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With 2021 marketing strategies planned (or in the process of being planned), social media is something that can often get pushed to the side. Brand awareness and recognition are contributing factors that help drive new business to you, and we at AXA XL Design Professional feel it is an important strategy to implement. This article poses ideas (and cautions) when polishing an existing social presence or building a new one.

Has your business joined the majority of small- and medium-size companies that have a social media presence? Or do you already have one or two accounts but would like to up your game? Either way, the right strategy, data and tools can make a big impact on your social media efforts.

You don’t have to be a mega design firm (or any type of business) to have a great online presence. Sure, you can use social media platforms to show off your projects, but you can also use them to boost brand awareness, engage with clients and prospects, help your firm stand out from your competition, build and nurture online industry communities, establish your employees as thought leaders, and advocate for your profession or a favorite cause. You might also use social media as a recruiting tool, by showcasing your firm’s people, culture and professional development opportunities.

Before you start tweeting
It’s important to think about strategy as well as risk. If you can hire a social media consultant to help, great. Most small businesses outsource some or all of their social media marketing. For do-it-yourselfers, there are online social media tools that can help manage your efforts.

Here are 10 tips for getting started:

1. Establish a social media policy. Have a clear, written policy on the use of social media by all staff; make it part of your company’s overall communications policy.

2. Develop a social media plan.

  • Think through your goals—e.g., brand awareness, community engagement, recruitment. Consider this your social media mission statement.
  • Determine your target markets and find out where they go online.
  • Study your competitors’ social media presence.
  • Determine what resources your firm can devote to your social media campaign.

3. Start small. It’s better to have a strong voice on a handful of platforms than try to maintain a presence on all of them. Begin with one or two. It may take a combination of sites to reach the audience you want.

4. Generate engaging content. Aim for a variety of blog posts, videos, educational resources, and photos. Post updates on new projects as well as what’s in the pipeline. If you’ve designed a house remodel and the clients are happy, post a photo. (But be sure to get your client’s approval in writing and give credit to those who helped on the project. We’ll address risk later.)

5. Refine your strategy with analytics. Most social media platforms will provide analytics to help you determine the geographic locations of your users, their age range, whether they’re using smartphones or tablets, and more. This information can help you refine your approach. You can also use information tracked from your own website (e.g., by Google) to help determine which platforms would work best. Platform demographics vary widely: if most of your users are of a specific age, for example, YouTube or LinkedIn may be the best route.

6. Encourage your employees to advocate for you. Create content your staff can share to build trust with consumers. Seeing employees advocating for their employer can have a positive impact on potential clients; it’s also an excellent recruiting tool. Just be sure employees are aware of your firm’s overall communications policy, know which social media accounts they should use (some firms require employees to use the firm’s accounts, while others encourage employees to repost or share on their own) and what they can and cannot share publicly.

7. Consider the power of influencers. Some companies are doing away with traditional marketing advertising and going the influencer route, contracting with individuals who can affect buying habits on social media. The right influencer can reach your target audience, build trust and drive engagement.

8. Stay active. Commit to a posting schedule that keeps your firm visible without overwhelming your readers.

9. Be responsive and strategic. Designate someone in your firm to monitor your sites and respond to feedback and questions quickly. This poster should also be given clear direction on when to call for backup. For example, a comment on your firm’s Twitter feed might only require a thoughtful public response, but a more specific question or, say, a direct message (DM) query from a potential client may need to be referred to someone in the firm who can follow up.

10. Try “stories” on Instagram, Facebook, and YouTube. Because of today’s short attention spans, content should be brief and engaging. Many businesses use Instagram stories, post DMs, or “repost” users praising their service, which amounts to a five-star review.

It’s better to have a strong voice on a handful of platforms than try to maintain a presence on all of them.

Don’t forget about risk
Your social media policy should take potential liability into account. Here are some points to keep in mind: (See “Resources” section for more)

1. Weigh how your posts would look in a lawsuit. Virtually anything you or your employees share on a social media platform (e.g., messages, posts, photos) is discoverable in a lawsuit. For example, while your social media guru might not notice that the photo of a detail also reveals a minor construction flaw in the background, you can bet it will come up in discovery if there’s a claim. Our advice: make sure your staff is aware of your social media policy and that there’s a second set of eyes on everything before it’s posted.

2. Consider client confidentiality. An A&E firm we know signed a very broad non-disclosure agreement (NDA) with a client but failed to communicate this to its employees and subconsultants. When an enthusiastic subconsultant posted about the project, the client sued the A/E, who in turn sued the sub. The lessons here:

  • Be sure staff and subconsultants are made aware of any NDAs and/or confidentiality contract clauses for each project.
  • Those in your firm who post should talk to senior management about posts for specific projects and get approval.
  • Ask the client’s permission to use a photo or advertise a project (regardless of whether you have to contractually).

3. Watch your language. The rules for words you use on social media are no different than for other communications, such as brochures, proposals and letters. “Red-flag” words or phrases (e.g., “best,” “most qualified,” “assure”) can be used against you by a plaintiff, who will claim that you overstated or misled them about your current capabilities or that you guaranteed a specific outcome.

4. Play nice. While your firm should respect your employees’ privacy and the right to use their own social media platforms, your social media policy should prohibit staff from disparaging others or using unprofessional language when referring to clients, projects, colleagues or other project participants.

Using social media the right way can be great for your firm’s reputation and lead to new work. Yes, there are a lot of moving parts, but with some thought, planning and resources, your firm can design and build an effective social media presence.

1. The “Document Retention” and “Project Websites” chapters in AXA XL’s Contract Guide.
2. 10 Social Media Statistics You Need to Know in 2020
3. 101 Social Media Ideas for Architects
4. “Boost your image and lower your risk: managing project photos,” Communiqué, May 2019
5. “Brand Boost,” Engineering Inc., July/August 2017, p. 22
6. “How to find clients through social media,” Jeff Echols,
7. “In You They Trust: Confidentiality Clauses and Your Clients’ Private Information,” Communiqué, May 2017
8. “The Dos and Don’ts of NDAs,” Communiqué, August 2018
9. Social Media for Engineering Firms – Benefits and Risks, ACEC Risk Management Committee, 2016
10. Social Media for Small Business in 2020: Everything You Need to Know, Hearst Bay Area

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