Archive for the ‘Web/Social Media’ Category

We all know that creating experts is a key way to establish credibility for a firm. When our principals are teachers, presenters, lecturers we have something to talk about. It’s easier to present their credentials for an upcoming project, especially if you’re presenting them to someone who has seen that principal speak. Why then don’t we do the same for ourselves?

Being marketers we’re at an advantage in creating our personal brands. We know the tricks, we know how to get our names out there. And in an environment where job stability is a thing of the past it’s even more important to start building that credibility now. Maybe you’re already on your way to building your personal brand, but if not here are 6 simple steps to get your started:

  1. Develop your story: Who are you? What are your professional goals? How are you achieving them? Then talk about it.
  2. Think about where your home base is going to be, that URL that you can point people to. Maybe it’s your LinkedIn profile or maybe it’s your personal website. If you haven’t claimed your name as a URL do it now. You may want it later and it would be terrible to build your name only to send traffic to another person’s website.
  3. Establish your expertise through blogs. If creating your own blog is too time consuming consider contributing to a blog within your industry. If you’re in the AEC industry SMPS Boston and Help EveryBody Everyday are good places to start.
  4. Comment on other people’s blogs, not only does this show your expertise, but it helps raise your name in SEO rankings.
  5. Share industry news with your peers through status updates either through LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook or a combination of all three.
  6. Join an organization within your industry and get active.
And for more personal branding tips visit Dan Schawbel’s Personal Branding Blog.
image credit: Flickr user nicholaslaughlin

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2590025080_d5ce7bf163Earlier this week I participated in a focus group with the goal of helping a trade organization better communicate with its members. As the group was discussing ways in whcih the organization could improve its communications it struck me, with the increasing popularity of social networking tools such as LinkedIn, Facebook and Twitter it’s becoming harder to communicate instead of easier. Wait, let me qualify that – it’s becoming easier to find and communicate with strangers and long lost friends, even easier to create new valuable business relationships, but harder to communicate with other groups of people. The reason is the number of tools being used and the different adoption rates. Think about it, when email was the only tool available,most everyone used it. But now, some people primarily use Twitter to communicate, while others use Facebook, and still others use LinkedIn, it comes down to personal preference. Then there are all the other social networking sites out there that people are using.

Conversations are taking place everywhere, but as the tools increase the active listeners become smaller. That’s an important point – your audience may be huge, but your active listeners are much smaller in number. This happens when people join a platform, try it out and then ultimately either become active using the platform or abandon it. And even when they’re active it’s doubtful they’re reading everything you publish.

This particular trade association is doing a lot of things right – they’re on Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn. The problem that was uncovered during the focus group is the very large membership became much smaller as they spread across the different platforms and a large chunk of the membership wasn’t participating on any platform, either by choice or not knowing the channels exist.

It became clear duing the discussion that if you’re not monitoring all three platforms you might be missing some conversations that could lead to beneficial partnerships with other members. But then who has the time to monitor all three? It leads to the question of whether it’s better for the trade association to be everywhere, or if it’s better for them to choose one communication vehicle and make it meaningful. By being everywhere you’re communicating with members in their space, but potentially reducing the quality of the conversation by diluting community engagement. By focusing on one channel you’re forcing your membership to that channel (which may backfire if members don’t like the channel) and providing a larger community of active listeners to take part in conversations. Which is the right way? You tell me.
Image credit: Flickr user djfoobarmatt

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I’ve been thinking a lot about websites. Primarily because I’m embarking on a redesign for my firm’s website and I’ve been on the hunt for “example” sites that I like. Through that research one thing has become strikingly apparent – architectural websites are terrible. They’re overladen with Flash, egocentric in the way they only focus on the firms’ portfolio (i.e. there is no content contained within to educate their audiences on any issue(s) they may be struggling with) and for the most part they’re all the same – firm, portfolio, news, contact. There has to be a better way. And the first step to finding a better way is to realize the AEC community is like any other service business – their job is to make money vis a vis trading services. And those services are usually purchased on trust and reputation.

When looking for a service provider there are key things you look for – reputation, alignment of services offered with needs, trust and value.

Reputation can be earned through existing client relationships, which in turn create word of mouth referrals to your firm. Reputation can also be enhanced through media stories (assuming they’re positive) and through the reputations of individuals that serve as the face of your organization. These types of things generate content for a firms’ news section. Something most firms are already incorporating into their on-line presence.

For alignment of services with needs we’re going to assume, for the sake of simplicity, that the visitors to your website need the services you provide. Your only responsibility is clearly communicating what services you provide. Remember – you don’t have to be everything to everyone. Focus on what you do best and communicate that.

Now the meatier part – value. Let’s think about how a design firm can provide value. Hint – it has nothing to do with fees. Instead it’s giving clients value for their investment. A design firm can do this in many ways. As an example, perhaps you differentiate yourself through a unique public engagement process that’s been shown to generate buy-in from stakeholders earlier in the design phase. That’s valuable; buy-in is key in many projects and getting it earlier in the design process saves time and money. Tell your prospects about it through case studies that show solid metrics, post the case studies on your website and drive traffic to them through SEO optimization, e-newsletters, status updates in LinkedIn, etc. Or maybe your visualization services are superior to other firms, explain that to you prospects by telling them why it’s important. Does it save them money, or make approval processes easier, or does it make the overall project less time consuming? Talk about your visualization services in the context of how they will solve your prospects’ problems, not in the context of “look how pretty these are.” Explain what you mean by visualization and give solid examples. Tie the examples back to metrics if you can.

Now on to trust. Trust is a lot harder to win on a website, particularly a static one. But by incorporating a blog into your website you have a vehicle to start a conversation with your prospects. A blog can be used to position members in your firm as thought leaders. It gives people a forum for expressing ideas and communicating thoughts and if comments are allowed (and they should be) it gives readers an opportunity to interact with the blog’s writer(s) which will put you on the road to gaining trust. However, before incorporating a blog make sure you have buy-in and commitment from the would be authors. There’s nothing worse than a blog that goes for weeks on end with no updates.

The above isn’t an exhaustive list of things that would make AEC websites (or any websites) better, but it’s a start and I hope it makes you think a little harder about the content you’re incorporating. The point to leave with is showing a bunch a pretty pictures, while attractive, doesn’t tell your prospects why you’re better. You need to explain that through non-promotional, educational content.

While a picture is worth a 1000 words, your competitors “1000 words” are just as appealing.

Oh, and heavy flash sites are just annoying. They take up a lot of bandwidth, some companies restrict access to flash sites on their employees’ computers and if the version of flash you’ve built your site with isn’t compatible with the version a prospect has on his or her computer you can guarantee they’re leaving your site before setting (the figurative) foot in it.

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The design industry is embracing social media a little more every day. The AIA published an article for architects using Twitter, Engineering News Record wrote about firms’ goals for Twitter and each day you can find more design professionals sending out tweets. Like all social media tools Twitter has its advantages and disadvantages, but until you dive in you wont know what potential it holds for your company. Personally, I’ve been on Twitter for a couple years, but didn’t use it much at first. Now I’m addicted. I’m following great people and finding new information everyday. Recently I’ve added my firm to Twitter. It’s just getting started, but I’m already seeing the potential, especially as our clients start joining and tweeting. If you’re thinking of putting your firm on Twitter I’ve got some tips for you to help ease your transition. Here are my top 10:

  1. Dive in personally, then transfer what you’ve learned to help your company succeed on Twitter.
  2. Concentrate on quality of followers, not quantity of followers
  3. Share valuable content, remember it’s not all about you
  4. The RT (that’s twitter speak for retweet) is the equivalent of telling someone “hey, I like what you’ve got to say.”
  5. Follow people. You don’t want to be that company that’s only interested in having people listen to them. Not sure who to follow? Find a few people you respect on Twitter and check out who they’re following.
  6. Expect organic growth, rarely are there overnight successes on Twitter or any platform for that matter.
  7. Participate. Twitter, like any social media platform, is only as good as the effort you’re willing to invest in it.
  8. Let people know you’ve joined twitter – add a link in your email signature, blog about it, talk it up in your newsletters.
  9. Follow people in your industry and learn from them.
  10. And because Twitter can turn into a huge time suck if you let it, get organized. Use an application like TweetDeck to categorize the people you follow by topic, get notice of your mentions and direct messages, shorten your URLs and handle multiple Twitter accounts, all within the same window.

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cagedmouthLast week I was at a marketing meeting at the Boston Society of Architects. The presenter, Mike Reilly from Reilly Communications, briefly introduced HOK’s blog, Life at HOK. After seeing the blog the question came up of how to keep everyone “on message” while blogging, an oxymoron in my opinion. If you’re trying to keep everyone on message within a blog then you’re not allowing the true power of a blog to come through – freedom of expression and opinion. A blog is about free communication – no corporate police, no messages to deliver. For HOK it’s an outlet for its employees to express themselves, whether relevant to architecture or not.
Another company may take a different approach where there are parameters around what the content can be. That too is a viable strategy so long as there is no one in the background editing and putting the corporate spin on the posts. Blogs have different voices unique to their writer(s). It’s the personality that comes through in a blog which makes it more engaging for its readers.

The HOK blog is a testament to what a corporate blog should aim to be, an unfiltered collection of messages. It gives the reader a glimpse into the culture of HOK in a way that polished corporate messages cannot.

Image credit: Flickr user Ben Beiske

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Dear All, I’d like to expand my network…It’s a statement that’s all too popular on LinkedIn Groups. It’s a bad side effect of the counters used on the various social networking sites – how many friends, how many connections, how many followers and the egos they create as the numbers climb. It’s time to return to the old adage, quality over quantity. Social networking, like traditional networking should be about making real connections, not to serve as a collection spot for the contact information of hundreds of people you don’t know and will probably never know.

I’m not saying don’t connect with people you know, even people you know loosely . But I am asking why would you want to connect with a complete stranger whose main goal is to increase the number of his or her connections? If there’s no relationship, there’s no need to pretend one exists.

Here’s some advice for everyone who want to add more connections – get out and meet people. Go to conferences, networking events, seminars, volunteer for an organization that resonates with you, join a neighborhood group, etc. Meet people, have a conversation, think about what value you can offer them, then ask to connect.

Image by Wen Z.

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