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Advocacy for Architects

Social media advocacy marketing just doesn’t work for design firms. The content being posted is just too subtle, or too confidential, and the stakes far too high.   

Carolyn Brundage

After all, what employee of an architectural firm in his right mind would risk blogging, sharing, tweeting or posting about a project voluntarily on his own Facebook page, or Twitter account? It’s a nice idea, but first consider the downside of all that free marketing, the possible negative consequences of channeling employees’ social media engagement on behalf of the firm.

Say, for example, a project manager innocently posts a homemade video of a just-completed LEED city hall and community center on his Facebook page. His excitement about the project goes viral: family, friends, colleagues, vendors share and tweet like mad. So far so good. But then comes the hammer blow. His Honor the Mayor happens to see the video and goes nuts when the video comes to his attention. In his view the project isn’t complete until it’s been capped by an iconic, forward-looking sheet-metal sculpture by Richard Serra that’s still in transit!

The embarrassment, recriminations, the dusting off of confidentiality agreements! Given the brouhaha and back and forth with the Mayor’s office, any exponential marketing power that lay within social media advocacy on the part of employees would soon come to an end for this hypothetical firm. All 175 employees would come away with the same thought: tsk, tsk, why put yourself out there on an individual social media account? Better to keep quiet. Better to confine myself to cute cat photos than share what I love most: my work. Better to let Corporate Communications broadcast the company line and move on.

“Frankly, I was surprised how much employees want to participate in social advocacy programs, how active they are,” says Carolyn Brundage, whose social media marketing firm, Oak Street Social, is based in Chicago. “Dell Computer is doing it now with all 10,000 employees. Given four hours of training, they all become evangelists for Dell, brand ambassadors that, when you add Dell vendors, comes out to be quite a lot.”

Brundage’s clients range from engineers to designers. All, she says, can benefit from the unfiltered shares by employees. “The mistake many companies make about social advocacy is to simply push employees out there as brand ambassadors without doing anything for them in return,” she says. “It really is a two-way street. There are so many ways to recognize someone and that recognition’s priceless for some. Consider publishing a Leader Board in a newsletter of top sharers on Instagram, for example.

Abigail Carlen
Abigail Carlen

“There are a number of software programs out there to help larger firms manage and promote social advocacy, using hashtags, curating content, and building advocacy teams. See”

So how about that content? If content is king how do you help employees develop it? Abigail Carlen, AIA wrote and put into practice the first firm-wide social media plan for Perkins + Will back when social media was just getting on the radar. Now she’s heading up her own New York City firm, Turquoise Marketing, focusing on social media for smaller firms of two to five people.

Carlen sees showing and sharing process as a huge, undeveloped opportunity for architectural firms. Not the finished product, but what goes into it.

The backstory may seem too laborious or obtuse for insiders to contemplate sharing. But for outsiders, including potential clients, being in on an architect’s creative process can lead to powerful, personal levels of engagement and reach. A video of architects leaning over drawings discussing fenestration may out-compete one more perfectly lit portfolio shot among billions appearing on Designboom. “Sure it’s a beautiful building,” says Carlen, reading her market’s thoughts, “but how did it get there?”

One of her clients has been developing a large following by sharing process: The Up Studio, an architecture, interior, and brand design shop based in Long Island City. “While 90 percent of these followers won’t hire you, it’s the 10 percent that might,” Carlen says. “Name recognition. People have to know who you are to hire you. It’s the first step.”

So how would this sharing process work from a social media advocacy perspective? How to protect the Big Vision while at the same time having brand ambassadors get the word out in their own unique ways? “You could take a lot firms’ websites and replace them with another and you wouldn’t know the difference,” says Carlen. “Many make the same claim: We’re collaborative. We pay attention to details. We listen to our clients.”

“Especially when there are a number of partners involved in many lines of work, arriving at a single vision can be difficult. But if firms really pay attention to what they are passionate about it’s doable. Founders and other leaders almost invariably have some kind of vision about what they are doing.”

Once the vision sinks into the company culture, some training for employees in best practices helps a lot, says Carlen. These are simple things, but easy to ignore or forget: responding to compliments, inserting relevant hashtags, creating easy-to-find links back to the official site.

Given the vision, best practices, along with proper recognition and incentives, we would have to respond FALSE to our opening statement. Social media advocacy can indeed work, providing much-needed visibility for the firm in design’s increasingly crowded social media space, as well important ways for groups and individuals within the firm to share their expertise, their process, and their pride.


Carolyn Brundage of Oak Street Social:

Abigail Carlen, AIA:

Designboom Magazine:

The Up Studio:


© Louis Postel 2017, first published by Graphisoft USA