Social Studies

Joining the social networking party is easy—but studies show that developing and executing an effective social media strategy is another story. Here’s a look at how A&D firms can better leverage their presence online.

05/01/2013 By Robert Nieminen

The critically-acclaimed 2010 movie The Social Network wasn’t exactly a factual representation of the creation and massive explosion of the Facebook phenomenon, but it was entertaining and did capture at least one fact accurately: Facebook is the work of a genius.

Love it or hate it, Facebook—which now boasts more than one billion active users—has changed the social fabric of a generation and how we interact with each other.

Social networking has created a paradigm shift, not only in people’s (not-so) private lives, but in the marketplace as well. As consumers voluntarily broadcast their personal information—including everything from demographic data and personal preferences to travel and shopping patterns—companies have flocked en masse to the social networking world, trying to capitalize on this marketing gold mine. The problem, however, is that while many companies have a presence on social networking sites, they lack a successful strategy for making the best use of these tools.

survey says
According to recent research from the Harvard Business Review Analytics Services report, “The New Conversation: Taking Social Media from Talk to Action,” while 79 percent of companies surveyed are either using or planning to use social media channels, only 12 percent feel they’re using them effectively. Half of the respondents to the survey use social media only to increase brand awareness, a third use it to increase traffic to their websites, and just 11 percent are utilizing social media to generate new business.

Design firms face similar challenges and mirror those organizations surveyed in the Harvard study. In a recent survey conducted by Interiors & Sources of A&D firms in North America, while nearly 40 percent of respondents told us they employ a staff member dedicated to using social media channels to manage their firm’s presence online, more than half say they do not use social networking to market their services to clients; 70 percent report that they have not developed any new business as a result of their social media efforts.

Still, A&D firms suggested that the overall impact of their participation in social networking has been positive. Nearly 45 percent of respondents to our survey indicated that the influence social media has had on their business has been “positive” (40 percent) or “extremely positive” (4 percent), while less than 2 percent have had a negative experience using these channels. (55 percent report “no change” in business.)

Given the often sensitive nature of information shared between firms and clients, it’s not surprising that 88 percent of respondents told us that they do not communicate critical information to clients using social media, although 12 percent acknowledged doing so. Only a third of respondents (32 percent) reported promoting their published work via social media pages.

So how can design firms make the most of their presence on social networking sites and develop productive approaches for marketing their services to new and existing clients? We talked to several design firms (and solicited feedback on our Facebook page—see sidebar) to find out how designers are making the most of social media.

engaging with audiences
“We get a tremendous amount of information and inspiration from our social media channels,” says John Gilmore, social media leader and senior writer at HOK. “We are interacting much more with our clients, potential clients, business partners, people interested in working here and the media on our channels. These communications are positively influencing our client relationships and the media’s interest in our people’s point of view.”

Gilmore adds that social media channels have enabled HOK to communicate and share news with its own people around the world, who connect 24/7 via mobile devices. The firm is also using social media in a research capacity as well, according to Leigh Stringer, director of research and innovation in HOK’s New York office.

“We used Facebook to capture the widest possible range of honest opinions about how people feel about their work environments. Rather than approaching people through traditional phone or web-based surveys, we used Facebook to make direct connections in an informal, confidential way,” she explains.

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