A Lucky Six Social Media Best Practices
by Jennifer Pullinger
Architects thrive off of feedback. That collaborative give-and-take is critical to helping designers achieve their client’s vision. Architects are also, by nature, highly visual. A desire to engage and be visually creative are two reasons among many why social media are ideally suited for architects to communicate their message with a broader audience. If your firm hasn’t yet jumped on the social media bandwagon, it’s not too late, but you need to get going because it’s not a fad and it can produce real results.
So how can architects and project managers harness social media for their benefit and for the greater good of design? Use these social media best practices, common among all industries but tailored to architecture, as the foundation for your firm’s social strategy.
Knowing your overall message, dovetailing with your firm’s mission, is first and foremost. Whatever content you create and communicate to your fans or followers each day should support that ethos and also coincide with your social media campaign goals. If you have a handle on that, chances are, you already have the content you need to back up your message. Drawings, photographs, articles, blog posts, company news, construction milestones, and project detail Web pages are all excellent candidates for content. Also think about video, which helps bring projects to life, as a form of content to post on your social platforms. Watch your length, though, even as mobile apps like Vine continue to fracture our attention spans for video.
When you are ready to deliver your message, remember that content on social media is built to be consumed in “bite-size” nuggets, so no long treatises on the methodology behind the design process of that new athletic facility all in one Facebook status update. Find a way to deliver your message in short bursts of information, coupled with imagery. If you have to explain further, send your audience to a landing page on your Web site, an online white paper, or in-house publication that goes into more detail. Also, limit “architect-speak.” Put your message in easily understandable, layman’s terms.
As always, when you are creating content, be mindful of copyright laws and make sure you have permission to post something that wasn’t generated in-house. Consider privacy issues (e.g., children in photographs), and think twice about doling out professional, potentially liability-laden advice via social media. Save that for genuine real-time, in-person consultations.
This is the mantra of all social media platforms. Share with your “likes” or followers the photography from your latest finished project or the rendering that ultimately becomes the celebrated new community center. Show off what’s happening in the office or the volunteer activity in which your firm participates. Provide project updates on highly anticipated new buildings or behind-the-scenes photos of current construction.
Social media are inherently a form of publicity. If you want to attract more work from the governmental sector, for example, then you need to show your audience that you have the portfolio to back it up. Tell people what you are doing, or they won’t know. You never know where your next client will hear about you, it could be on Facebook or Twitter.
Be a regular presence on social media. On Facebook or Google+, post at least two to three times per week. Twitter, on the other hand, is much more ephemeral, and can handle a higher volume of conversation. Aim for 5 to 10 tweets per day.
Social media aren’t just for broadcasting your message. You need to “talk back,” so chat away. Are you attending an architecture conference, for example? Help out your colleagues who couldn’t attend or keep your audience informed with regular, pithy quotes or learnings from the floor, or follow conference hashtags while making new connections. Networking is the name of the game, after all.
Engaging also means getting to know those who have chosen to “like” you on Facebook or follow you on Twitter (or whatever the social platform may be). Acknowledge their comments and respond to their questions. If you get to a point where there’s too much to respond to, then set aside 10 to 15 minutes a day to reply back and do what you can. (Then again, maybe it’s time to hire a part-time social media coordinator.) Take some initiative and comment on other people’s posts or tweets.
In the vein of engagement, please, follow people back on Twitter, specifically. Take a quick look at their profile to see if its a Twitter bot, and if they appear to be an actual, well-intentioned human being, then give them a follow. You can always unfollow them if they flood your stream with nonsense. Use Twitter’s “Lists” function to sort your followers; consider creating a list specifically for those whose conversations you must follow (hint: potential clients or highly active community members).
In the cases where you may be working on a sensitive or controversial project, and your social profiles are flooded with invective, now is the time to “not” engage. Address legitimate concerns, but engaging in a social battle with online “trolls” or in ways that will upset your client will get you nowhere. In many cases, its best to ask your client first if you can Facebook or tweet about a particularly sensitive project anyway.
Traditionally, the marketing department manages social media strategy for the firm, but seriously think about tapping an in-house Subject Matter Expert (SME), a social-savvy project manager or architect, and make him or her the “voice” behind Facebook or Twitter. No one knows the business of architecture better than they. They know how to “talk the talk” truly and authentically and can be passionate social ambassadors for your message and company.
When you share content, ask for feedback or comments, or any other “call to action” you want to put out there. Feedback is good. But it can be bad, too, so keep an eye on the comments. In the cases where someone is clearly being mean-spirited or abusive, don’t hesitate to delete a comment or ban someone. Spell that out in your social media policy and post it to your Web site or Facebook’s “About” section.
If you are ready to dive into the deep end of the social media pool, you can use social media to workshop ideas or crowdsource new innovations in design. Pick your audience’s collective brain on how to solve a design problem. You can even crowdfund a worthwhile civic project. Start a Kickstarter campaign to fund the design of a much-needed community resource or educate people about the value of architecture through an exhibition or speaker series.
Connecting and collaborating via social media should be reinforced with an “offline” or rather “face-to-face” community engagement effort, however, but starting the conversation online is a great way to encourage ongoing dialogue with your audience leading to in-person interaction.
If your firm’s marketing director or principal likes to keep track of those proposal-to-interview and interview-to-win/conversion ratios, then they will also likely want to measure how quickly your social networks are growing and if your social activities are paying off. Simply keep a spreadsheet that monitors your social growth by month; Facebook’s Insights also provides useful analytics that reveal how well your content performs.
Social media agencies and corporations like to measure much of their effort by return on investment. Before you launch into a coordinated social strategy, set ROI goals. Obviously, one goal is to get more work, but it’s often hard to track back a tweet or Facebook post to that kind of conversion reporting. Or, perhaps your existing marketing efforts to secure new projects are just fine, and your goal is to improve community relations or educate the public. Whatever your goal is, tailor your message accordingly and establish some metrics, such as how many new “likes” or followers you secure over a period of time, how many more comments you receive online, or how much referral traffic you get to your Web site as a result of your social outreach.
Beyond measuring, if you really want to get into the weeds, invest in a social media monitoring service that allows you to dig deeper and find out where the conversations you are interested in are happening online. This may be useful for the bigger firms where the glare of scrutiny is much more intense, and where you want to monitor what’s being said about a particular project. At the very least, set up some Google Alerts with keywords (your firm’s name, major projects, for example) so you can be notified when “the Internet” is talking about you. Google Analytics, also free, will help you monitor where your social media traffic originates and which platform is out-performing the other with new Web visitors and referral traffic.
Social media platforms have proliferated since Facebook hit the scene (or perhaps the grandaddy of all social media, MySpace, should be given credit for the phenom). While Facebook wasn’t the first social service—merely the most successful so far—it won’t be the last. There’s Linkedin, Tumblr, Twitter, Google+, YouTube, Vine, Pinterest, Instagram, Path, and endless blog platforms and mobile apps. There are almost too many social channels now, so don’t take on more than you can realistically handle. Do this right or don’t bother. Nothing is worse than going through the effort to establish a social media presence—a Facebook page or a Twitter profile—just to see it die on the vine within a few weeks because you didn’t “feed” it content on a regular basis. Letting your social profiles languish can also make people think that you don’t have follow-through.
Here’s a simple strategy, especially if your marketing team is under-staffed: Start with Facebook, get into the swing of that, then try out either Google+ (paired with YouTube, which is owned by Google; Google+ is valuable for search-engine optimization—SEO) or Twitter, each of which are the top three mainstream social platforms in the U.S. Don’t be afraid to experiment with Vine or Pinterest too, but in the end, you need to focus on what works. Stay on top of emerging trends with sites like Mashable or Mediabistro. There also needs to be firmwide buy-in on your social strategy. That means your coworkers and employees (if they have social profiles) should be highly encouraged to share also (which, if done by enough people, can spark content virality), engage, and in general support the firm’s social media efforts. If your own employees and coworkers don’t like (I mean, literally, “like”) what you are posting as the firm’s social media manager, why would anyone else?
Jennifer Pullinger is a writer, publicist, photographer, and social media consultant based in central Virginia.