Is social media marketing relevant to UK design and architecture companies?


You may have noticed that there’s been a bit of an explosion around the subject of social media of late. Companies are clambering around trying to work out how to harness the power of this relatively new marketing phenomenon, and it seems this has spread to the design and architecture world. I’m regularly asked for advice from design and architecture companies about whether they should add social media to the marketing mix and, if so, how they should go about it.

The first answer I give is, yes. The marketing function is undergoing an evolution, the social media express has roared into town and those that don’t get onboard now risk being left behind. There are conversations happening all around us online that design and architecture companies could be involved in. Conversations that include clients and potential clients and if you don’t get involved, your competitors will. This goes for pretty much any type of business as more and more are joining in, daily.

But getting involved in social media is not straightforward. It takes a lot more than simply adding a profile to Facebook, Twitter LinkedIn et al. As with all things marketing, it needs a strategy. But before I get into that, let’s start with a gentle introduction to the wonderful world of social media.

Social media is an online tool that builds communities of people with shared interests who are interested in networking with each other. The focus here is on networking and conversation, which is the underlying premise. It’s a bit like ‘offline’ networking at events, but without having to leave your home/office and with a little less alcohol. It allows you to connect with people that can benefit you or your company, which is useful for anyone wanting to hook up with potential clients, peers, journalists, industry guru’s and anyone else that could be useful.

The key uses of social media for marketing purposes are:

Brand awareness
Brand reputation management
New business generation
News distribution and PR
Research (through online polls)
Customer support
Specific product/service launch campaigns
Connecting with affiliate companies
Improving SEO

There is a raft of social media sites available to us, from blogs to microblogs to networking to bookmarking. It’s easy to get lost in the quagmire, so here’s a brief description of each:

Blogs : a blog is a company’s communication tool that allows two way interaction with its readers. They are different to standard ‘brochure’ website as they ‘talk with’ rather than ‘talk at’ the viewer. The blog shouldn’t be used for ‘selling’, instead it should contain advice and opinion that the reader will find useful and which will make them want to subscribe for updates (and thus extend the interaction further). It might even make them want to get in touch. Wouldn’t that be nice?

Microblogs : Twitter is the most talked about, and the most useful, microblog. In contrast to a blogs longer posts, Twitter contains 140 character ‘statements’. It is a powerful networking tool that allows you to interact with people in a much faster environment. It has a global reach that breaks down the barriers of communication and allows networking in real time on a very large scale. Tweeters share information, give advice, debate real time issues and generally chat.

Social networking sites : these include Facebook, LinkedIn, MySpace, Plaxo, Xing etc, and this list is growing. So for now I’m going to stick with the main two I find useful: LinkedIn and Facebook. Xing can be useful for architects, however this isn’t being used to a great extent in the UK so far (that could change in the future so it’s worth keeping an eye on). Networking sites allow you to connect and network with others in your field. The group discussions and forums are particularly useful here and should play a major role in their use.

Social bookmarking sites : this includes sites like Digg and Stumbleupon. They allow us to bookmark a web page we like or find interesting and ‘save’ it to these sites. They also have a voting system that allows viewers to vote on pages they like. The aim here is to get your blog post or web page voted on and then, in turn, encourage others to view it.

Social media strategy

There are definite rules of engagement when it comes to social media. As I mentioned earlier, it’s all about networking and conversation. But before getting into any conversation, get your strategy sorted:

  1. What are your objectives for using social media? Are you looking to increase brand exposure? Are you looking for new business leads? Do you need to improve your brand reputation? Are you launching a specific product or service? Are you looking to recruit staff? The objective/s need to be clear from the outset as these will drive your messages.
  2. Who do you want to reach? Write down a list of the types of people or companies you want to interact with and be clear what messages you want to get across to them. But remember! Social media is all about two way interaction so you can’t fully control any conversation. However, having a clear idea of what you want to communicate at the start will be useful to your strategy.
  3. Who should be responsible for running social media activity? Should there be a team or can one person take responsibility? Take heed here, not all conversation on social media is positive so you will need someone equipped to deal with any negative comments on behalf of your company.
  4. Next you need to identify the right platforms for you. The model I have been using and am recommending to clients is an integration of the following: company blog, Twitter, LinkedIn and Facebook with, of course, links back to the main website and YouTube and Flickr as necessary. As with other marketing activities, they ALL need to be integrated for optimum results. There are tools that allow you to link these platforms to save on time, for example Twitter updates can now appear on your Facebook profile through Tweetdeck, WordPress blogs can be embedded into LinkedIn profiles, Twitter updates can appear on blogs etc. For our favourite Twitter tools go here.
  5. Agree the wording of profile names before setting them up. For example, on Twitter do you want all profiles for your company to be prefixed with the company name then the employee or just the employee, for example: redcube-gemma or do you want to have one company profile name that can be used by all: redcubemarketing or just gemmawent? Clearly this has branding implications so it’s important to get this clear at the outset. Once this is done, set up all profiles with clear bio’s and apply the branding to backgrounds where possible. If you don’t already have a blog, it would be a good idea to get this set up now. This needn’t be costly or time consuming. WordPress provides a very good system which is free. So get blogging with relevant, useful posts.
  6. Now you need to find the people you want to network with. Get together a list of those you want to reach, search for them and connect (there are some Twitter search tools on our list here). Once you’ve connected don’t make the mistake of diving into conversation before you get a feel for how they do things. Listen to what they talk about for a while and if you have something relevant to add to a discussion, add it. But remember, don’t sell! What you want to do here is build the relationship. So be relevant and give them sound advice. They’ll soon be nattering away with you and may even want to take it offline for a coffee at some point. How very yesteryear.
  7. Next ensure all platforms are integrated as I mentioned earlier. Make the most of all available tools to streamline your social media activities.
  8. Finally, timing. Social media can be very addictive so it’s worth scheduling the time you feel is appropriate to spend on these activities. There is a plethora of tools on Twitter that help cut down on the time you need to spend online. For example you can schedule your tweets to be sent out during the day so that you can get on with something else. But remember, don’t do too much of this as the conversation will be one sided which is against what you’re trying to do here.

Here are a few examples of companies that are making the most of social media:

Architects Journal
Architectural Review
Barefoot & Gilles
Brand Republic
Building Design
Design Council
Design Museum
Drivers Jonas
I-am Associates
Leo Burnett
Saatchi & Saatchi Design
Williams Murray Ham

So that’s it in a nutshell. If you still don’t think social media is for you. Think again. Those who don’t get involved now could miss out on an important development in marketing strategy.

I would love to hear your thoughts.

And finally, in the spirit of social media, you can connect with me here: Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook.

  1. Some great insights and thoughtful advice for those considering social media. Take it from someone who previously lived in an “old” media universe: join the conversation and you’ll be amazed where it leads.

    Mike Plotnick

  2. Monkey says:

    I’m sorry. Twitter is a “powerful networking tool?” You lost me there. If networking and marketing have been reduced to the use of less than 200 characters we’re all in big trouble.

  3. What a great summary of social media. : )

    From a branding perspective you just can’t afford to get left behind as communications evolve. It’s like a repetition of the shift from analogue to digital, or from having a monologue and moving to a dialogue. Conversation is where it’s at.

    Brands have always underestimated their meaning believing that an onion in a board room cabinet sets out the meaning of their brand when in reality people are constructing (possibly alternative) meanings all the time. To create truly coherent and engaging brand messages all possible platforms need to be used to intersect with the consumer psyche. You can’t think of brands in 2D anymore when we live in a multi-dimensional world.

    Social media provides a real opportunity to shape their brands meaning for people in real time, not to mention the incredible feedback they can get.

    Highly hyperreal, social media can be the new brand grit.


  4. EO Creative says:

    Enjoyed your post and I wanted to drop you a reply to say so. It is hard to imagine any brand not seeing the benefit of social media. However it is also easy to understand that for all the benefits there is much down side if it is delivered incorrectly. Thinking of the recent experience for brands like CNN, Amazon and Dominos Pizza.

    Anyway I think you have given a very good outline of the explosion of social media. Thanks for sharing.

  5. Hi Monkey, thanks for your comment. I felt compelled to respond to this one as I thought the same as you when I first stumbled upon Twitter last year. I really couldn’t see the value of it as a marketing tool when you had to get your message across in 140 characters or less. So I dismissed it. Well that was until a few contacts started raving about the results they’d had using Twitter as a marketing tool. Not wanting to ‘knock it until I tried it’ I created a profile and after a few weeks of working out how the hell to use it, I’ve never looked back. I think the power is perhaps less in the message and more in the networking opportunities. It really is permission marketing at its best as people chose to follow you (and thus listen to what you have to say) so in effect you have a captured audience, something that doesn’t happen often in marketing. It gives you the chance to ‘meet’ people online and if there is a mutual interest, you can then go offline and follow up through more traditional methods. Although, surprisingly, it is possible to debate and have conversations on Twitter too (it’s amazing how succinct you become when you need to). But, as they say, the proof is in the pudding. In the last two weeks I’ve been contacted (through email) by two design companies that were looking for marketing support. Both had ‘met’ me on Twitter and were compelled to get in touch. I start work with one next week and I’m in the process of writing a proposal for the other. If that’s the pudding, I’ll have a second helping please.

  6. Su Butcher says:

    Hi Gemma,
    Good post, particularly support your stressing that this technology is about conversations.

    Progressive design firms should be thinking about how they can use online means to further their influence and make new contacts.

    An important consideration is ‘where are your targets?’ Previously many in the construction industry met on the golf course, and many still do, but golf doesn’t appeal to everyone, and so it is with Social Media. If you are looking for people who live online then you must be online.

    For example,
    If your target audience is corporate professionals then you can get introductions on LinkedIn, they use it to get jobs and make introductions.

    How about homeowners in your area? Will they look in yellow pages for an architect – they might, or they might ask their twitter followers if they can recommend someone – or search using search.twitter.com (whilst chatting about the football no doubt).

    Many people who network offline for business – local business owners and professionals, are also networking online, be it via mass sites like these above or small niche websites set up by their networking groups. If you do one, get involved in the other and extend your activities online too.

    Customer oriented companies like the big brands are already seeing the power in this technology; they have gone where their customers are. The jury might be out on Business-to-Business marketing at the moment perhaps, but that is changing as more businesses also go online.

    For example, I’ve been approached recently by a researcher looking for examples of business-to-business success stories created via social media for a conference in the autumn.

    The interest is there – lets tap into it!


  7. Instruct says:

    Great article and I think any new kind of marketing should be taken up by design agencies as these are the people who can shape existing models and refine them.

    I was shown Twitter over 2 years ago by the owner of a well respected digital agency, he was showing us the power of this tool and as we sat in his office none of us got it at all. That went for not only the designers but the project managers too, he was way ahead of anyone and they way he explained Twitter is I guess is how the internet was made for, to share and communicate quickly and easy.

    Also technology such as the iPhone and Blackberrys have made it easier to access things like this, they don’t have to take over your life but dedicating 5 minutes a day isn’t asking for much.

  8. Ross Sturley says:

    Good to see you can write in more than 140 character chunks – although to pick up on Monkey’s comment, and turn it round – if you can’t make your point in 140 characters, you’re in big trouble.

    I particularly like your ‘have a plan’ approach. Without a strategy formed in advance of doing anything, the likelihood is that any work could be described by paraphrasing the old Lord Lever quote to “I know half my online social networking is wasted, I just wish I knew which half”.

    Find target, take aim, shoot – best done in that order.

  9. jagarq says:

    I just found this two sites: http://www.myarchn.com, and http://www.urbarama.com. They are kind of a facebook for architects.
    MyarchN even has apps and gadgets to customize your profile. And Urbarama is more focused on projects.
    Are these too much??

  10. When looking at any social media platform I would think first about your objectives. What do you want to get out of it? Who do you need to speak to? Are there different audiences you need to reach and are they using the platform. If the platform fits with this then it’s always worth dipping your toe in the water and trying it out.

  11. Peter says:

    @jagarq. The are indeed some new social networks that are solely focussed on architecture. Like urbarama there is also http://www.urbika.com that also has a company section. These sites are very good marketing channels for construction / architecture companies to present a company’s portfolio.

  12. Gemma Went says:

    Thanks for that Peter, I wasn’t aware of those sites.

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