I’ve had an interesting comment on my ‘How do Architects use the Internet’ post, which I thought warranted a post in its own right.
Ram Mudumbi says:
Hi Su, many thanks for your blog, it has given me a great introduction to the current state of play with social networks in the industry. My only comment wrt the ‘humanising’ aspects you suggested would be to say that, in general, arch’t. offices seem to be happier that only senior “people”, (directors & partners) with ‘fee getting’ ability liaise with prospects. (I have seen quite a few allowing that level to have Social Network links on the company web-site) I suppose this gives greater board level control over how the firm is perceived in the world generally.
Here are my thoughts on this question.
You’ve touched on an interesting issue about humanising architectural practice. You’re right that many people who own and run firms (just like other companies) would prefer to keep their customer contact at a senior level wherever possible. That way it can be more easily controlled. The appearance of the practice can be managed by the partners/directors, who don’t need to worry about what their employees might say to clients. I’ve worked in a firm like this, where all client liaison was focused through one of the directors.
The other advantage practice owners see in controlling client contact is that they feel that this way, employees can’t ‘steal’ clients, taking the work away and starting up their own practice. This way of setting up a new business is not uncommon.
Both these concerns are valid, but to attempt to control employee behaviour in this way is ultimately futile. Employees are human beings, liable to make human decisions, and they must be seen as assets, not liabilities. Employers have to learn to exploit these assets for mutual benefit, if the employee is to become valuable to the firm, and the firm is to stay a home to the employee. It has to be a two-way relationship between adults.
If you work in architecture you’ll know that in any small town, all the young people who work as employees in architecture practices know each other. They may have worked together before, they meet up in the pub and at other social events, and they may even have relationships with people in other practices. It’s a very small world we work in. As a result, your employees probably know a lot more about your competitors than you do! They also know who is paying well, who is having trouble, what the different markets are looking like. But all this information will not be available to a controlling employer who sees their employees as ‘CAD monkeys’ rather than as useful sources of information.
These networks of connections are extremely useful for employees. They can keep in touch with people in other firms whom they know have expertise in certain types of detailing, for example, who have experience in key regulations, or who have contacts in other businesses, such as a good tiling supplier. These benefits are clearly a key element of practice for employees, and these networks benefit employers too.
Stop People Talking online
Some employers don’t want their employees to be visible online (use Linkedin, for example) because they may be poached by other firms. They don’t want their employees to use twitter, Linkedin or Facebook because they don’t think they can control what is said about them, and unlike being said in a pub or in a phone call, a public comment on twitter or facebook could be seen by absolutely anyone.
These are also legitimate concerns, of course. It is true that your employees could damage your reputation hugely using social media.
But the fact is, they could do this anyway. The fact is, they are online, whether you like it or not. Your employees might be saying damaging things about you right now.
Wouldn’t it be great if we could change this about, and have your employees saying great things about you online, right now? Wouldn’t it be useful for them to be advocating what you’re doing, being seen working effectively with clients, in a way that can be found by people looking for an effective, reliable architects practice. What a powerful demonstration of credibility that would be.
How to manage an architects brand online
The only way to manage your brand reputation today, good or bad, is to have a professional relationship with your employees, one built on mutual respect and trust.
To have such a relationship requires:
- You have an agreed contract of employment;
- You have agreed, workable conduct policies;
- Employees know what is expected of them in terms of professional behaviour; and
- Employers support their employees in career development and fulfilment.
Its not hard to teach your employees about how to manage their privacy online, and how to ensure they don’t inadvertently bring the practice into disrepute (and thereby break their existing contract of employment). This is easy stuff, something I cover early on in any in-house training session.
The difficult thing is for employers to accept that your employees are your most effective client-winning tool. That everything they do, be it a line on a drawing or an email or phonecall, is a reflection of your brand reputation. That they are an asset in which you must invest, or they will move to a firm that invests in them better.
I wrote about one practice that does this – Liz Lake – some time ago. You can read the post here.