Social Media Experts Share Their Stories

Event: Why to Blog, Text and Tweet Redux: Tips and Tricks
Location: Center for Architecture, 01.21.10
Speakers: Mike Plotnick — Vice President & Corporate Communications Manager, HOK; Kimberly Dowdell, Assoc. AIA, NOMA, LEED AP — Public Relations & Business Development, HOK; Winka Dubbeldam — Principal, Archi-Tectonics; Benjamin Prosky — Director of Communications, Architizer; Marc Kushner, AIA — Co-Founder, Architizer
Organizer: AIANY Marketing & PR Committee

As the use of social media in the professional design community becomes less of a trend and more of a standard, firms of all sizes are seeking advice on which mediums to pursue, the effectiveness of the tools, and what it will mean for business. At the second such event hosted by the AIANY Marketing & PR Committee, representatives from HOK, Archi-Tectonics, and Architizer offered a cross section of experience with social media. While each firm has delved into the world of alternative marketing techniques for different reasons, the panel unanimously advocated the myriad benefits that blogging, texting, and tweeting bring to the table.

Mike Plotnick, vice president and corporate communications manager for HOK, shared a list of reasons why the firm actively engages in its social media website, Life at HOK . He believes that social media is the future in professional industries. It offers an inexpensive medium to market the firm with an intimate insight into its culture. Winka Dubbeldam, principal at Archi-Tectonics, who has an active presence on Facebook, LinkedIn, and Architizer, founded her company blog to develop a current events feed on her work in response to heavy web traffic on her firm’s website. Benjamin Prosky and Marc Kushner, AIA, founders of Architizer, recently launched their website, which is a tool aimed at connecting the design community, establishing a database of architects, and allowing architects to easily publicize their work. Only three months old, the site has 4,500 members, and nearly 1,000 firm profiles posted.

For all the panelists, the benefit of using social media as a marketing tactic is the ability to be proactive about reaching an audience. Plotnick stated that as traditional media continues to struggle, blogging, texting, and tweeting allows designers to self-promote without relying on editors or writers. Rather than waiting for potential clients to come to her website, Dubbeldam sends out e-mail blasts to her mailing list each time her blog is updated. Prosky and Kushner developed Architizer so that when a project is uploaded, the user is prompted to input a broad range of information and project details along with countless images, resulting in an informal press release.

Those considering social media as an addition to their marketing and communications efforts may find the task daunting with so many outlets available and may be skeptical about the risks involved, time required, and ambiguous return on investment. Dubbeldam asserts that contributing to her blog is quick and efficient, while Plotnick, Prosky, and Kushner agree that their sites are only as strong as the frequent efforts of their contributors. Intrinsically void of censorship, all panelists advised that an overly conservative office culture is not the ideal setting for this endeavor. Plotnick stated, “Thankfully I work for a firm that lets us do our job and gives us the tools to play as well.”

While social media has yet to yield quantifiable business development results, it does enhance relationships that open doors to projects. For firms that lack a communications staff, such as Archi-Tectonics, the addition of a blog site expands web presence and multiplies a firm’s Google search hits with little effort. The synergy of social media sites has largely benefited the movement as well, since it provides users with a simple way to populate multiple outlets at once. Prosky and Kushner attribute Architizer’s swift popularity, in part, to Twitter, which quickly spread the word in the design community that a new tool was available. While company executives may be reluctant converts to the social media frenzy, once a successful social media presence is established, it is hard to imagine a marketing strategy without it. As Plotnick said, “I don’t think anyone from top to bottom [at HOK] would consider pulling the plug at this point.”