terrell says.

Adds Goodman, "It only makes sense to start communicating this way. We have a younger workforce and that’s what they know."

Ronnie Garrett is a freelance writer based in Fort Atkinson, Wis.

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