Social Media Is the New Strategy for Design Firms

Event: Why to Blog, Text + Tweet: Strategic Social Media for Design Firms
Location: Haworth Showroom, 10.14.09
Speakers: Dorian Benkoil — Founder, Teeming Media; Adam Lutz — Facilities Manager, Google, Inc.; Mike Plotnick — Media Relations Manager, HOK; Jessica Sheridan, Assoc. AIA, LEED AP — Editor-in-Chief, e-Oculus
Moderator: Judy Schriener — Former Managing Editor, McGraw-Hill Construction website
Organizer: AIANY Marketing + Public Relations Committee
Sponsors: Haworth; Hausman Communications; Stone Source; Dagher Engineering

As “social media” becomes a phrase that is heard more frequently in professional circles, the design industry has begun to explore this new age of corporate communications, one in which the traditional boundaries of marketing and public relations are transformed to encompass a broad range of staff and voices. Often cautious recruits to this ever evolving realm of digital media, the A/E/C industry has begun to populate Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, and blog sites with varying degrees of activity. Dorian Benkoil, founder of the strategic digital media business firm Teeming Media, believes that firms should ultimately be concerned with reaching their target audience and choosing an appropriate medium through which to do so, if possible directly applying the principles of marketing to social media.

Employing social media as a platform to share values — design, sustainability, public space, etc. — can help clients identify with the personality of design firms, fostering a long-term commitment and understanding. Mike Plotnick, media relations manager at HOK, has successfully led a social media campaign at his firm establishing it as a pioneer within the design community. Originally launched as a recruitment strategy, Life at HOK is a public blog authored by 35 designers at all experience levels in various offices within the practice. Celebrating its one-year anniversary with an average of 600 visitors per week, the platform has allowed HOK, according to Plotnick, “to live out our brand through our people in our own voice in our own time.” This evolution of communication and content delivery has given way to a raw, unedited style eradicating the corporate filter and vastly reducing editorial reviews. HOK’s bloggers are not censored and Plotnick admittedly has released control in what has become one of the most well known social media “experiments” in the design community.

The benefits of exposure are not limited to design firms, as evidenced by the many journalists that engage in Twitter and the like. Jessica Sheridan, editor-in-chief of e-Oculus, has established a professional presence on Twitter, which has given her access to individuals and firms serving as resources for news. While social media can be an outlet for editorial, the distinction remains between bloggers and journalists, the former being associated with frequency and subjectivity and the latter with research and objective reporting.

Although social media has yet to be linked to business development benefits, each panelist contributed an anecdote of sequential events that stemmed from their digital presence and indirectly resulted in a client connection, PR opportunity, or profile elevation. Many continue to understandably inquire: Is it worth sacrificing staff time and hourly rates to explore a new approach to marketing and business development without quantifiable results? Benkoil challenges that it is impossible to know what a tool can do for you unless you try it, and although clients may not be currently living in the world of social media, when they arrive wouldn’t we want to be there in full force?