Today, I come to the Knowledge Architecture blog to start a discussion about a big elephant in the corner of the room for many design firms: how to engage social media and leverage its value as a component of firm outreach. As a marketing, business development and communications consultant to the industry, I have recently heard a lot more from clients asking about social media, how much attention should they be paying, what should they do? To-date I have suggested a watch and wait strategy. Now I am ready to jump into the fray.
Over the past few years I have been heavily involved in presenting clients’ work for media coverage. To date we have primarily approached different media outlets and asked to be included in their web and print publications. While we have achieved success approaching established media outlets and will likely continue on, I recently proposed trying something a little different. Starting with one client, I proposed we develop a secondary approach in parallel, taking the same well-developed information we have been creating for media gatekeepers and finding appropriate venues where we do not have to wait for an invitation. In this way we are approaching our communications efforts as thought leaders, using social media to find and reach out to an interested audience who have already indicated a curiosity about our ideas. We will begin a proactive and hopefully productive conversation giving people information they can use, thus becoming engaged with them in a meaningful way. Using Malcolm Gladwell’s terminology in The Tipping Point, if we think of social media as more of a place for connectors than mavens, it is a great way to SHARE information.
Our next task becomes defining who we want to share it with and putting it out there for them.
While we all love to see our work in journals that we, and our professional peers read, our clients aren’t reading them. Architects (and other design industry professionals) need to fish for clients where the clients are already swimming. With the unrestricted access that social media provides, we are all living on oceanfront real estate with a sea full of fish in front of us. We just need to find the right bait and where the fish are biting and then drop our lines. To belabor the metaphor just a bit, it is time to stop fishing in cornfields.
Thus begins an experiment. Starting in March, I am beginning a social media outreach project with an enthusiastic client. The firm is midsize and mature, in business for 26 years, run by the original partners who started their design careers with traditional tools and came to digital technology somewhat later in the game. All staff will be asked to participate. We will develop information as we always have. What’s new? We will educate ourselves as to opportunities to reach out to potential clients more directly, research where to find them and present ourselves as thought leaders, offering our expertise and the things about which the designers are passionate for meaningful two-way discussion. We are not planning on reinventing the wheel. To start, we will look for existing venues in which we can participate rather than take on the larger task of creating our own audience. We will go to the audiences that already exist.
This isn’t rocket science. Using our past experience as a guide we will figure it out with our objectives becoming more sophisticated and strategic as we go along. Hopefully there will be milestones to track and interesting information to share.
About the Author
Nancy Kleppel, Principal, Nancy Kleppel Consulting, has pursued a career in architecture for over 25 years. Beginning in the office of William Rawn Associates, she went on to a professional architectural education at Harvard University’s GSD and spent several years in practice. For the past fifteen years she has been directly engaged in the essential issues that drive firm growth and success. In 2003, she founded a consulting practice, providing integrated strategic marketing, business development and communications services to a broad mix of clients in design, architecture, engineering and the arts. Nancy has worked with firms of all sizes, advising them on a wide range of tactical and strategic initiatives and has a substantial record of helping her clients to grow their firms and secure lucrative commissions.