The Who, What, When, Why and How of Social Media for the A/E/C Community
Many firms in the design and construction industry are jumping in to “leverage” social media for their business without always understanding how exactly to go about it. Most firms associate social media with just connecting to potential clients or making others aware of their firm’s presence by posting information on their firm through different media channels. Others use the terms “social media” and “social networks” interchangeably, thinking they are one and the same. Too often, social media is strictly viewed as just a new tactic for communications. What is needed is a clear understanding of who, what, when, why and how before you take the plunge into the “social media ecosystem,” as Lon Safko and David K. Brake call it in their book, “The Social Media Bible: Tactics, Tools & Strategies for Business Success.”
So how should the A/E/C community approach the social media ecosystem? That can only be answered by asking five even simpler questions:
Who? Ideally, social media should involve everyone at a firm, but once again, whether this is feasible depends on your goals. You must take into account your firm’s culture and see if everyone accepts the decision to use social media. You can then identify whether it will be everyone’s job, in which case no one individual is responsible for maintaining it, or whether you must, to some small degree, designate someone to keep track of the daily tasks. In the A/E/C industry, this task may fall to the marketer or administrator on staff.
What? Social media basically integrates technology and social interaction with words, pictures, video and audio. Thus far, there is no classification system for categories that make up social media; however, Safko and Brake have come up with 15 categories that are widely known in defining social media, including social networking, audio, video, microblogging, aggregators and RSS. Not all 15apply to the design and construction industry but a cursory glance at any two or three will give you a better understanding of your options and help you choose what is appropriate for your desired goals.
When? The time to get started is now, even though you are probably using social media and may not know it. But once a firm decides to use social media, the time required to maintain it may be a concern. Many A/E/C firms may fear they don’t have the time to spend long hours on this. Simple guidelines can help set a workable timeframe. A colleague who is an HR rep in the industry recently said: “The time on social media is worth it when you compare the money spent on many of the business functions done through traditional methods [e.g., paying recruiters, outside training and marketing communications that require huge budgets]. Your employees and social networks are your recruiters; webinars and teleclasses are your training tools; and Facebook, LinkedIn and all online presence is your marketing.”
Why? For the A/E/C industry, social media offers a way to give opinions of the built environment, share data and basically network to share industry-related stories, business needs and understandings. Social media allows you to communicate, collaborate, educate and entertain; after all, it is also about being “social.”
Abigail Carlen, LEED® AP, Associate and Marketing Manager for Perkins + Will, says her firm uses social media to recruit and retain talented architects and designers. Management understands that, eventually, economic times will change for the better, and there will once again be a need to search for talented architects. Using social media to showcase their firm’s culture now will position them as a desirable firm to work for in the future.
How? Once your social media goals have been set you need to choose a method of execution. Look at the different tools available and see which ones are the best choices to achieve your goals. Not every platform is right for everyone. Research what is commonly used in the industry and by your clients. An architect client of mine based in Colorado who targets the ski resort market found that all their clients were using the social network Facebook, as it is favorable for photo sharing, thus we made sure the architect had a presence on Facebook. You may want to consider looking for assistance to help you explore the various options.