New York-based architect Marica McKeel shares how she gained over 58,000 (!) LinkedIn followers, and her approach to social media.
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Listen: 15 (ish) minutes
Marica is principal architect for Studio MM, a practice she founded six years ago and expanded last year to a team of four. Studio MM designs contemporary new homes, renovations, and furniture in and around New York. Alongside her thriving architectural practice, Marica leads by example through her approach to social media. She started a blog in 2013, creates practice videos, and has over 58,000 LinkedIn followers.
Hi Marica, I’ve been following your work – particularly your approach to marketing/communications as an architect – for a long time. Can you tell us about your business and approach?
Marica: I am the founder and principal architect for Studio MM. We’re a small firm based out of New York City and we focus on modern residential design. Most of our clients are in New York City but we also have projects outside New York, where I get to design new houses and not just remodel – that’s a lot of fun. We also have projects throughout the eastern United States.
As far as my approach to marketing and communications, I would say that as a small business, the only way to really get your name out there without spending a lot of money is through blogging and being on social media. When I first started my firm, I knew I needed to learn a lot about the social media world.
What was one of the first things you did at that time?
Marica: Funnily enough, my sister said “you need to get on Twitter!” “There’s no way I’m going to do that,” I said. Finally, I did, and I realized that for me, especially as a small firm, Twitter was where I met colleagues and other architects. It became my network. Through joining the conversation there, I met Mark LePage and Enoch Sears and it made a difference to how I started marketing my firm.
Enoch was the one that said, “you’ve got to start blogging.” Again, I said “No way!” He explained the pros and then I started blogging. Then I needed to get everywhere on social media to promote the blog. I think it was about six months in when someone called and she had read all my blog posts. She said she felt like she knew me and we’d make a great team. That’s when I realized – ah-oh! – I’d have to keep blogging because obviously it was working.
You have amassed more than 58,000 followers on LinkedIn, which is extraordinary. How did this happen?
Marica: Getting into LinkedIn was a little tricky because I know you have to be native on each platform. LinkedIn used to be more business focused and so I approached it by talking about my business but then I realized that if I wanted to get clients or to speak to clients – which is my ultimate goal in everything I do – then I needed to talk about architecture. So we started putting out content to see the response. Even though architecture isn’t necessarily what, let’s say, finance people put as one of their interests, when the big bright images come across, they were eliciting a big response. So I kept posting images and also tried to mix it up through posting interesting articles, sketches and what we were working on. We tried to show what it’s like working with an architect. Everything is about educating people about architecture and celebrating architecture.
Late last year LinkedIn approached me to say they liked the content I was posting. (I think they were ramping up their app or something new.) They said if I kept putting out content, they’ll put my name out as one to follow in the industry, as a thought leader.
What value has LinkedIn brought your business?
Marica: We’re still working on that! All the followers are definitely getting people to my website and getting my name out there. I believe my main followers are architects but obviously the more people who are interested in a post, the more the post goes around. I had one potential client contact me through LinkedIn but otherwise I have not mastered that part yet.
Of all the different marketing and communications approaches you’ve tried, what do you think has been the most successful?
Marica: I would have to say the blog. Similar to the LinkedIn approach, the blog is about celebrating architecture, about being positive, and explaining what it’s like to work with an architect. I did a five-part series, Working with an Architect. That’s when I had the most response with potential clients, non architects. Then, rather than just keep passing that around I transitioned into What to Expect. With a What to Expect post, I follow one project I’m working on looking at what it’s like for a client to work with me. That’s something I can put out on LinkedIn and all the platforms and I can also pass on when I have a conversation with a prospective client.
With the blog, the people that call my office and have read the blog, which is most of them, they already know me or they know a lot more about me. I’m very open about how we work, and with the blog I can show that.
The other thing I try to keep in mind when I’m posting: if a client has found my name and wants to research me, they’ll go to Facebook. It sounds strange, but when you look at someone’s Facebook page you almost feel like it’s more credible than their website. You can put anything on your website but you have to be real on Facebook. I try to at least have Facebook in everything I do as another representation of our firm, our portfolio, the way we work.
How much time do you spend doing this work for your business?
Marica: To do everything I wanted to do and have a whole strategy in place for various platforms, I found I was spending over 60% of my time on social media. Now I’ve hired someone and she does the social media with me and for me. In the beginning this was really difficult and I didn’t think it was going to work. Not necessarily because I’m a control freak but more because it’s my voice and I spent a lot of time building my voice and building up the trust I have with my followers and clients. So I didn’t want to hand that over to someone, but at the same time I wanted to do architecture. So in order for me to focus I needed to hire someone. The way I was able to make it work is we started out with a google doc, a shared file where she’d put every single thing she was going to post anywhere and I could go in and look at it and say yes, no, or we should change this.
It’s still my voice, still my inspiration, and now it’s become our inspiration and our voice. I can still change things but it’s definitely our team putting out the information now. That’s not to say I’m not the one on Twitter and on Instagram, it’s just that some of the posts that come out are scheduled for me.
For someone with a small practice who perhaps is just starting out with social media, how much time should they spend and where should they put their energies?
Marica: I would say know where your clients are but for the long time I said that my clients weren’t on Facebook. But even if your clients aren’t going to search for residential architecture and find you on Facebook, that may be where they look you up to see what you’re like. So I’d say that’s important.
Twitter for me was important because I needed the interaction with architects. I still don’t think my clients are on Twitter, nor do I think that they may ever see my Twitter profile, but they could. Now LinkedIn is great for interaction with architects too. I still think it’s a difficult place to find clients though I would really love to find clients there.
We do a lot on Instagram. I really like it. I started out just using it for myself so then when people find me there, they hopefully see that I enjoy it and it’s not about posting this at this time, it’s really about life and who I am.
Where do you find inspiration, or are there any particular resources you tap into for ideas?
Marica: Everywhere! I’ve found sketches one of the easiest things we do. It’s not necessarily inspiration but social media platforms respond well and clients especially love it when you put up a sketch. We’ve all got sketches. It’s what’s on your desk. #Frommydesk is a hashtag we use sometimes. That kind of thing is easy to find and it doesn’t have to be a daily article.
ArchDaily, Architizer, Design Milk and Dezeen are always go-tos. We’ve started something called House of the Day on Facebook. There’s a bunch of us that post a house of the day every Monday and we have themes. We’re going through the alphabet right now. Once a week, I love to put a sketch up. Once a week, I want to put a house up. These kinds of things keep it interesting and at the same time you don’t have to think up something new everyday.
How do you measure success with your social media approach?
Marica: The more likes and followers we get, we like, but I had a client recently say “I like everything you post. Every house you put up. All the material. All the photos.” So I always have to stop myself and remember that my potential clients love the inspiration, the images and the photos [from all projects, not just Studio MM’s]. When clients respond like that, it’s a success. Obviously when someone calls because of something I’ve posted, that’s success too.
What are future trends for architects (re: marketing and communications)?
Marica: We need to get a lot more architects on social media. I have architect friends that are not on Twitter and still don’t think it’s a good idea. So I’d say the first thing we need to do is get people into social media and understanding that it’s not a trend and not going away and something that they need to do. As far as other trends, I have downloaded SnapChat and I’m going to learn how to use it. I’m not sure that there is anyone to share my SnapChat with yet but that’s my new trend.
Thank you so much again Marica for taking the time to share your experiences all the way over in Australia with us. Please come visit if you come our way and we look forward to watching from afar your continued success. Thank you!
Marica: Thank you so much and I would love to come visit. I’ll take you up on that.