You may have noticed that there’s been a bit of an explosion around the subject of social media of late. Companies are clambering around trying to work out how to harness the power of this relatively new marketing phenomenon, and it seems this has spread to the design and architecture world. I’m regularly asked for advice from design and architecture companies about whether they should add social media to the marketing mix and, if so, how they should go about it.
The first answer I give is, yes. The marketing function is undergoing an evolution, the social media express has roared into town and design and architecture companies that don’t get onboard now risk being left behind. There are conversations happening all around us online that design and architecture companies could be involved in. Conversations that include clients and potential clients and if you don’t get involved, your competitors will. This goes for pretty much any type of business as more and more are joining in, daily.
But getting involved in social media is not straightforward. It takes a lot more than simply adding a profile to Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn et al. As with all things marketing, it needs a strategy. But before I get into that, let’s start with a gentle introduction to the wonderful world of social media.
Social media is an online tool that builds communities of people with shared interests who are interested in networking with each other. The focus here is on networking and conversation, which is the underlying premise. It’s a bit like ‘offline’ networking at events, but without having to leave your home/office and with a little less alcohol. It allows you to connect with people that can benefit you or your company, which is useful for anyone wanting to hook up with potential clients, peers, journalists, industry guru’s and anyone else that could be useful.
The key uses of social media for marketing purposes are:
Brand awareness Brand reputation management New business generation News distribution and PR Research (through online polls) Customer support Specific product/service launch campaigns Connecting with affiliate companies Improving SEO
Not bad for an activity that needs little investment other than time.
There is a raft of social media sites available to us, from blogs to microblogs to networking to bookmarking. It’s easy to get lost in the quagmire, so here’s a brief description of each:
Blogs : a blog is a company’s communication tool that allows two way interaction with its readers. They are different to standard ‘brochure’ website as they ‘talk with’ rather than ‘talk at’ the viewer. The blog shouldn’t be used for ‘selling’, instead it should contain advice and opinion that the reader will find useful and which will make them want to subscribe for updates (and thus extend the interaction further). It might even make them want to get in touch. Wouldn’t that be nice?
Microblogs : Twitter is the most talked about, and the most useful, microblog. In contrast to a blogs longer posts, Twitter contains 140 character ‘statements’. It is a powerful networking tool that allows you to interact with people in a much faster environment. It has a global reach that breaks down the barriers of communication and allows networking in real time on a very large scale. Tweeters share information, give advice, debate real time issues and generally chat.
Social networking sites : these include Facebook, LinkedIn, MySpace, Plaxo, Xing etc, and this list is growing. So for now I’m going to stick with the main two I find useful: LinkedIn and Facebook. Xing can be useful for architects, however this isn’t being used to a great extent in the UK so far (that could change in the future so it’s worth keeping an eye on). Networking sites allow you to connect and network with others in your field. The group discussions and forums are particularly useful here and should play a major role in their use.
Social bookmarking sites : this includes sites like Digg and Stumbleupon. They allow us to bookmark a web page we like or find interesting and ‘save’ it to these sites. They also have a voting system that allows viewers to vote on pages they like. The aim here is to get your blog post or web page voted on and then, in turn, encourage others to view it.
Social media strategy
There are definite rules of engagement when it comes to social media. As I mentioned earlier, it’s all about networking and conversation. But before getting into any conversation, get your strategy sorted:
1. What are your objectives for using social media? Are you looking to increase brand exposure? Are you looking for new business leads? Do you need to improve your brand reputation? Are you launching a specific product or service? Are you looking to recruit staff? The objective/s need to be clear from the outset as these will drive your messages.
2. Who do you want to reach? Write down a list of the types of people or companies you want to interact with and be clear what messages you want to get across to them. But remember! Social media is all about two way interaction so you can’t fully control any conversation. However, having a clear idea of what you want to communicate at the start will be useful to your strategy.
3. Who should be responsible for running social media activity? Should there be a team or can one person take responsibility? Take heed here, not all conversation on social media is positive so you will need someone equipped to deal with any negative comments on behalf of your company.
4. Next you need to identify the right platforms for you. The model I have been using and am recommending to clients is an integration of the following: company blog, Twitter, LinkedIn and Facebook with, of course, links back to the main website and YouTube and Flickr as necessary. As with other marketing activities, they ALL need to be integrated for optimum results. There are tools that allow you to link these platforms to save on time, for example Twitter updates can now appear on your Facebook profile through Tweetdeck, WordPress blogs can be embedded into LinkedIn profiles, Twitter updates can appear on blogs etc.
5. Agree the wording of profile names before setting them up. For example, on Twitter do you want all profiles for your company to be prefixed with the company name then the employee or just the employee or do you want to have one company profile name that can be used by all or just your name? Clearly this has branding implications so it’s important to get this clear at the outset. I do prefer real names for Twitter profiles as it feels like you’re talking to a real person, rather than a member of a company. Once this is done, set up all profiles with clear bio’s and apply the branding to backgrounds where possible. If you don’t already have a blog, it would be a good idea to get this set up now. This needn’t be costly or time consuming. WordPress provides a very good system which is free. So get blogging with relevant, useful posts.
6. Now you need to find the people you want to network with. Get together a list of those you want to reach, search for them and connect. Once you’ve connected don’t make the mistake of diving into conversation before you get a feel for how they do things. Listen to what they talk about for a while and if you have something relevant to add to a discussion, add it. But remember, don’t sell! What you want to do here is build the relationship. So be relevant and give them sound advice. They’ll soon be nattering away with you and may even want to take it offline for a coffee at some point. How very yesteryear.
7. Next ensure all platforms are integrated as I mentioned earlier. Make the most of all available tools to streamline your social media activities.
8. Finally, timing. Social media can be very addictive so it’s worth scheduling the time you feel is appropriate to spend on these activities. There is a plethora of tools on Twitter that help cut down on the time you need to spend online. For example you can schedule your tweets to be sent out during the day so that you can get on with something else. But remember, don’t do too much of this as the conversation will be one sided which is against what you’re trying to do here.