People Don't Follow Brands, They Follow People
Architecture firms all market the same way. You build your company social media pages, get photos of your projects taken, and share them. Rinse and repeat.
The focal point is on your company, not you, or your team.
High professional standards, efficient technology and a monopoly amongst a handful of influential architectural photographers has flattened the difference between firms to almost nothing. You are subject to the random discovery of algorithms, gatekeepers and the fickle tastes of the public.
The relationship is only skin deep. Nobody knows what you believe in.
Besides, people aren't interested in what companies have to say.
Authenticity and personality is everything. People do business with people they like, and that will never change.
The architecture profession hasn't woken up to how important this cultural trend is for doing business in the 21st century.
People do business with people they like
Beyond your projects, it's important that people know your design philosophy, how you arrive at the decisions you do, and whether they'll like you when they ultimately decide to cross your threshold for the first meeting.
Your website and photos can give a glimpse of this, but they can't build likability. You build it through trust, through wit, through having interesting things to say and fun ways of looking at things.
It's not about one time effort, either. You can't write an article or record a youtube video and rely on it for a year. It's about standing for something and being available all the time when your followers need someone to turn to for advice.
Why content marketing for your brand feels like a chore
Writing for the company isn't just hard because nobody is interested in following it, but it's downright impossible because nobody in your team will be interested in writing for the company.
Don't believe me? Tell your team that they have to take turns writing posts for the company blog. Watch their faces.
It has taken me some time to learn, through advising my clients and seeing problems with strategy adherence, that just because everyone agrees that the firm 'should' be talking about an important topic, it doesn't mean that anyone in the firm is personally passionate enough to do the work.
Articles, videos and podcasts sit on the TODO list forever, because nobody is personally invested to follow through. They're doing it to make their boss happy. Creating content on topics that don't really matter to you is torture, for you and the reader.
If nobody in the firm has a personal passion for the topics your company stands for, don't expect anyone to take ownership of your blog or social pages.
Because of this gap between personal passion and brand passion, nothing ever gets produced.
How to put people first and deal with the passion gap: The One Direction strategy
The music industry's greatest innovation was boy bands. Those geniuses knew one thing, teenage girls have different tastes.
Your fans do too, and one brand can't be all things to all people.
Bring together a diverse group of people to share their authentic selves in the public eye, and the sum becomes greater than it's parts.
One Direction has a different heartthrob for every teenage girl, whatever they're into. The happy-go-lucky boy next door. The moody rebel.
Similarly, the Wu-Tang Clan gathers together a bunch of powerful identities. Again, something different for everyone. A dozen well known personalities, different passions, different influences. Each have developed their own followings.
Your firm should be like the Wu-Tang Clan. The bigger your team, the better your opportunity to take advantage of this strategy.
What does your architectural Wu-Tang Clan look like?
A few firms experiment with shared blog contributions, Instagram takeovers and staff profiles - but it's better to establish independent social pages, domains and mediums for your team that are seperate from your company pages.
Again, people want to follow the shenanigans and opinions of Jenny the Architect more than MetroCuboid the architecture firm.
Trust them to run their channels independently and say what they think, and people will appreciate it.
Sally wants to talk about the possibilities of timber apartment buildings. Set up a blog for her to write about the latest technologies, projects and ideas that people who share her passion will care about.
Use your corporate pages to link to Sally's content and support what your team is creating.
Johnny cares about education, and wants to interview experts in that industry to find out more about how the built environment can stimulate learning. Buy him a microphone and setup a podcast, distinct from the company.
Peter wants to talk about the inefficiencies of urban sprawl. Maybe he needs a blog for that on his own domain, but also a youtube channel to make short videos about dense liveable cities that are more emotionally engaging with his audience.
Maybe he needs a video camera, but more likely, he just needs a couple of hours without distractions to work on it each week.
Your job, as director, isn't to dole out topics like homework - but to unearth the passions of your team then support them with tools, encouragement, flexibility and resources to build their own social media brands around whatever topics they're interested in.
There is a certainty to the conventional playbook, because it worked in the past, but the cost of certainty is opportunity. The opportunity to be yourself and share your opinions with the world is everything, whatever type of work you're interested in.
Engage in a constant communication and education effort and it will pay dividends in more, and better behaved clients who trust in your ideas, philosophy and processes.
When potential clients are reading your team's output for a while, they will build a level of trust you'll have trouble replicating with any other strategy. They'll want to listen.
Even though each of you will speak in a highly distinct voice, each day you'll get inbound inquiries via each of your personal channels. It just depends on what you've written, where it was posted, where it was found.
Just like 1D, some fans will follow all of you, but most will have a favourite.
All that you can do it put helpful information out there, and count on it being found by people who need help.
The Value Of Architecture Is What The Market Pays For It