Social Media and the Built Environment—the Research Continues

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Two years ago, our book Social Media in Action was published to help architects, landscape architects, engineers and environmental consulting firms use these tools in ways that help them reach their business and marketing goals. For this, we surveyed, studied and interviewed hundreds of firms, but much has changed in two years: new tools have  emerged and more firms are embracing social media in creative and innovative ways. So inevitably, new research is required.

2012 Survey Results

Yesterday, in collaboration with Reed Construction Data, my co-author Holly Berkley and I launched a new study on the social media efforts of building product manufacturers to help these companies understand the most effective + efficient ways social media can be used to support their core business goals.

We need your help keeping this data current!

We’re looking for building product manufacturers–of all sizes and across the U.S.–to take a short online survey (it should take about 10 minutes), sharing insight into why, how and when you use social media. We’re also digging into costs, time and ROI of social media use among your building industry peers today. Select participants will be contacted for follow up interviews and possibly featured as a case study.

In exchange for your time, all survey participants will get a first look at the 2014 data results, along with a special white paper written by Holly and me, analyzing how building product manufacturers can best use that data to make social media work for them. In addition, as a special “thank you”, we’d like to offer anyone who takes this survey a discount code for 25% off your purchase of Social Media in Action.

Ready to get started?


5 Tips for Using Social Media with Intention

Despite a growing reliance on social media, the construction industry in Australia is increasingly unsure how to use social media—with architects leading this trend. According to Infolink’s social media survey of almost 1,300 Australia architecture and construction industry professionals, nearly half of architects, 48%, say they don’t know how to use social media. This figure has almost tripled from 2012. My guess is that architects in the U.S. are feeling the same rub. I have a theory about this. There is a reason why some firms are so frustrated with social media – it’s because they are using social media in isolation of everything else they do.  The fact is social media is only a tool, just like sending out a postcard, pitching a journalist, or submitting for an award.  These are all tactics. Without a strategy based on a specific and achievable goal, you will not be successful with random tactics.

If you take away nothing else from reading this post, know that you need to establish a goal before you decide to  execute tactics.

So pause from posting your firm’s latest accomplishment on your Facebook page, and think about what your communications aspire to do.  This could be around a specific campaign –promote the findings of a research project that the firm has conducted—or it could address a greater goal of the firm such as build its presence in the independent schools market. Every firm is unique in its particular goals and challenges, so how—and which— specific communications tools (and networks) you use to reach these goals should also be unique.

If you are on the fence about social media, here are five tips to use  these tools with intention:

1.  Invest the time and resources needed to think through your strategy.

Lake|Flato recognized social media as an opportunity to regain some of the public visibility lost as a result of the many shelter magazines that have dropped off newsstands. But without someone who knew social media well internally, Lake | Flato was hesitant to jump in. So they asked for help. Aside from the fact that they hired us, this was a smart move because an outside perspective often helps you appreciate what you do well. We modeled a social media approach that was both unique to their firm and that could be self-sustained on their already successful social intranet. As a result, blogging and posting to Facebook and Twitter doesn’t feel like one more obligation, instead it’s a natural extension of how they were already sharing interesting ideas, projects and information.




2.    Integrate all your communications channels to reach more people and be more effective.

As a core expertise to the DPR brand, sustainability is threaded through their marketing messaging and communications. Social media plays a big role with about 30 blog posts written about some form of sustainability since 2011, a series of videos on sustainability-oriented topics ranging from their living lab office to adaptive reuse, net zero to the company’s history with green building. DPR shares this content on its Facebook, LinkedIn, YouTube, Google+, Twitter and Instagram. The company also publishes its expertise and research in technical papers and sends its experts to speak  at conferences like Greenbuild and ULI’s Fall conference and Verge San Francisco hosted by Greenbiz. DPR aggressively pursues net zero, LEED and Living Building certification, awards, and press coverage on its sustainable projects.

Any of these tactics would certainly help advance DPR’s reputation for green building, but collectively, they present a firm that is committed to the tenets of sustainable development and recognized broadly as leaders.

DPR blog 2



3.    Recruit senior leaders as social media ambassadors (internal) and spokespeople (external).

Array Architects created a blog as a way of showing to the public the high quality of knowledge the firm has on the needs of the healthcare market. This is where the firm shares experiences from their 30+ year history and where they explore new topics as a means of helping them to understand concepts more fully. From the beginning, this effort was spearheaded by Array CEO Carl Davis. Following his example as an active contributor, Array has a total of 28 employee bloggers (as well as invited guest bloggers) who have added more than 90 posts since the Array Thoughts blog launched in June 2012. Carl continues to be one of the most frequent bloggers and the voice of the firm on Twitter. His personal investment signals to staff that blogging and social media are not time wasters—in fact, at Array they are a priority. Their commitment to developing original and thoughtful content – whether as a blog post, a Pinterest board, or a video—has helped the firm and its individuals become a trusted design advisor for healthcare community.




4.    Accept that social media (and communications in general) is a marathon, not a sprint.

Don’t be intimidated by the pages and accounts with tens of thousands of followers—this is not a numbers game. Everyone has to start without any followers and build their network gradually. Grow your audience by contributing useful stuff and interacting with other people who you admire. It takes time and consistent effort, but people who are interested in similar topics as you will start to notice and engage with you. In time you will have an audience full of the right people. In the meantime, keep at it and celebrate the little milestones, like retweets by someone you respect, posts that inspire someone to leave a thoughtful comment.

5.    You don’t need to be on every network. Pick two or three and use them well.

Consider where your audience is and how they are already using these networks and develop a strategy that fits with their behavior.

Charles Elliott is a landscape architect at LRM in Los Angeles. The firm doesn’t have a social media presence on any channel except Pinterest. As one of the principals, Charles is the firm’s front man on Pinterest. He has more than 70 boards, and over 10,000 pins. His approach is to pin beautiful examples. He attributes images to their original designer but also includes a caption that shows his grasp of the design intent and broader applications. He comes off as someone with a strong sense of design and style – even though most of what he has pinned isn’t his work. He has become a resource of outdoor design ideas to anyone on Pinterest – and has amassed over 500,000 followers through this very simple strategy.



What other social media mantras have been helpful to you? We want to hear your story.



Six Ideas for Getting More Eyeballs on Your Blog

Image There are millions of blogs out there – more than 120 million on just Wordpress and Tumblr platforms – with this much content circulating cyberspace, getting your’s discovered is not a simple feat. A solid content-promotion strategy is just as important as the quality of the blog content itself. Luckily, there are a lot of ways to promote your blog and build your audience. Here are six ideas from me. Leave us a comment with the tips that work for you.

1. Make it easy for readers to come back. This may seem obvious, but if you want people to come back and read your next post, include an easy way for them to be notified when you publish. In blog platforms like Blogger, Wordpress and Tumblr you can easily add widgets for Real Simple Syndication (RSS) feeds or “subscribe to this blog” options. Also, readers who enjoy your content are likely to be connected to others who may like your content, so include social sharing options so that readers can tweet, like, + or even pin your post without having to leave the page.

2. Use keywords in your posts so that people searching for the topic you write about are more likely to find you through search engines. Search engines love blogs for their fresh content and drive the majority of traffic to blogs. In fact, many companies start their blog strictly for the purpose of search engine optimization and traffic that this can drive to the site. Don’t go crazy with keywords though. If it reads like you are writing for a search engine, your reader will probably lose patience and leave.

3. Call attention to like minded bloggers to expand your readership. This can be as simple as creating a blog roll on your site that lists links to similar blogs and influencers in your field. In the AEC world this could be blogs that inspire and inform you as well as those of your clients, your subconsultants, industry allies or even other blogs that support the same causes as you do. If you can help drive traffic to these blogs, they are more likely to promote yours. If these blogs influence you in some way, give them credit by writing about them. A feature story or even a guest post from someone you’ve done business with is likely something that they will want to promote through their own social media channels. This opens your blog up to their network of readers. Don’t know any AEC blogs? Here’s a list of influential blogs from this week’s AEC Social Media Twitter chat (#AECSM Tuesday 1pm PST).

4. Participate in other forums with a similar audience. Look for other blogs, publications, LinkedIn and Facebook groups that target the same demographic as you do. Spend some time reading these and when you have something to add or a question for the author, leave a thoughtful comment. You can also include a link to one of your blog posts when it is relevant to the topic, but be careful not to be overly self-promotional. No one likes to be spammed. Participating in other forums and contributing useful information and knowledge helps to build your reputation around the subject at hand and provides visibility for your firm and brand. If you leave a compelling, interesting comment in one of these forums, other visitors may be curious about you. Remember that the social web is a very connected space, so make sure your profile on each of these networks is up to date and includes a link back to your blog.

5. Approach the blogger, editor or community leader about writing a post for their publication or ask if they would reblog a post you’ve already written. All bloggers are hungry for good content, so if you have an essay or a point of view that is in line with their blog’s purpose they may just take you up on the offer. Not only are these opportunities good content for your social media channels, they help you gain exposure within the industry and a credible introduction to a new community.  Don’t forget to include a link to your blog in your byline.

6. Tap into a blogging community. Many companies develop their own proprietary blog. The “pros” of a customized blog is consistent branding and style with the firm’s website. The “cons” of having a customized blog is that you don’t have access to the sophisticated platform that these companies have created and are continually updating. I’ve watched clients with beautiful custom blogs get frustrated when each little tweak requires a whole new change order and days or even weeks of programmers’ time just to add a simple function. The Wordpresses and Tumblers of the social web give this to you for free. Your proprietary blog won’t be a part of a community of bloggers and you won’t have the advantages that these networks provide. On Wordpress, each time I post I’m informed of a handful of similar new posts that I may be interested in – and I often am interested in these. The community of bloggers can help you activate your blog with dialog. After all, only a very small percentage of internet users are actually content producers and content producers are the ones who are more likely to leave comments or ask questions. These blog networks are serving you up a community of very active and very vocal contributors. Seek out blogs of interest within your platform, follow them and follow back the blogger that follow you. Reciprocity goes a long way.

What do you think? Are there other tactics that work for you?


Tips for Your Social Media Road Map

While social media has become exceedingly accessible and appears to be simple as everyone is posting, tweeting and pinning, it’s important for firms to have clear goals and a mapped route for getting to these before embarking your firm’s social media experiment. Like any marketing or communications initiative, you won’t understand what social media can do for your business unless you have a plan.

I recently attended a social media webinar hosted by Jason Falls, coauthor of No Bullshit Social Media: The All-Business No-Hype Guide to Social Media Marketing and founder of Social Media Explorer. The crux of his presentation was that businesses need a strategic planning process that incorporates social media marketing business drivers for success. With a plan you can build, define goals, measure, execute and engage in tactics. Having a plan is a fundamental imperative for you to get what you want out of social media.

Granted, Falls is focused almost exclusively on B-to-C, so here are the nuggets of value that can be applied to the landscape, architecture, engineering and development world of professional services.

What can social media do for your firm? Once you understand what social media can do for your firm, you can assess what is achievable and how to fit this into your business goals.

Falls cites seven drivers of social media:

  • Enhance branding and awareness
  • Protect your reputation
  • Expand public relations
  • Build community
  • Enhance customer service
  • Facilitate research and development
  • Drive sales and leads

You should decide which of these drivers are most important for your firm. If you focus on more than one, which is more than likely, you’ll have to assess your resources and budget.

Now that you know what social media can do for your firm, you can develop a strategic plan.  But just how do you approach the strategic planning process in social media?

Falls defines a strategic planning process as the following:

 “A strategic planning process delivers a set of defined initiatives (projects) that achieve a desired set of business goals.” – Dennis McDonald, technology expert

 According to Falls, there are four things needed for a solid strategic plan:

  • Clearly defined goals
  • Measurable objectives for each goal
  • Strategies to meet objectives
  • Tactics/tasks to accomplish strategies.

When defining goals, each goal should have a singular focus instead of multiple ones. It’s very likely you will have more than one goal. Goals should support your strategic plan. Examples of goals include increase website traffic, increase online sales, decrease negative online sentiment, capture consumer insight and improve search results.

For most AEC firms, a strong content strategy will show prospective clients, competitors and the public what their firm does. Your firm may want to develop a content strategy that features work, the process of a project, a firm’s personality or project awards. Does your firm offer specialized areas of expertise? A solid content strategy may be a good opportunity to showcase these subject areas. Your content strategy could also show related work … Are there assets that you use internally that may be useful to your public audience such as a photo library, product data or original or aggregated research?  Again, these may be valuable to showcase as part of a strategy, but it supports the drivers of social media such as building a community or enhancing public relations.

According to Falls, another key element in making the strategy successful is to ensure that objectives support the following:

  •  Point to one of three things, which is especially critical in the public relations world
  • Have a result or outputs which in most cases is content or product
  • Have outtakes such as information or entertainment
  • Have outcomes such as a change in metrics
  • Indicate a target audience
  • List an expected level of attainment
  • Identify a deadline or timeframe

One of the AEC industry’s biggest misconceptions about social media is that these networks are just another newsroom to post information and news. Social media goes beyond that – it’s not all about your firm’s accomplishments and announcements. One of the most important drivers of social media is building community. This means interaction. It’s about getting to know your followers and fans and engaging with them so you can create content that connects with them and learn what they are doing as well. If you promote their feats and successes, they in turn will talk about your firm’s accomplishments in their circles, expanding your audience and stakeholders.