Tuesday29 July 2014

Why your practice needs to join the online social club

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Here are 10 steps to developing a social media strategy

Social media is the process whereby people talk to each other on the internet about things. This conversation separates “social” media from “traditional” (one-way) media such as books, newspapers and television. The conversation also gives social media its power. Whatever platforms you use, the process by which your message gets heard is people sharing it with others and talking, in public, about it.

The creation of useful content will be a significant factor in your success. Social: be prepared to have the conversation; media: make it worth sharing.

The internet is a huge place where you can easily get lost in the noise, so it is important to focus your efforts. To make social media an effective business tool you must have a strategy that sets out the objectives, a roadmap for reaching them and a means of evaluating your success and building on it. Here are my top tips:

Get your people together

Who in your practice will use social media? Who is using it now? Find the advocates in your firm, and build a team to sort out the best approach. To be effective it must become an integral part of your practice. Don’t assume social media is simply about PR and marketing.

The tools are also useful for technical staff, many of whom will already be using it, and can be your most effective marketers.

Start listening

Listen to what is being said online. Monitor mentions of your brand, competitors, clients and industry topics. Set up alerts using a free or paid for service.

You’ll find that there are groups of people all over the internet talking about the topics you should be known for. Focus on identifying and understanding your target audience. Are they meeting on LinkedIn or Ning groups, blogging, using Creative Commons photos on Flickr or tweeting once a month in the evenings using a hashtag? Identify who you want to talk to and where they are online.

Work out your goals

Now you’ve got your target audience, what do you want your online activities to achieve? Make your goals realistic by understanding your current relationship with the audience and aim to build upon that. Does your audience know who you are and what you do? If not, you may simply want to raise their awareness of you. If they do know you, increase the likelihood they will use your services. If they are already customers, perhaps you can encourage them to become advocates for your firm. Don’t be afraid to start small, and concentrate on doing a small thing really well.

Develop tactics: choose the tools

Knowing how your target audience uses social media will determine what tools you use to engage with them. Do not make a forum and expect your audience to turn up; you must go where they are. What might you do there that would be useful to them? Learn about search engine optimisation and how to write about subjects your audience will search for.

Make a social home for your outreach
People will look for your website, so make it a social site where you signpost out to conversation places and encourage sharing. Meanwhile in the outposts where your audience is, signpost back to your website content. When you hear people asking a question you can share your experience to help answer them. “We wrote an explanation of it here…”

Measure what matters

Are you aiming for downloads from your website, subscribers to your blog or calls to your new number? Choose parameters that will show if your goals are being achieved, and decide how to make decisions based on the results.

Choose your human faces

Personal blogs will always be more effective than corporate news feeds. Decide who will be the voices for your practice. Should it be the boss, the IT guy, the year-out student? The choice will depend on who is available and capable, but also on that audience step you’re trying to encourage.

Plan your content

Build content around what you know your audience needs. What content have you created that could be repurposed? Obvious examples are tagged photographs of your work, explanations of policy or regulations. Whatever you create, make sharing and searching for it easy.

Start conversations

Contribute to discussions, adding the value of your experience. Listen for opportunities to share useful links to information, your own and other peoples. The object of your conversations is to get to know your audience and help them know you as people.

Review and improve

Which activities led to results and which didn’t? Which audiences shared which content? Review your activities regularly and be willing to change as you understand the audience better.

A strategic look at a few social media tools

  • A blog is a website which you update like a journal, so can be used for article publishing or to tell an ongoing story like the progress of a project. You can even build a whole website using a blog platform.
  • LinkedIn is a professional networking site where your profile is like your CV and you connect only with people you know and trust. LinkedIn makes your network visible so you can see who knows whom.
  • Twitter is a conversation tool which you can use to share links to anywhere on the internet (like your blog posts, for example). Find like-minded people to collaborate with here.
  • Facebook is a social platform, the biggest social network in the world. Increasingly businesses are attracted to make pages there as an outpost.
  • Custom social networks such as Ning, SocialGo and BuddyPress (for WordPress blogs) let you make a home for your community with forums, profiles, events and so on.
  • Picture sites like Flickr allow you to publish and “tag” images, curate them into sets and search by keywords. Image search is an increasingly popular type of search.
  • Check-in tools like Foursquare and Gowalla allow mobile users to “check in” to locations such as cafés but also building projects, offices and landmarks.

These have been enhanced by:

  • Video - Youtube is the second most popular search engine after Google, and video is very compelling if done well. Videos can be captioned, tagged and have searchable descriptions.Start videoing your work or make screencasts using tools like Screenr.
  • Slideshare and Box.net are document sharing tools which will present documents (including PowerPoint presentations) online, enabling them to be shared. Architects present their projects, CVs, case studies and practice profiles in this format.
  • Q&A sites like Quora, Yahoo Answers and LinkedIn Answers allow people to ask and answer questions thereby demonstrating interest and expertise. Many people searching online are looking for answers.
  • Wikis are a means of sharing in the process of creating a knowledge resource. Wikipedia is the most well known but you can create a wiki about anything. Make one in house to share your knowledge of a specialism. Collaborate with others.
  • Feed readers like Google Reader, collect refreshing content from any renewing website and present it in one place for quick scanning, sharing and curation.
  • Social bookmarking tools like Delicious, Stumbleupon or Digg take your bookmarks off your browser and online so that you can, if you wish, share them. Use these tools to curate content you want to refer to later. Some of these tools also have grading systems which can create a semantic evaluation of the internet - very popular content is listed as “hot”.
  • Social curation tools like Paper.li and Flipboard allow you to create online magazines out of the content shared by your social networks (for example, all the architects I follow on Twitter generate a magazine out of their links)
  • Livecasting tools like CoveritLive and Ustream can be used to broadcast events to a larger, interactive audience, then store the value for visitors to review and share.
  • Special events tools like Meetup and Eventbrite help you organise, promote and follow up on events, creating an online community as you go.
  • Virtual worlds like Second Life can be used to create 3D virtual experiences of built environments that people can visit and be consulted about. Other tools like StickyWorld enable your proposals to be viewed and discussed in an online “room”.



Readers' comments (2)

  • This article is titled "Why your practice needs to join the online social club", but actually deals with the mechanics of "how" and not "why"

    The question therefore remains: why?

    What does it do for the average architectural practice? Is it a proven business development tool, a viable recruitment tool, or simply another distraction from the business of winning work and delivering it?

    Now that BD is actively encouraging social media (followed by 6,700 twits, according to your statistics), I think a bit more on the "why" question would help us neandertals get the picture...

    Unsuitable or offensive? Report this comment

  • Su Butcher

    Hello Charles,
    Thanks for your question. I didn’t choose the title, we’ll have to ask BD’s editorial team about that, but I’m happy to answer your ‘why’ question from our perspective.

    I have used social media as a business development tool for about six years – I’ve been networking online for that long, and it is an integral part of my work. So for me these tools are simply an extension of a range of more traditional tools like the telephone and face-to-face meetings, print advertising and paid for listings. The new technique saves a huge amount of time in areas such as customer, opportunity and competitor research, finding collaborators, education, PR, and creating a stream of pre-qualified leads (because people ring you and refer you knowing you better than if you were not online).
    Social media therefore helps us in both the process of winning, and delivering work well.

    We have also successfully used social tools to recruit staff – last time we recruited we used linkedin and twitter for our technical recruitment, which apart from the process of generating the documentation (which I would do anyway) was entirely free and very effective.

    By the way, are your underpants really combustible? Have you any evidence?

    Unsuitable or offensive? Report this comment

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