Social media, it seems to be everywhere these days.  More than likely you are using it to stay connected with friends and family, post pictures of your vacation and organize your class reunion.  So why does your firm need to be a part of social media and how could it possibly benefit your firms bottom line?

To start, I feel it is important to define social media.  Social media is “software tools that allow groups to create content and engage in peer-to-peer conversations and the exchange of content”.  Examples are YouTube, Flickr, Facebook, LinkedIn, etc.

In today’s social media world the flow of communication is changing.  Information no longer flows from the few to the many.  Sites like Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn and a very large network of bloggers have changed the dynamic, allowing information to flow from the many to the many more.  A more relevant example might be: no longer does information about your firm flow from your website to your clients, clients are talking about you through channels you cannot control.

A few interesting facts from found ub4:

  1. 90% of a recent Nielsen survey stated that recommendations by acquaintances and opinions posted by customers online are the most trusted forms of advertising globally
  2. Formed in 2004, Flickr now hosts more than 3.6 billion user images
  3. 20% of the tweets on Twitter are about brands.  With 3 million tweets a day means 600,000 posts are of relevance to brands

Your clients are out there talking about your firm and the work you do.  They are defining your brand in ways never thought of a year ago.  So what is your firm to do?  The answer is social media.  The answer is to join the conversation and then listen at the point of need.  When done right not only can you control the message but benefit from it.

Sounds easy?  Just dive in?  Well not so fast.  The first step to successfully leveraging social media is to develop a social media strategy.  Start by defining your primary message.  Do you want to establish your firm as a leader in a specific industry?  Is your goal to win more business or is it simply to share the work your firm does with others?  Regardless of the message having it clearly defined at the beginning will help to keep your message consistent and help you measure the return on investment (ROI).

Once you have your primary message defined you will want to establish a presence on social media sites.  Two beneficial for design firms are: Flickr (photo sharing site and a great visual way to develop a following for the projects work your firm is doing) and Archinect (a leading on-line forum dedicated to architecture and design).  Three other important sites are:  Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn.  Membership in these sites is to the billions with millions of daily visitors.  Joining the conversation on these sites will guarantee a strong ROI.

Another important thing to remember when you are developing your social media strategy is consistency.  It is important to use the same images, logos and verbiage across all the sites you join to keep each Social Media site consistent with your firm’s website.  These sites are an extension of your brand.

Now that you have set up your site, start by listening to the conversations about your firm.  Get a feel for what is being said.  Try to get a since of not only what is being said but why.  I call this “listening at the point of need”.  If you can understand what your clients and potential clients need you can leverage your social media connection to meet their need and grow your business.

Social media is also about communication.  It is important to be yourself when you connect with people on-line.  People will respond better to you and your firm if they can relate to you as a person, not a corporation or a business.  A question I ask myself as I join any conversation “Is what I am saying helping to develop and nurture a relationship with this person?”  I find this to be very helpful as I frame up discussions.

The benefits of a social media strategy are clear.  It gives your firm the ability to hear direct feedback regarding your firm, allowing you to tweak or develop offerings to meet your client’s needs.  Social Media also allows you to create new business partnerships and identify opportunities in ways you never could before.  As more and more people and companies develop a social media presence the more it becomes a network of business contacts and opportunities.  Recent statistics provided by found ub4 state that 69% of social media users were using the technology for business purposes and of this 69%, 55% were decision-makers.  Social media opens your firm up to business opportunities you never had access to in the past.

Social media is changing the way business is done.  It allows people to indentify with your firm as individuals; it allows clients to view your firm as a business partner and it opens your firm up to business opportunities that were not previously visible.  Social media, whether you participate or not, will clearly have an impact on your firm’s bottom line.

So is your firm participating in social media?