Into the Cloud
Online presence is no longer optional for business success.
By Douglas Quenqua
American Society of Interior Designers
GOOD INTERIOR DESIGNERS don't succumb to fads, so they can be forgiven for initially resisting the social media movement. Facebook and Twitter certainly carry the hallmarks of here-today, gone-tomorrow silliness. But they also don't appear to be going away anytime soon. Despite its origins as a glorified hook-up tool for Harvard students, Facebook now claims more than 300 million members—roughly the population of the United States—with people over 35 as its fastest-growing demographic. In 2008, bloggers earned a mean revenue of $61,000, according to a recent report from Technorati.
Most striking, social media now accounts for 50 percent of all Internet traffic, according to marketing research firm Next Century Marketing. Sometimes referred to as “the cloud,” this ever-expanding virtual community means it is more likely than ever that when someone is on the Internet, he is engaging in some kind of social media.
Like most business people, interior designers feel the pressure to get involved.
“I have a lot of clients ask me, 'Oh gosh, I've been told I need to start a blog,' and 'Do I have to have a Twitter feed?'” says Laura McDonald Stewart, ASID, the founder and editor of online magazine Plinth & Chintz and a part-time publicist for interior designers. “They get wrapped up in the frenzy.”
And with good reason. Having some kind of social media presence is vital, say communications and business experts. But it's important to choose the right platforms, and to understand what they can accomplish for you, and what they cannot. For business people, there are three basic platforms to consider: Facebook, Twitter and blogging. Ideally, your business should be on all of them and using them in concert.
It is essential, however, to understand how social media is different from the rest of the Internet. In fact, the key to understanding the difference between social media and a simple Internet presence—say, a company Web site or banner ads on Google AdSense—is all in the name: it's social. Social media is a two-way conversation, meaning you are expected to listen as much as you talk.
Take Facebook, for example: Interior designers should consider a presence on the site a necessity. Next to Google searches, Facebook is one of the most common methods for finding people or businesses online. But remember that the public's expectations of a business are different in social media: It is no longer enough to push out a message; you are also expected to listen.
Regardless of whether you are starting a Facebook page or a blog, you have to be prepared to keep your end of the conversation going. “Realize that you're going to have to devote a certain amount of time every day or every week to doing this,” says Stewart. “What are you going to write about? What's your focus? What's the point, and who's reading?”
If you are looking to build a brand online, there are few tools as powerful as a blog. They allow you to share your viewpoints and vision with the world, and provide a dynamic means for engaging in conversation with others who share your vision or want to learn more about your work. Any interior designer running his or her own firm is a natural candidate for starting a blog.
“As a business owner and principle designer, you are intrinsically saying, 'I have something specific to offer the world, which is why I opened my own business and am not working for someone else,'” says Julia Molloy, president of Molloy Management Group, Industry Partner of ASID, a interior design consulting firm in Portland, Ore. “Now it's time to extend that to the digital format.”
Keep in mind that maintaining a blog requires a fair amount of work, particularly if writing does not come easily to you. And if you lack the self-control to resist blogging about your frustrations with clients or vendors, a blog can get you in trouble. Regardless of which social media platform—or platforms—you choose to utilize, designers should always keep in mind that, “It's about creating a powerful, integrated online presence,” says Molloy. “Your Facebook page, Twitter, your blog if you've got one, they should all be lined up and working together.”
Douglas Quenqua is a freelance writer based in New York City.
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