In this issue, I’ve asked long-time business partner Sally Giedrys of Artisan Communications to follow up on her January 2012 The Friedman File article (Social media: strategy, not hype) by sharing additional thoughts and A/E/C industry case studies. — Rich Friedman.

While the use of social media is skyrocketing all around us (including in the markets we serve), few A/E/C firms are taking full advantage. And those that are, are using social media more for employee engagement and recruiting: connecting with new hires on LinkedIn and Facebook pages that focus on new projects, employee awards and fun around the office, for example.

We’re missing the marketing opportunity.

In fact, when Building Design + Construction surveyed A/E/C professionals about their firm’s social media use, just 28% said they use social media as a marketing and promotion tool. And more than half (61%) said their firms aren’t using social media at all. It’s surprising, considering that individuals are using social channels to do the things that good marketing is made of: 48% said they use social tools to connect with other professionals and 23% use them to keep up with their industry. More than a third have made valuable business connections with social media tools.

Marketing is all about connecting, keeping up with what’s happening in your clients’ world and aligning communications with your business development (BD) activities. Social media offers effective tools for doing all of that. Here’s how:

  1. Set yourself up for success.Having an effective communications strategy means you’re not everywhere. It means you know where your audience is likely to be, and you focus there. It means having a purpose for each social account you maintain and tailoring your activity to that purpose.You might consider joining or creating LinkedIn groups in your target market or building a presence on Twitter and Facebook. Perhaps it’s blogging or curating relevant external content through social bookmarking web sites like StumbleUpon or Delicious. If you offer regular presentations or webinars, you might consider a YouTube or Vimeo channel for making video content available.As with other marketing and PR tactics, it’s critical to know who you’re trying to reach and to ensure that your key messages are aligned with your firm’s brand and desired market position. From a practical standpoint, you also want to build in sustainability by assigning clear responsibilities and consistent schedules for maintaining your social presence.
  2. Listen in.One of the most overlooked uses of social media is listening. Whether you’re on Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter or other communities, be sure to “friend” and follow relevant print and online magazines, professional associations, clients/prospects and influencers in your market. If you’re paying attention, social media channels offer an excellent opportunity to keep tabs on what your market is talking about.Checking in weekly with postings is a simple way to keep abreast of what’s new and to share this with your own audience. Glumac Engineers (Portland, OR), a consulting engineering firm specializing in sustainable design, is one example of a firm with its ear to the ground. Their Twitter feed and Facebook page routinely share “green” information and news from sources around the country, creating the immediate impression that, while many firms stake their claim in sustainable design, here’s one that’s continually plugged into the trends and realities.
  3. Be of service.Social environments are a place to interact, answer questions, and encourage dialogue and sharing. There are many ways to do this. Depending on time and resources, you may want to post instant polls and links to simple online surveys, or ask intriguing questions. You can also save people work by curating content for them — gathering and offering an expert perspective on interesting news or trends.For example, national healthcare design firm HKS, Inc. (Dallas, TX) has published its Smart Healthcare blog since 2009. Written by a team of bloggers, it offers perspective and information on both healthcare and design topics. Recent posts range from the benefits of using virtual mock ups in design, to a case study of improved patient care, to upcoming technology trends.With 76% of those surveyed by Building Design + Construction saying blogs don’t factor into their business, there’s still plenty of room for those that are serious about becoming a go-to source of valuable information for their target market.
  4. Create meaningful interaction.In the social world, the “KISS” mantra is alive and well. But instead of “simple, stupid” think “significant and shareable.” When developing content, focus on what’s engaging, relevant, interesting and worth sharing. Sure, it’s great to announce awards, to showcase what you’re working on and to share images of exciting projects — if you’re sprinkling that content between meatier information that clients are actually talking about.One notable example comes from the Student Life team at Treanor Architects (Lawrence, KS). The firm has a robust content development and positioning program that integrates perfectly into social media — along with a target audience of colleges and universities that is well-represented online. When Treanor conducted original research on student life trends through an online survey, it used select social channels (its blog and Twitter account) to both solicit responses and report the findings. The blog also includes informative client-focused articles, notes on conference presentations and relevant news from the firm.

Because Treanor’s social media efforts are well integrated into their existing market positioning efforts, they’re easier to manage and they get results — including being invited for project interviews, obtaining solid intelligence on who’s planning new facilities and significant media coverage from the print and online publications their clients are reading.
Is social media worth your time as a marketing tool? Absolutely! But only if you approach it strategically and ensure that it’s tied directly to your BD and communications efforts.

— Sally Giedrys

Wishing everyone a happy and healthy holiday season! Sally and I welcome your questions and comments, and your own experiences with social media. E-mail us at or