How to find clients through social media
If your firm uses social networking and digital marketing properly, there's work out there for the taking
During a conversation at a recent AIA Convention, right after my presentation on social media marketing, someone asked me if architects can actually find work through those channels.
This is a question I get a lot, not just from architects but all kinds of business owners: Can using social media actually bring more business through the door? The short answer is “yes.”
Let me give you an example of a firm that used social media to generate real results. The Indianapolis-based ONE 10 STUDIO, led by principal Clete Kunge, rose from the ashes of a partner split and a recession. (Disclosure: I was their first director of marketing.) All we brought with us was a single project, a past client list, and a handful of non-compete agreements (NCAs). We were essentially starting from scratch: no website, no logo, no social media.
The major challenge—among many—was figuring out how to compete without many of our past clients in an industry that attributes approximately 80 percent of new work to repeats and referrals. As the director of marketing, I knew our strategy would have to be both creative and quick.
I devised a plan to incorporate content, relationship, and location-based marketing to tell the story of ONE 10 STUDIO in a way that would resonate powerfully with a new audience. We built a network of brand ambassadors; most of them never became clients themselves, but they all delivered a stream of new clients and introduced the firm into new networks and niche markets.
Over my four years at ONE 10 STUDIO, we blogged, created a Facebook page, and managed a Twitter feed. Eventually, we added Instagram and Houzz to the mix. Our work wasn't always perfect. There was always a list of broken links to fix, articles to be written, and profiles that need to be expanded. We struggled through compatibility issues between the website and our blog after a redesign.
Nevertheless, we were able to attribute a number of projects directly to those efforts in social media marketing. They included three custom homes, a major residential renovation, two potential development deals, and one craft brewery project that led to five more brewery-related projects. It's a list that continues to grow to this day.
How did we do it?
The vast majority of this work came from building relationships with key influencers. We would work hard to identify ideal clients, build a rapport over time, and turn a few into ambassadors for our brand. These were people that we “met” online and then continued to build the relationship offline, in real life.
One of the custom home projects came to us as a result of a blog post that I wrote. It was only tangentially related to the eventual project but they read the post, identified an expertise, and related to the personality that they sensed through the writing.
You’ll also notice that the craft brewery led to several subsequent projects. After we completed that first project (and had a beer named after us) we posted photos and tweets about it. Word quickly got around the tight-knit Indianapolis brewing community, and we became an integral part of that niche market.
In the first four years, those social media marketing efforts alone generated about $4.25 million, established us as noted ‘localvores,’ and contributed to AIA Indiana granting ONE 10 STUDIO the Distinguished Firm Award in 2012.
Many of ONE 10 STUDIO’s brand ambassadors still refer clients and projects, enabling the firm—now beyond the expiration of those NCAs—to capitalize on an ever-expanding network of repeat clients and referrals.
So that’s how we did it. We organically built a network of influencers, established ourselves as experts in our field, and entrenched ourselves within a community. These are all things that your firm can do. Be smart, develop a strategy, and then follow it. Above all else, just get started. I’ll steal a line from Internet Business Mastery: “Make progress, not perfection.”
This story also appeared in the AIA CRAN Chronicle for July 2016.
Jeff Echols is the senior strategist and storyteller at Indianapolis-based digital marketing firm echoEngagement.