Can architecture practices harness the power of Instagram for business development?
Guest Post by Laura Berman
2020 marks the tenth anniversary of Instagram, the fastest growing social media platform. Originally set up as a platform for sharing photographs, it a morphed into a multi functioning app which brands and businesses have embraced as an essential part of their marketing toolkit.
‘Image is king’ on Instagram, and as architecture is a highly visual experience, it is the perfect platform. Architecture practices of all sizes can use it to share their work and reach new audiences, supplementing a traditional website approach.
With the current pandemic putting a pause on in-person new business activities, there is a greater pressure on marketing teams to push content out on social media platforms. LinkedIn is the ‘go-to’ professional networking site, but can Instagram be used as means to generate new business for an architecture practice?
Architecture is a vast industry, with practices working across a range of sectors including residential, commercial, culture, retail, hospitality, education, transport, healthcare, urban design, and civic. Some practices might specialise in one sector, others might work across multiple sectors. Practices can be under ten people or over 6,000. So there is not a one-size-fits-all answer to marketing. But if any practice decides to start an Instagram account, they should all be asking ‘why?’.
What are you selling?
For products, such as clothes, makeup, or toys, Instagram can function as your shop front. It can be space to tell people about your brand and at the same time be a point of sale directing shoppers to your online shop. Architecture is a service, so the method of engaging a client is slightly different.
There are over 1 billion people on Instagram, and the competition to get viewers’ attention is high. Architecture practices do not just have to worry about other practices’ content, they also have to be visible over the vast numbers of magazines, influencers, and joe-publics who are posting about the built environment.
Andrew Teacher, Founder of communications agency Blackstock says you have to understand the user journey of someone becoming a customer or client, and this will be different depending on which sector within architecture you are working in. Individuals looking for small, domestic design solutions, possibly will have a personal account that could select an architect through Instagram engagement. Start-ups such as MUTT Architects have found the platform effective in generating commissions, being a place to share work when writing isn’t a designer’s forte and perhaps not having the budget for paid for websites or PR support. Organisations that commission architects on large scale developments will have a corporate account run by the marketing tea,, so it is very unlikely that the people who are making the final decisions are sitting on the other side of their Instagram page.
Part of the brand
Measuring the ROI of public relations is notoriously difficult, and especially for large architecture practices it will be almost impossible to measure the specific impact of Instagram on generating business. But all marketing channels play an important role in the perception of your organisation. For larger architecture firms, where Instagram may not lead to direct commissions, it still has value in how people perceive you as a brand. Large architecture practices who are know for their distinct design aesthetic, such as Zaha Hadid Architects who boast over a million followers, can use Instagram to reinforce this. Andrew Teacher believes that the act of having an active Instagram account can be beneficial. It shows that you are in touch with and understand modern society – the very society that will be using the buildings you design.
The people’s vote
When it comes to measuring the success of a building, and its architect, the decision ultimately lies with the user. Thousands of people taking photographs of a building and posting it to Instagram doesn’t mean the architecture is good; it doesn’t even necessarily mean the people who took the photograph went inside the building. But architects, such as Stride Treglown and UNStudio and OMA/AMO are exploring what Instagram content can tell you about the user experience. This creative approach to post-occupancy analysis could be a route to generate new business indirectly through Instagram.
Clients, especially in the hospitality and retail industry, are now asking for their architects for ‘Instagramable’ designs. This approach to design has come under some criticism for encouraging superficial design, but others argue that we have always designed buildings to be viewed and Instagram is just the viewing portal of today.
A picture is worth…
As the adage goes, a picture is worth a thousand words. But even when it is, should we post it? Businesses around the world jump to set up an Instagram page and start posting content because they feel like they ‘should’, and architecture firms are just as guilty. To get true value out of Instagram, you should approach it just like any other marketing plan, asking the key questions: who are my audiences, how do I best reach them, and what is the content they want to see? Depending on the scale of an architecture practice, and the sectors it works in, there may be more or less value in terms of getting new business and generating income.
As we increasingly rely on digital engagement, and it might be a while before architects can get people physically into their buildings, Instagram is a great tool to showcase work. When a social media platform is free and it is hard to place an ROI value on one specific marketing channel, it is easy to overlook this and think that the output is an ‘easy win’. But marketing resource does costs time and money – if you are going to invest in it, it is important you understand what you are going to get out.