“Working with architects is like talking to cats — each office is in its own little microcosm,” quipped a guest at the Boston Society of Architects Marketing/PR Wizards’ recent meeting on the subject of branding.
That catty remark described my friend’s efforts to turn her firm on to social media. When she came aboard as their Marketing Manager, she immediately discovered an unused text for a company LinkedIn profile buried in her firm’s file-and-forget files. Twitter hadn’t yet flown with them. They were faceless on Facebook. They were blind to blogging. They were still sending snail-mail cards and brochures. In short, they were stuck in the print-and-paper past, skeptical of social media.
For weeks she played cat-and- mouse with the firm’s principals, trying to catch their attention and articulate the advantages of including social media in their marketing so they could stay competitive with their competitors by not appearing as if they had catnapped through the changing times.
She finally got a LinkedIn profile out of them, as well as a Twitter feed, a Facebook page, a MailChimp e-newsletter, and the beginnings of a blog. Now they’re linked in to LinkedIn, their Tweets are a-twitter, they’re face-to-face on Facebook, they’ve gone ape over MailChimp, and their blog has blossomed.
It was a tough sell, but now they’re sold on social media, seeing for themselves how handy it is for promoting projects, events of interest, and discussion ideas to the public without costing them a dime — and how it improved their visibility and brought out their brand more broadly.
Yet, a Building Design + Construction survey of A/E/C professionals found that only 28% were employing social media for marketing, and 61% weren’t using social media, period. Reasons for resistance to social media include:
- doubt about its business-building ability, given the still-slow economy despite social media’s big bang through cyberspace over the last decade;
- not deeming it necessary if a firm is getting enough business through repeat clients, word of mouth and other traditional networking;
- not thinking they have the time to spend on social media, given its addictive powers and the need to avoid distraction from current A/E/C work;
- fear it will leak too much information about the firm to competitors, resulting in stealing of the firm’s ideas and/or hiring away members of their staff;
- concern that that revelation of information will cause recipients to take it out of context, hence spread false rumors about the firm.
Understandable, but sleeping through social media surges and waking to see how cyber-savvy your competition is could balk your business down the road if you look old-cat — uh, old-hat. You’ll seem out of touch with the times, not the thought-leader in your field that social media have enabled your competitors to become.
Also, you’ll be challenged in your capacity to contribute to conversation. The benefits of discussion through social media are fourfold (at least):
- to share your ideas about design-build techniques, project planning, client relationship building, business partnership development, proposal writing, etc., with others in your field or the general public, thus increasing your reputation for excellence in and knowledge of your profession;
- to get the latest scoops, feeds and tips on today’s trends in your field, business-building concepts, marketing effort expansion ideas, possible client contacts, job leads, etc.;
- to share your firm’s success stories in a way that is more accessible to the public and your contacts, thus beefing up your credibility in the industry;
- to recruit employees by giving them a more direct, pleasurable connection to you and your firm.
For instance, Abigail Carlen, LEED® AP BD+C, has used social media to attract architects and designers as Marketing Manager for Perkins + Will in New York City, and now as Director of Marketing for H3 Hardy Collaboration Architecture in New York (which also has an active Facebook page and Architizer profile with a project portfolio), according to Gina A. Bedoya, CPSM.
“Management understands that, eventually, economic times will change for the better, and there will once again be a need to search for talented architects,” said Bedoya, who is president of Bedoya Business Strategies, Inc., an A/E/C business consulting firm based in Fanwood, N.J. “Using social media to showcase their firm’s culture now will position them as a desirable firm to work for in the future.”
Also, social media are a click- away way to link up, team up and build up client relationships and strategic alliances for the support, collaboration and outside resources a firm needs in this still-shaky economy. Through a potential client’s or partner’s blog, Facebook page, LinkedIn or Architizer profile, etc., a firm can learn more about that company’s design/build needs, goals, approaches and/or philosophies to see if it would be a good match.
“More than ever, it is imperative that A/E/C firms constantly network and ‘get to know their neighbors,'” said Sarah Zibanejadrad, Marketing Manager at Oasis Consulting Services in Roswell, Ga. “You would be surprised how many federal organizations, municipalities, and developers are on only a click away on Facebook or LinkedIn.”
Even a civil engineering firm as old-as-the-hills as Burns & McDonnell of Kansas City, Mo. (founded in 1898) has readily adapted social media for these and other purposes.
Click on the icons or links below to see for yourself:
Their Careers Blog has many informational articles on networking, job searching, engineering trends, time management techniques and much more, in a style tailored to the general public interest rather than just industry insiders.
Their Facebook page is packed with stories about their industry, their current projects, volunteer opportunities, and numerous career issues.
They use LinkedIn for employee recruitment and career-related articles like those in their Careers Blog and on their Facebook page.
On Pinterest they post project photos, event notice posters, visual intros to engineering tools, etc., with links to corresponding Twitter and other feeds.
They Tweet about honors they receive, positions they have open, events of interest to the industry, etc.
Their YouTube videos run the gamut from an intern’s testimony on his experience at the firm to an award presentation to a recent summit.
Burns & McDonnell are a model for maxing out their mass-media communication through multiple channels, thus staying firmly in the public and industry eye — to the point of being ranked 26th in FORTUNE’s 100 Best Companies to Work For in 2012, and 18th in 2013.
To convince your firm of social media’s benefits, I recommend a soft-sell approach, to avoid getting caught in a situation like the one on the right.
(This was where my friend fell short, attacking the problem like a raging tiger instead of a serene Siamese. Had the patient purr of a supportive associate not softened her hard-sell, her firm would be far from wearing the cat’s pajamas in their industry today — though they were lions in it all along.)
Analyze your competition. Scrutinize all of its social media for visual and verbal content, graphic style and layout, communication of company mission and industry ideas, brand quality and consistency, and so on.
Go beyond the big cats — Blogger, Digg, Facebook, Flickr, Google, LinkedIn, Pinterest, StumbleUpon, Twitter, WordPress, YouTube, etc. — to include industry-specialized social media, e.g., Archello, Archinect, Architizer, Houzz. Make careful notes of the assets and liabilities of each profile.
Present your findings to the principals in a marketing meeting. While showing the best and worst aspects of your competitor’s profiles on your laptop or projection system, use a thoughtful, go-easy tone of voice to explain what works and what doesn’t, what could inspire your firm’s profiles, and what the firm could do to distinguish itself from the competition. This will enable the principals to think for themselves about how their competitors have built better images and how they themselves could do so, capitalizing on their competitors’ sure things and shortfalls.
Assure them that you, the marketer, will handle most of the media. If the principals and associates are concerned that social media usage will eat up billable time on their ongoing projects, let them know you’ll take care of setting up and developing all of the profiles, writing most of the content, and coordinating all staff contributions to it.
Use your weekly marketing meetings and daily dealings with the principals to put forward your profile and content proposals for their review, revision and go-ahead, to make the social media development process as collaborative as possible without being intrusive.
Propose a social media development plan by which profile content, style and format can be reviewed, agreed upon in advance, and practiced regularly to resolve the perpetual puzzles of spamming, oversaturation, stealing of ideas, hiring away personnel, etc., as much as possible. Also, formulate a targeted approach to business solicitation, client or business partner relationship development, industry ideas sharing, and sending out project announcement, holiday greeting and company anniversary e-cards through social media. That way, the principals can rest assured that the media will be used responsibly and efficiently.
Treat social media like a cocktail party or industry convention. No firm would question those timeless methods of communicating with a covey of characters and cultivating connections with promising prospects and bypassing blah ones. So you could emphasize social media as a transition of those dynamics from convention to computer, from luau to laptop.
This would allow a firm to communicate with clients, partners and the public more regularly, rather than just waiting for those once-in-a-blue-moon social events to happen. Thus social media communication could lead to more business possibilities more frequently, in part because it enables firms to invite key business prospects to networking events in advance, i.e., setting up to talk shop rather than waiting to run into them at the event or hoping they’ll be there.
Let them know what they’re missing. Calmly caution the principals that, with the ever- expanding use of social media for business networking, not jumping on its bandwagon would be like not maintaining one’s presence at parties or conventions, hence being less remembered than the competition, and risking bankruptcy.
Assure them they’ll be in the catbird seat if they take a bite out of social media. A bit of an exaggeration, but refining one’s marketing according to current trends signifies a willingness to keep growing and changing with the industry, hence to keep up with one’s contacts socially and technologically, to avoid being a cat in your own little microcosm. You’ll notice the results…
— Todd Larson
- Bedoya, Gina A., “The Who, What, When, Why and How of Social Media for the A/E/C Community,” Engineering News-Record, May 1, 2010.
- Giedrys, Sally, “When Social Media is Worth Your Time,” The Friedman File, Dec. 2012, Friedman & Partners.
- Leavitt, Neal, “How the A/E/C Community Uses Social Media These Days,” iMedia Connection, May 23, 2012.
- Shorr, Brad, “3 analogies to help executives ‘get’ social media,” ragan.com, Aug. 8, 2012.
- Zibanejadrad, Sarah, “Why Social Media is Useful to A/E/C Firms,” rumorinteactivemedia.com
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