Social media platforms are influencing AEC firms in ways that are transforming their practices. That was one theme among many participants explored at the "KA-Connect: Building Knowledge" two-day conference, held in San Francisco April 11-12.

Major design firms, such as SOM, Rutherford & Chekene, Psomas, HOK, and T.Y. Lin, shared tales of interoperability successes and pitfalls. As many of them have discovered, the more interactive the social media tools, the better.

Take design firm Arup's blog and tweet platform ( Carmen Whitelock, head of Arup's online strategy, says the effort goes beyond the traditional web homepage, which for many firms acts as an online brochure. The Arup blog/tweet platform brings together more than 50 Arup contributors from around the world to interact on one shared platform.

Writers tackle topics such as "PPP hospitals must give value for money," and "Building for a low-carbon economy." Says Whitelock: "We select editorial based on ideas and not the corporate view, which is why we're getting good feedback from staff. We're really trying to build engagement." Another social media example is "The Third Teacher: Analog, Digital, Practice," a 2010 book that inspired more online discussions.

Melanie Kahl, learning and design strategist for Cannon Design, says those comments are helping the design consultancy practice incorporate new ideas on training and education.