Since social media has been the topic-of-choice lately, we took some time to chat with an “expert” to learn best practices. We chatted with Aiden McGuire, contract furniture manufacturer KI's public relations and social media “guru” to get some specifics on social media for interior design.
I Imagine: How did KI become a social media expert in the interior design industry?
McGuire: We're honored to be thought of as “experts” in social media by our friends in the design community. We've made great strides internally and externally with our social media program over the past few years and it's rewarding to see our customers and industry take note. However, the word “expert” is a funny one. After all, can one truly be an “expert” in social media when it continues to change and evolve at such a breakneck pace? Social media has been a wonderful way for us to deliver on our brand promise on “Furnishing Knowledge” and meet our customers where they're at. It truly has become a viable, memorable and visual way for designers to interact with KI.
It all started with the creation of KI's “Social Media University” program, an ongoing webinar series designed to educate our own employees about the value of social media and how it can help them be more effective in their roles at KI. But a funny thing happened along the way. The more we educated our own employees, the more we realized that this thirst for social media knowledge was so much bigger than KI. So we extended an invitation to the entire interior design community and began partnering with industry thought leaders like Design Milk, Metropolis Magazine and the International Interior Design Association (IIDA) to provide workshop seminars geared towards learning how to leverage these new tools-after all, if we're going to get smart about social media, we thought, why not get smart together?
I Imagine: So, how do you come up with a great social media campaign?
McGuire: Great social media campaigns can only be achieved when a company fully immerses itself and has the willingness to experiment and step outside its comfort zone. When coming up with a new campaign, we start internally by brainstorming ideas (I keep a notebook with a shortlist of ideas at the ready). For an idea to make it to the next round, it has to be authentic, memorable, visual and highly sharable. We then experiment with the best ideas until we land on something that we think has legs. And then, it's all about experimentation, trial and error.
These days, it seems as if all memorable social media campaigns have great #hashtags. As a general rule of thumb: we've found that the shorter the hashtag, the better. #iSpyKI, for example, is a playful hashtag that we've been encouraging our sales reps and customers to use when they spot KI products “IN THE WILD.” With it, we're saying, “If you spot a KI product, shoot, tag and share it!” It's a fun way to interact with our customers and it's been highly successful due to the fact that people are tethered to their mobile devices and addicted to mobile photography.
Last year at NeoCon, KI introduced #NeoConography-an entirely new category of mobile photography designed to showcase the creativity of architects and interior designers at NeoCon. This social media photo contest invited NeoCon attendees to share their best NeoCon-related shots with KI via Twitter, Facebook, Instagram or Pinterest for a shot to win one of five $100 VISA® gift cards. It allowed KI to be interactive, highly visual and memorable with customers in a non-traditional way and was wildly successful. Last year, 350 photos were tagged with #NeoConography. This year, more than 700 have been tagged and shared. And for the first time ever, this year KI was the second most Tweeted and discussed brand at NeoCon on social media, only behind NeoCon itself.
I Imagine: When you have these non-KI hashtag campaigns, how do you associate them with the KI brand?
McGuire: I think most people automatically think a hashtag must have the name of the brand included. However, that's not always the case. If you create a hashtag without referencing your brand, you may lose some recognition at first, but if it's a strong campaign, you will establish yourself as someone who is willing to engage with other brands and manufacturers. A more generic hashtag (IE: #NeoConography) that is all-encompassing is more likely to be picked up and shared by a broader audience.
One thing that has worked well is continuous experimentation. You have to be willing to try something new and float ideas around because you never know what success you might find until you experiment.
Another way to associate your campaign back to your brand is encourage your own employees to participate, as well. By doing so, they stay informed and become brand ambassadors, sharing your information and messages with their followers.
I Imagine: What makes a hashtag-or any campaign-engaging?
McGuire: Sure. You can judge a campaign based on “LIKES,” “COMMENTS” and “SHARES.” But ask yourself: is your campaign visual? Does it resonate with your target audiences? Is it fresh? Memorable? And dare I say it, SHARABLE? If you've answered “YES” to any or all of these, you've likely got an engaging campaign. And a good place to start is with a great hashtag on Twitter that leaves room for conversation (literally-you only have 140 characters!) and encourages customers and participants to get social. A long hashtag-#NeoConography, for instance-may be long, but if it's playful and memorable, it resonates with people.
I Imagine: When you're a business just starting a social media presence what should you do?
McGuire: Start small. Dream big. A good tip for companies who are just now delving into social media (Twitter, especially) is to manage their accounts through programs like HootSuite to monitor what's happening in real time, particularly during tradeshow season. “Feedly,” an RSS feeder, when used in conjunction with “Buffer” (app) allows you to schedule content across different topics that are of interest to you and lets you plan your approach each week.
Three of the most important things to remember when forming an online presence are to consistently strive to be authentic, transparent and visual. This ensures you'll able to speak in your brand voice in ways that personally resonate with your customers.
I Imagine: How many people should you have dedicated to the social team?
McGuire: There is no one-size-fits-all approach. And that's the beauty of social media. For a business, the whole idea of starting from scratch can be overwhelming. The challenge for organizations is how to manage their time against their social media programs. It's helpful to find a social media guru within your organization who is already familiar with the tools and is ready and willing to help lead the way.
I Imagine: How do you get your company engaged and excited to participate?
McGuire: Be all-inclusive with your social initiatives and be committed to helping educate your employees understand the value of social media and how to use these tools effectively in their roles. Then, immerse it everywhere-from email signatures to company newsletters to tradeshows, PR events and more.
A great example of this is how we've approached LinkedIn with our employees. We helped every employee create a LinkedIn profile. We brought in a photographer so that our employees could have their headshot professionally taken. We created “how-to” handouts and hosted informative webinars. In other words, we “walked the talk.”
I Imagine: What are your thoughts on tactics that let you pay for likes?
McGuire: Rather than casting a wide net and just scooping up every like we can find, we try to hone in on the architecture and interior design community. We do not pay for likes or follows. When it comes to growing our social media base, we want our following to be organic and authentic, and to grow that following through word of mouth and through the memorable engagements we have with customers.
I Imagine: Which platforms are best for the initiative of growing your business and why?
McGuire: Because interior design is such a visual industry, outlets like Pinterest have become an inspirational platform. We've learned that when our potential customers want to find new product ideas or project inspiration, they're creating a pinboard. For example, if someone is pinning for a new hospital they're designing, they're pulling in ideas for products, colors, lighting, and furniture. If we aren't out there, we aren't included in that conversation. Being able to share the beautiful images we have across Pinterest means we're better able to connect in a more visual way.
Video has also been very powerful for KI. We leverage video as often as possible. In fact, our YouTube channel has more than 160,000 views and 300+ videos all categorized by searchable playlists. We feature testimonial videos, new product videos and more. And we like to have FUN with video, too. We recently strapped a GoPro camera on our paintline in the manufacturing plant and created a time lapse showing what it's like to be a product at KI in a fun and visual way. That's what it's all about for companies in interior design like us. Experimenting with variables such as platforms, hashtags and audiences will help you better understand what techniques are best for your business.