Keep the social, skip the social media — that's architect Bruce Bockus's take on social media as a marketing tool.
“Bockus Payne Associates Architects rarely uses social media. Our practice is client-driven rather than marketing-driven,” said Bockus, president of the Oklahoma City firm, which is observing its 25th anniversary this year. “Ninety-five percent of our clients are repeat clients and architecture is a referral based business for us.”
What about Bockus Payne's clients?
“I am not aware if our clients use social media. Social media is not how we communicate with our clients. We communicate directly with our clients,” Bockus said — placing Bockus Payne pretty much in the middle of the findings of a recent survey of architecture and engineering firms.
Fayetteville, Ark.-based ZweigWhite, a business consulting firm in the architecture-engineering-planning field, found that 15 percent of 109 responding firms said social media use was making them less reliant on traditional marketing.
ZweigWhite said 43 percent of respondents were unsure of the connection. ZweigWhite said that the survey found — “shockingly” — that 29 percent didn't know whether their clients used social media or not.
Further, the survey found that 17 percent of firms reported that social media sites had led to inquiries or opportunities for business, 45 percent reported no such results and 38 percent did not specify.
So, Bockus Payne seems typical: It does maintain a webpage, but it still considers maintaining personal relationships with clients to be its main marketing engine.
“Through constant collaboration between the owner, the design team and the contractor, we aim to engage, inspire and fulfill our clients' dreams. We call this relational architecture,” Bockus said.
For Guernsey, an 84-year-old engineering-architecture-consulting firm in Oklahoma City, not even a recent rebranding effort and overhaul of its website — www.guernsey.us — caused any change in its social media strategy: It still has none.
“We do not utilize social media. It has been discussed and will continue to be investigated as possible tool,” said Kent Hanebaum, senior vice president. “Most of our concerns have to do with the time management of the sites and the ‘policing' of friends and their comments.”
Yet brand building and social media strategy are “inextricably intertwined,” Forrester Research said in a recent white paper, “How Social Media is Changing Brand Building.”
“The fundamentals of brand building have not changed. Marketers must still forge an identity for the brand and communicate it across all consumer touchpoints to create a consistent brand experience,” the Cambridge, Mass.-based firm said. “But in the 21st century, brands need to have a social story to leverage the emotional and persuasive elements that make offerings successful.”
Forrester Research cited a broader-based survey of 99 marketing leaders — not limited to architecture-engineering-planning firms — that found: 93 percent agreed “marketers need to reinvent their brand-building strategies as a result of digital innovations like social and mobile”; 92 percent agreed “social media has fundamentally changed how consumers engage with brands;” and 86 percent agreed “social media is fundamentally changing how brands are being built.”
Some of the lack of enthusiasm for social media is likely generational, suggested Jenny M. Davis, marketing coordinator for Rees Associates Inc., an Oklahoma City-based architecture and planning firm in its 37th year.
“I think we are seeing that as the generation of decision makers is changing, social media is just now becoming more of a tool for the (architecture-engineering-construction) industry. We still have a large amount of baby boomers in decision-making roles. The shift to a younger generation is starting to become more apparent,” she said.
Rees does use LinkedIn, Facebook and Twitter, Davis said, but isn't sure of its effectiveness.
“In a ‘small world of relationships' locale, like Oklahoma City, it is very hard to gauge exactly how or where new clients found out about your firm first,” she said.
Oklahoma City's LWPB Architecture has two social media outlets, an award-winning website, www.lwpb.com, “crafted to showcase our work and office culture” and a Facebook page, said Morgan Robberson, architecture professional and marketing-social media coordinator.
“Our Facebook page is a completely different animal,” Robberson said. “Our ‘Likes' include employees, relatives of employees, potential employees and industry partners-consultants — even competitors.”
Robberson was not surprised by the lack of zeal for social media among architecture-engineering firms uncovered by ZweigWhite.
“Despite the hype and claims of marketing agencies, it's hard to see the payout of social media for unilateral application in the (architecture-engineering-construction) world. Champions of social media seem to be either mega-firms with entire departments devoted to their online persona, or small boutique firms focused on marketing to a particular niche. For many firms, it's difficult to consistently create engaging content that is relevant to all of their markets.”
Science Applications International Corp., SAIC, has embraced social media. The McLean, Va.-based Fortune 500 company and its subsidiaries has some 40,000 employees, including an Oklahoma City office, formerly Benham Cos.
The ZweigWhite survey findings “represent a huge missed opportunity,” said Terry Helms, senior vice president of architecture, engineering and technology, in Oklahoma City.
“At SAIC, we have found that our clients are present on these platforms — if not professionally, then certainly personally. Architecture, engineering and design firms must have a brand, a voice, and a presence in multiple social media forums to not only increase name recognition, but also to connect and engage with clients and prospects,” Helms said.
SAIC uses Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, Google+, YouTube “and now, even Pinterest,” said Joseph Joseph, managing director of BIM (building information modeling) and CAD (computer-aided design) technologies. “We post every day to these platforms with news of recent contracts, key projects, thought leadership articles, events and videos. We are following not only our clients, but also our competitors and news sources to stay on top of trends.”
And SAIC does have a social media strategy, the kind that some employers find risky because it diffuses control of content.
“SAIC ... empowers its experts to also engage and promote themselves through user-generated content. As SAIC professionals, we are encouraged to interact on an individual level with the company and our clients through social media,” Joseph said. “I have my own professional Twitter account, @BIMManagers, and my work at SAIC has helped ramp up my followers and engagements by promoting my speaking engagements, articles and thought leadership. This business is all about relationships and the personal expertise that you bring to each project. SAIC recognizes that.”
That approach seems to put SAIC at the vanguard of branding trends chronicled by Forrester Research.
Social media can “humanize a faceless corporation,” “bond your brand to your consumer's real life,” “engage brand lovers with a more immersive experience” “reward brand loyalists with personalized communications” and “activate new advocates using the established loyal fan base,” Forrester said.
“Social” does energize social media, Forrester said, as employees become online “brand ambassadors.”
We do not utilize social media. It has been discussed and will continue to be investigated as possible tool.”