Throughout the past decade, social media has become an absolutely essential tool in the A/E/C marketing mix – although once upon a time I was skeptical about the value of social media in B2B (business-to-business) marketing. I joined Facebook in 2008 – my first connection was a childhood friend that I hadn’t seen in decades! My FB use was primarily focused on promoting local interest books that I was writing at the time, publicizing nonprofits I was involved with, and sharing posts of an architecture blog I had just begun writing for a local newspaper.

I joined LinkedIn a month after I joined Facebook, although I wasn’t sure what I should do, so I began connecting with people that I already knew. One year later, I joined Twitter and YouTube. My primary posts back then were related to my local interest books and architecture blog.

If there was a B2B application for social media, I hadn’t found it yet. But then came 2010, and the annual conference of the Society for Marketing Professional Services, Build Business. Social media topics were beginning to enter the programming, and although I had almost two decades of A/E/C marketing under my belt, I felt sorely lacking in social media marketing knowledge. But then I went to hear Lori Byron speak. Today CEO of Famous in Your Field, Lori at the time worked for a transportation engineering firm. Her topic, “DIY Digital Marketing on a Dime,” was exactly what the doctor ordered. She talked about how she was able to generate thought leadership, brand recognition, earned media, and project opportunities for a unique type of highway interchange – even though her firm had yet to actually design one!

This program totally changed my thinking on the value of social media for B2B. But social media was still in its infancy, and I had much more to learn.

That’s when I had an opportunity to work with the Three SoMegos (Three Amigos + Social Media = Three SoMegos!), who were commissioned by the SMPS Foundation to research and write a white paper about social media in the A/E/C industry. I was tapped by the Foundation to serve as the liaison between the organization and authors: Holly Bolton, FSMPS, CPSM of 3chord Marketing (then marketing director for a structural engineering firm, CE Solutions), Dana Galvin-Lancour, FSMPS, CPSM of Barton Malow, and Adam Kilbourne, FSMPS, CPSM of Tec Inc./Engineering & Design

The biggest challenge facing the Three SoMegos was the utter lack of available research about how architecture, engineering, construction, and environmental firms were using social media. Although originally envisioned as a secondary research initiative, they needed to conduct primary research. The resulting publication, The Clients’ Use of Social Media and Social Networking was a groundbreaking publication for the industry, and helped a lot of A/E/C marketers and executives alike begin to understand the value of social media as a component of their marketing mix.

Fast-forward to today, and social media is a regular part of the daily routine for many professionals. But certainly not all.

Some firms are very active with social media posts. They use LinkedIn to push out original content or share “news to use” for their network. They use Facebook to showcase company culture, using it as a recruiting tool as much as a marketing tool. They feature staff members and even clients on their YouTube channel, and use Twitter to push out company news and links to their content.

Other firms have a very small digital footprint, but key members of their staff are active social media users with robust networks. They take it upon themselves to serve as “company spokesperson” on social media.

And still, there are other firms with minimal social media activity and no staff members active on social media.

For those firms not active on social media, there’s a great missed opportunity to build brand, create name recognition, drive traffic to their website, and potentially generate leads.

But for as important as it is for firms to be active on social media, it is beyond the critical point for their key staff members to be active.

If you’ve spent much time in the A/E/C industry, you undoubtedly realize that the industry tends to lag behind other industries when it comes to adopting new tools and technologies – unless they are specifically for project delivery.

Since graduating college, I have been active in the nonprofit community. I’ve served on a number of boards of directors in different industries, from the local chapter of the American Red Cross to a community leadership training organization, from a convention and visitors bureau to an architectural preservation organization. Today, I’m vice president of marketing for a nonprofit excursion railroad.

I always seem to end up involved with marketing, communications, fundraising, and/or sponsorship activities. I’ve had large marketing budgets that allowed national advertising buys – and minuscule budgets that required creative guerrilla marketing tactics.

And through it all, I’ve been able to experience various aspects of B2C (business-to-consumer) and B2B marketing.

However, a recent behind-the-scenes activity really jumped out to me, and it relates to a national organization for which my wife volunteers. The organization’s brand is actually international, and she recently “voluntold” me to help with a request for proposal (RFP). 

This particular nonprofit organization understands that every single volunteer is a brand ambassador for their organization. Because of that, the RFP was abundantly clear that a review of each team member’s social media profiles and activities would be part of the decision-making process. 

Unfortunately, not everyone had a robust digital footprint, so it became a mad dash to create profiles and make connections within the four-week period leading up to the proposal due date. 

Now translate that to the A/E/C industry. We know that roughly 67% of the buying process is typically completed by the time we’re contacted by a client or prospect. (Either they reach out to us, or they actually respond to our emails and voicemails!) This figure varies by study/source, but the buying process today is vastly different than it was even a decade ago as social media channels began emerging and gaining in popularity. 

Potential clients check us out – our company website, our LinkedIn profiles, our YouTube videos. They not only want to know about the company they may be working with, they also want to know about the people who could potentially be part of the project team.

For the A/E/C industry, having a presence on LinkedIn is by far the most important. In fact, when you Google someone in the business world, the top hit is often their LinkedIn profile. 

So how robust is your online presence? You probably fall into one of these five categories:

  • A League of Their Own – These professionals leverage their social network to build their personal and company brands. They post regularly on LinkedIn – daily, or at least several times a week – and spend time on other social channels, including Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and YouTube. They also like, share, and/or comment on the posts of other users. 
  • Every Breath You Take – These individuals spend a lot of time checking out others (like prospects) on social media, but they rarely post anything or engage with the posts of others. Essentially, they stalk people online, but for business purposes. 
  • The Forgotten – This group of social media users get around to it when they get around to it. They are not adverse to posting something, or liking a post, but social media is usually an afterthought, something they get around to every few weeks...or months! 
  • The Untouchables – These users created social media profiles somewhere along the way – perhaps at the insistence of their marketing departments – and forgot their passwords a long time ago. They have few connections, and are a source of frustration for more avid users who experience ignored connection requests.
  • You Can’t Touch This – No matter where they are in their careers, these professionals have little interest in social media. They still view it as something for Millennials that has no role in the business world. As a result, they have no appreciable presence online, unless their company has a bio page about them.

When I began embracing social media for B2B marketing, I determined that LinkedIn was the single most important social media channel for my purposes, so I paid more attention to it than the other social media sites, something that holds true to this day. I use it for myriad purposes:

  • Connecting with my A/E/C industry contacts
  • Connecting with existing and past clients
  • Connecting with potential clients
  • Sharing links to blogs I’ve written as well as those authored by coworkers
  • Sharing interesting content published by others
  • Sharing industry news with my brief interpretation of it 
  • Tracking my network
  • Identifying potential companies that my firm should target
  • Following industry news, which I often share with coworkers
  • Continual professional development, learning from blogs, ebooks, webinars, etc. posted to LinkedIn

Through the process of engaging on LinkedIn, I’ve seen numerous mistakes that are continuously repeated:

  • Sending a invitation to connect without a personalized message (confession: I have some weird inability to remember that I cannot write a personal note on the IOS LinkedIn app, so the only people who get non-personalized invites from me are those I tried to connect with on my phone!)
  • Not filling out the contact information, so when someone wants to contact you – even if you are connected with them – and they click on your contact information, all that shows is your LinkedIn URL … why are you even on LinkedIn?
  • Not updating you contact information when you switch jobs! I’ve actually seen this a lot lately
  • Listing a volunteer activity as your most current job
  • Not having a headline that really tells who you are and where you work

If you want to see some of this in action, just download your LinkedIn contacts to a spreadsheet (yes, you can do this) and look at names, titles, companies, and contact information for your connections. You’ll be shocked by all the missing or inaccurate information!

Several years ago, the president of my company, JDB Engineering, was surprised to learn, while on the phone with a shiny new client he had never met in person, that his LinkedIn profile was up on the client’s computer during their conversation. That was an eye-opening experience for him. Prospects and clients are looking at your digital footprint. They Google your firm, and the names of people they meet at the firm – or resumes they receive in proposals. And while I don’t expect that including your LinkedIn URL will become a standard proposal requirement in the near future, it is certainly becoming a “hidden requirement.” Although you may not be required to include your LinkedIn or Twitter URLs for a project proposal, if you submit to speak at a conference you very well might be asked for the information. If you write a blog, contribute an article to a print publication, or even get quoted (online or off), readers will want to check out your online profile(s). 

Furthermore, in an industry where it is difficult to fill vacant positions, job-seekers (whether still in college or with deep experience) can afford to be choosy. They Google their potential bosses and co-workers, and research them on LinkedIn. The lack of a digital footprint, or social media profiles untouched for years, sends a message to prospective employees: old school, non-tech-savvy, lazy, doesn’t care. This is certainly off-putting to many potential employees (especially Millennials and members of the newest generation entering the workforce: Generation Z). In marketing, perception equals reality, which is why it is so important to control perception. 

For the better part of the past decade I’ve preached about the importance of personal brand – presenting about it at conferences, writing a book about personal branding for A/E/C professionals, and blogging/article writing on the topic regularly. A strong personal brand can help your company land new project commissions while also positioning you as a thought leader. It can help attract new talent to your organization. And in the hyper-digital business environment in which we all exist, a robust digital footprint is essential for building and maintaining your personal brand.

Don’t be the last to the party: refresh your social profiles right now! (Or create them ASAP.) Ensure that your name, title, company, contact information, etc. is all correct. Make more connections. Share content of value. Use your online network like you use your offline network. Your prospective clients and potential employees are researching you and your firm as you read this sentence! 

What does your digital footprint say about you?

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Photo credit: Adobe Stock.