By Jessica Sheridan, Assoc. AIA
It seems like everyone these days is constantly plugged into their technological devices, tweeting their whereabouts, Facebooking their statuses, and publicizing anything and everything about themselves. Companies are even engaged in the phenomenon, using social media tools to market their products and services. But for architects, do these online pursuits pay off?
Design firms that have integrated social media into their practices report a spike in interest in their work — particularly from journalists, publishers, and other architects. However, few can say their efforts have directly led to new projects … yet. Social media is so new to the profession that it may take a few years before the benefits can be measured, but some firms are investing now with high hopes for future rewards.
The definition of social media is nebulous. While it can be characterized as an online tool that allows users to interact — and generally is free or low-cost — new forms of social media are continuously being introduced. Social media has existed since the dawn of the Internet, when news groups such as Usenet (1979) were developed to track server-to-server news feeds, and became more prominent with the debut of blogging in 1997. In recent years, it has become even more multifaceted and ubiquitous, with sites such as LinkedIn (2003), YouTube (2005), Facebook (which went mainstream in 2006), and Twitter (2006) redefining the online experience. How social media will evolve is difficult to predict, but no doubt it is changing how people do business.
Recently, the AIA New York Chapter’s marketing and public relations committee presented a series of discussions dubbed “Why to Blog, Text, and Tweet.” By inviting panelists in the design industry who are engaged in social media, the committee hoped to encourage other architects to try it, explains Tami Hausman, president of the public relations firm Hausman and one of the event organizers. “While the design community may not be using social media as a tool,” she says, “other companies, especially those that produce consumer goods, are using it effectively.” She adds, however, that architecture is a business based in service, which is often a more difficult sell. “In general, firms are sticking with what they know, and what they know works, particularly in this difficult economy.”
For her part, Hausman is a social media proponent. “The problem with social media is that people see it as a ‘thing,’ when it is actually more of a tool,” she says. “Instead, it needs to be integrated into current marketing efforts, not separate from them.”
By far the most active adopter of social media at a firmwide scale is HOK. With the launch of Life at HOK (hoklife.com) in October 2008, the firm made public the people and process behind the projects. The Web site — a supplement to the company’s main site, HOK, at hok.com — is essentially a blog where approximately 35 employees around the country post an assortment of musings, from opinions on current events to features on firm leaders. Included are links to YouTube videos, Facebook profiles, Delicious bookmarks, and Flickr images, among other Web pages.