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New Tools, New Challenges for Social Media Marketing

November 2, 2010

Written by Michael Reilly, FSMPS, Reilly Communications

During a panel discussion at the SMPS Foundation Think Tank in Washington last month, five owners/clients (3 public, 2 private) said they don’t use social media in business in any form.  Their take: no time to read blogs, no interest in following anybody on Twitter, and no perceived value in following online forums.

Wow, so tell us what you really think! Can you just picture the looks on the faces of the devoted early adopters in the room? What about the principals in attendance who are lobbied by their marketing staff to start blogging and tweeting?

This Think Tank exchange sums up the central challenge for marketing and communications professionals as we shift from the traditional marketing tools to online and social media options. What are the business benefits of social media?  Are there any clients to be influenced or won?

My informal polling of A/E/C firms using social media shows that we are in the very early and even experimental phase of what I see as a 5-10-year transition.  The early adopters out there are thankfully blazing a trail for the rest of us, but the knowledge being put to work is based more on the promise of the trail than any specific destination.

Take the experience of architectural giant HOK, a firm with a significant commitment to social media. They launched a parallel company web site in 2008 devoted to social media content called Life at HOK.  The site features the writing of three dozen HOK employee bloggers, Twitter feeds, and links to HOK content on YouTube, LinkedIn, Facebook, Flickr and other social media sites.

I asked HOK’s Mike Plotnick about the business benefit of his firm’s investment in social media. He cited the tangible recruitment, retention and firm culture advantages, but also described a recent client interaction. HOK was interviewing for a design project, and during the interview the client complimented the firm’s SM initiative and Life at HOK site.

“If we get to work with you on this project, do you think you can help us with our social media program?” the client asked. Life at HOK wasn’t why they earned a spot on the shortlist, but once they were there, social media sophistication emerged as a differentiator. It also provided one extra reason for the client to want to work with HOK. They got the job.

A YouTube video “Rethink Sustainability” by my client Bioengineering Group is tracking at over 6,200 unique views. This exposure has led to a big increase in traffic to the company web site, and to recent invitations for speaking engagements and requests for bylined articles.

Salem-based Winter Street Architects is producing an ongoing WordPress blog that helps the firm differentiate the company and inform clients and prospects on sustainability and other key issues.  Marketing Director Allison Brooks has seen several positive outcomes, including being featured in a book on sustainable design after the author came across the Winter Street blog while doing his research.

I’ve talked with more than one marketing director reporting an interesting metric: more unique visits to the company’s LinkedIn page than to their firm’s official web site. Will we soon see prospects starting their search for professional service firms by checking the familiar – and often more revealing – LinkedIn page in place of the company web site? I think the day may already be here.

So my advice for those venturing into social media for business is simple: keep going. It may take a while before the content you create – online videos, tweets, blogs, LinkedIn postings and Facebook pages – can be traced directly to new business. But we are already seeing these tools increase visibility and strengthen reputations online. And that success is producing new opportunities for firm exposure while forming new online relationships beyond the traditional company BD reach.

If you are just getting started, zero in on one social media tool best matched to your firm and your target markets. Whether the activity is posting two-minute project profiles or posting advice on trends via Twitter, the key is to get started so you can learn what works.

In 2020, that client panel will likely offer a much different response to the question of social media and online influence. And guess what, those up-and-coming panelists are online right now, reading the blogs, learning from online videos, following the LinkedIn group discussions and participating in their association’s tweet-ups.  I bet they are also giving advice to the boss on who to hire for their next project.

About the Author
Michael J. Reilly is principal consultant at Reilly Communications, a Boston-based public relations and marketing consulting firm providing media relations, content development and differentiation strategy for professional service clients. Mike is a past SMPS national and Boston chapter president, a contributing editor to the Marketer magazine and an adjunct professor at Boston University. 

3 Comments leave one →
  1. November 4, 2010 2:32 pm

    hi Mike,

    Great post. Many of those who speak in public about social media are quick to show HOK as an example. You went a bit deeper and actually spoke with a firm representative and got their viewpoint on ROI, which is useful stuff. Now that Mike Plotnick has left the firm (according to their blog), I wonder if social media at HOK will continue with such vigor.

    Karen Euler
    CRJA & SMPS Boston

  2. November 4, 2010 4:32 pm

    Thanks for the shout out Mike and SMPS! We appreciate everything you do to celebrate the success of local firms, and Social Media is just the tip of the iceberg!! PS. I’m Allison Scott now 🙂 @AllisonBroSco

  3. Mark Zweig permalink
    November 11, 2010 11:44 am

    Nice article, Mike! Thank you. Firms are really interested in this topic.


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