Falling in Line with Social Media Marketing

The following is an excerpt from The 2011-2012 AEC Market Guide to California, found in the chapter “A Dozen Game-Changers for AEC Firms.”

California is the Motherland for social media companies. Google, Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn are all headquartered in the state. In a survey by B-to-B listing firm NetProspex (Waltham, MA) identifying the top 25 “most social” cities in the US, 7 were in California, including 3 of the top 4 (San Francisco, San Jose and Ventura). NetProspex based its ranking on the percentage of businesspeople active on social networks.

The AEC industry, conversely, is one of the least social, according to the same survey. Not a single AEC firm is found among the top 100 social firms in the country, and no industry component – not A, not E, not C – is in the top 50 most social industries.

Is this reaffirming the stereotype that the AEC industry is slow to adopt change? Or is it a case of an industry instinctively recognizing that the potential return is insufficient to justify the investment?

The answer to both questions is “probably.”

The truth is that most AEC firms will find that there is some marketing and public relations value to being involved in social media marketing. In particular, the business-focused LinkedIn, along with the more social Twitter and Facebook, offer marketing and PR potential to AEC firms (with the latest entry, Google+, on the horizon and closing fast).

The key is to not expect too much. Social media should be one prong in a multi-pronged marketing program. Developing a social media presence is unlikely to propel an AEC firm from anonymity to superstar status overnight (although that’s pretty much what happened with building code and engineering review services firm Naffa International (Fresno, CA), which rode founder Imad Naffa’s social media strategy to a massive increase in notoriety and workload).

Further, there’s only a remote likelihood of making a direct connection on a social network that leads to new work – at least at this point in its evolution. At minimum, you can expose your firm to a larger group of potential clients – or more likely, to their marketing and PR folks – and capitalize on the built-in publicity you get, albeit fleeting, by building a list of “followers” and occasionally providing them with information about what your firm is doing.

There are additional side benefits, however. A social media marketing program often leads firms to develop content that it can use in other areas (e.g., a blog post revised into an article in an external newsletter that becomes a magazine piece). It can also re-energize a marketing program, and help a firm assess, streamline and define its marketing and PR approach.

If you’re still a novice on the social media marketing scene, here are some steps you should immediately take to improve your social media standing. (If, on the other hand, you’re making your 10th Facebook update of the day and have 2500 followers on Twitter, you can probably skip the next few paragraphs.)

1.      Please understand this – social media is not a fad.  If you think Twitter exists only so middle schoolers can talk about how much they hate homework and that LinkedIn is primarily a job board, you might as well be the guy in the 1940s who said that television would never catch on. Social media as a business tool is here and it’s only going to grow. So even if you don’t actively participate in any social network, personally or in business, you or someone in the upper echelon of your firm need to be familiar with the most popular social media programs. At minimum, as we hurtle toward 2012, social media should be part of the marketing planning conversation in every AEC firm.

2.      Protect your brand. You can acquire social media identifiers in the same way you do domain names, with one difference – with social media, it’s free. Start with Facebook and Twitter, the two most basic and popular sites. On Facebook, you (or someone who has a Facebook account) should set up a page with the firm name, then try to acquire the Facebook URL via the site http://www.facebook.com/username/. If the name is still available, you should be able to secure the URL, even if you never fully activate the page.

With Twitter, it’s even easier. When you register, you’re asked to create a unique user name. The key here, though, is the word “unique.” If the user name you want is taken, you’ll need to set up some type of variant. All Twitter user names are 15 characters or less and can only include numbers, upper- and lower-case letters and the _ sign. No spaces. Once you sign up, you have secured the URL containing your user name (mine are http://twitter.com/aecinsight and http://twitter.com/thejagg_group).

If you do nothing else, do this. It takes almost no time, it costs nothing, and you never know when you might want or need these tools. If you need help, ask the nearest person under 30 to show you how to do it… or that middle schooler complaining about homework on Twitter.

[In the next few days, I’ll post more from this section of The 2011-2012 AEC Market Guide to California, including additional recommendations for more advanced firms, as well a discussion of California AEC firms and owners engaged in social media.

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