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October 28, 2010

Why A/E firms should care about social media

  • A paradigm shift has taken place in marketing, and it’s all about online interaction and dialog.
    Blue Horse Marketing


    Is the buzz about social media all talk? What tangible benefits do social media offer to architecture and engineering companies? Why must we find relevant ways to integrate social networking into our marketing?

    Using social media to network, you can cultivate and communicate with a targeted audience about your area of expertise or passion. The credibility and connections developed through regular communication can translate into relationships, opportunities and business.

    Social networking offers free and low-cost ways to form relationships with prospective clients, colleagues, team members and employees. It also offers huge potential as a tool for collaboration and knowledge sharing.

    Social media is no longer a trend. Social media strategies have become essential components of corporate marketing programs. While social media has a learning curve, we must also recognize it as just another place to network and connect with other people — albeit a vast and powerful one.

    In the design and construction industry, we have begun to integrate social media into our marketing activities. Compared to early 2009, many local A/E firms now have blogs or Facebook pages. Many more are planning to add social media to their marketing, but have yet to go public with their strategies.

    To be effective with social networking you must understand the paradigm shift that has taken place. For those of us used to thinking of marketing as one-way delivery of information, social media is different. It is all about interaction and dialog. Your social media audience has to agree to give you their attention. They do that when they follow your blog or Twitter feed, or become a friend of your business on Facebook.

    Its two-way nature makes social media ideal for forming relationships, and also presents a challenge for companies accustomed to controlling their corporate “voice.” Good corporate social media guidelines will help navigate the transition. Good examples addressing a wide range of concerns can easily be found online.

    Why social media?

    We all want to promote our firm’s stories and message. Social networking supports marketing strategies such as these:

    • Develop relationships with colleagues.

    • Share your company culture to attract and recruit future employees.

    • Get to know prospective clients.

    • Position a person or company as an expert.

    • Learn what concerns your target audience.

    • Keep up with trends of your industry, market sector or geographic region.

    • Build your mailing list.

    • Increase your website’s search engine ranking.

    • Invite dialogue about a project or an issue.

    • Raise funds for a cause.

    • Tell your clients’ stories.

    Getting started

    If you have not explored social media, here are a few ways to begin:

    • Search Google or Technorati.com to find a few blogs that interest you.

    • Sift through the choices to find valuable content.

    • Observe the conversation; learn the context.

    • Leave a comment when you can add value to the discussion.

    • Pay a return visit the next day or week to see what else has been said.

    • Repeat to learn the landscape of social networking.

    Blogs with devoted followers have lively discussions in the comments. The Build Blog from Build LLC provides a vibrant example with topics ranging from detailed technical solutions to design.

    Shared passion is important. I did not see the point of Facebook until an old friend died suddenly. I found myself visiting his memorial page to connect with others sharing their stories and grief. An online community formed. When I cared about the content on Facebook, my perspective changed.

    Participation guidelines

    As you begin engaging with social media and networking, here are a few points to keep in mind:

    • Write with a personal voice, even when representing a company.

    • Add value to the discussion before promoting your company or yourself (90/10 rule applies).

    • Learn the language to join the conversation (Twitter has a glossary).

    • Be concise; there are limits on post lengths.

    • Invite dialogue; forget monologues or broadcasts.

    • Be consistent about your message and topics.

    • Post regularly to establish trust with readers.

    • Create a strategy or plan to focus actions and produce results.

    • Share valuable content created by others; more added value.

    • Promote others in your network.

    • Expect a participatory or entrepreneurial business model; multi-directional, not linear.

    • Integrate social media into your marketing strategies; it’s no longer a “new thing.”

    • Use tools that let you post to all your sites at once and see the overview.

    Move to the next level

    Once you’ve begun, you’ll discover ways to move to the next level with social media. Join the conversation and participate in discussions being held on any social media platform: LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter, Biznik or blogs. When we join the conversation and add value through our comments, people notice.

    Search for key words and explore the links to groups, pages or profiles. Leave comments or ask questions to begin your own discussion. Topics could be technical, policy related, design oriented, or purely fun. Your comment on another blog or page makes your site visible and invites readers to visit.

    See how it’s done: SvR Design Co. produces an interesting blog that is well-integrated with its Facebook page and Twitter feed. The company’s passion for sustainability shines through all its content.

    Leading to collaboration

    Social networking not only gives us access to a wide range of people, it offers new ways to meet and interact with them. Social media sites expand on the traditional ways to develop business contacts and relationships. While meeting online won’t replace face-to-face meetings, we now have ways to find like-minded people online whom we can choose to meet in person to explore a common interest.

    This online-to-offline collaboration is already happening on sites like Biznik and Meetup.

    As technology continues to change how we communicate and promote our businesses, it also gives us tools for new ways to work together. Consumer collaboration keeps growing on sites like Freecycle, craigslist, Airbnb and Zipcar. As we get comfortable sharing online with people we don’t know, we’ll also find more ways to collaborate for business.

    Because architects and engineers already understand the value of collaboration and teamwork, firms in our industry are well positioned to take advantage of social media and collaboration. We have the skills and the mindset to solve problems together online or offline. Document-sharing tools like BIM have also taught us how to approach collaborative endeavors.

    There are worlds of opportunities available through social media and networking. Log in and join the conversation.

    Barbara Breckenfeld of Blue Horse Marketing is a 20-year veteran of marketing professional services with 15 years’ experience in the design and construction industry. As a consultant, seminar leader and marketing coach, she is committed to her clients’ success.

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