Remember the pager? I do, but I'm pretty sure that some younger designers would laugh if I told them that I was planning on paging a colleague to set up a meeting. While many of us embraced the pager in the past, it really was a "networking tool" in the loosest sense of the term.
These days, sites like Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter are the real networking tools. My friends, colleagues and clients are all "connecting" via these online networks. While I am mentoring our firm's new designers and trying to lead by example, it's also my turn to follow them and learn what they take for granted. While I'm not a luddite by any means, I can't help being at a disadvantage in terms of facility with the current standards of normal for technology and social media.
The current "norm" is that younger generations are growing up with laptops in grade school and have email addresses by the age of 6. They prefer to communicate in 140 characters or less, and they get the latest news through status updates.
The number of Facebook users has already exceeded the entire U.S. population and is rapidly becoming the most powerful social interaction tool in the world. Forget the cigarette break at work. Soon you will be taking social media breaks. What we used to forward to co-workers via email we will now share across those aforementioned social networks.
Social media is an extension to my face-to-face networking platform, and another way to build brand awareness and a dedicated following. It's long been an established fact that you should "fish where the fish are." And now that the fish are online, they won't just be clustering there to chat—they're there to know what is relevant. And you can be certain they are not mincing words or opinions.
For Conant Architects, we try to have a visible, trusted and relevant presence on various platforms. In the fall of 2010, we launched our third, full ground-up website with a singular goal: to be fully connected with our clients and community. This meant providing up-to-date news and project team collaboration through our site and links to other social media. Our web presence is no longer just a digital portfolio, but a lifeline to who we are.
Our goal is to lead our clients and followers back to the source, or in this case, our website. And it has been successful. Our site visitor traffic has increased by over 200 percent.
I believe in a focused commitment to design and client activism. Our successes, however, are hard won and never the accomplishment of just one person. Neither should the glory be a one-person secret. Getting the word out needs to happen naturally and easily. Time is precious and people need to know what we are doing by just going about their daily routine. So far, we have not found a way to have our projects appear in their bathroom mirror as they are brushing their teeth (but we're working on it).
That is our main message: We need to be where they are. Therefore we don't only use one pipeline for communication. Today, I still send out glossy photo postcards showcasing a recent project as well as a very select email message when we feel it would be appreciated. More importantly, we now travel the airwaves, wherever our clients and friends may be.
Relationships matter. What we are selling and the message we are putting out hasn't changed, but now people can respond and react to it. Intimidating maybe, but also rewarding. Our online conversations are just that—conversations. They are two-way interactions, not sales pitches. And yes, it's true that genuine transparency makes us tremendously vulnerable, but it also makes it possible to have sincere conversations and share honest concerns. Those concerns and conversations can only help us to learn what our strengths and weaknesses are, and grow from them. In the end, we're on our way to a stronger brand and team that's hyper-aware of our focus and message.
Additionally, we are finally playing on a field that has never been so level. From all corners of our industry and rungs on the ladder, we are sharing and learning. What I am particularly looking forward to is how silly our current tools will look when we think of them as we do the fax machine.
So, share that message and share your stories. Don't hesitate to send press releases or a postcard, but embrace the changes and advantages that an online presence has brought us—lightning fast promotion of your ongoing projects, immediate responses from your community and a dedicated following that shares your story with their network. Take the losses and grow from them, and please, please, put away your pager.
IIDA International President Peter Conant, IIDA, AIA, LEED AP is principal of Conant Associates in New York City. You can reach IIDA at (312) 467-1950 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Learn more at www.iida.org.