The classic answer is : "Marketing is what you do to make the phone ring."
The short answer is "name recognition".
The long answer is "recognition as an expert in a type of building or service".
How does Social Media fit in?
First let's be clear that we are talking about Marketing, not Sales.
Social Media is not a Sales tool. Unfortunately, you are more likely to reach 'influencers' with Social Media - not the decision-maker (who is not likely to make a decision based on a tweet). So we are definitely talking about the short and long answers describing marketing, and mostly the long answer - building recognition as an expert.
With Social Media your content can be pushed out to a wider audience than you might reach with email or waiting for an organic searches to find your website or blog. But your credibility is tied to publishing.
The timeline or stream of Social Media means that posts must be made regularly, measured in hours rather than days to be effective.
The interesting thing about Social Media is that your ’reach’ goes beyond your immediate audience (Followers, Likes, Connections, Circles). By reach I mean all the people who ultimately are exposed to your information. If you send an email to 100 people, they all get the email. That is the strength of email. A few may forward it to others. So your audience was 100, but your reach was maybe 105. Interestingly the people who received the forwarded email are more likely to pay attention to it because the act of forwarding it acts like a recommendation. The reach with Social Media can be many times greater than email and enjoys the same ’recommendation’ aspect.
Here’s how reach works with the four main Social Media services. In each case we assume your audience and everyone else's is 100. And remember that it is much easier to share the information with Social Media than it is to forward an email.
With Twitter, if just one person 'favorites' or 're-tweets’ your information, you have reached all of his/her followers, too. In addition your information is in the public domain and by use of hashtags might be noticed by an indeterminate number of people. We’ll say your reach is 202. 100 followers + 100 secondary followers + 2 public domain searches. If you interact with the tweets of a person with a large following, you might extend your reach by attracting new people to your audience.
With Facebook, the results are similar to Twitter. A difference is the Friend Request, which might not be granted. With Twitter, you simply choose to be a follower.
With LinkedIn, your reach is extended by groups that you join and participate in. This takes more effort. However, if the groups contain potential clients, that makes it very worthwhile. Your ultimate reach might be higher or lower than Twitter or Facebook, but it might also be more valuable.
With Google+, the results are similar to Twitter and Facebook with a key difference. Your circles are drawn from your email correspondents, somewhat like Facebook, AND; you can follow other people like Twitter; AND you have the option of also sending email to your circles at the same time. The ability to define your audience on the fly is unavailable with Twitter, and too clumsy in Facebook to be a tool. Like most things Google does, G+ is more complicated, less intuitive, but ultimately more powerful.
A problem with Social Media as a marketing tool for architects is that its too much like SuperBowl advertising for your architectural firm (without the expense). The overwhelming majority of your ’reach’ is not interested and never will be.
So my conclusion is that Facebook and Twitter are easy, but fairly ineffective. LinkedIn is business-oriented and more powerful, but more time and effort. Google+ may just have the best mix of targeted audience through email and additional reach through the public Social Media aspect.
Here’s Architekwiki’s Google+ link. I think I'm going to be getting more involved with G+.
The key to benefitting from Social Media depends a lot on whether or not you are publishing your own information about your area of expertise. If you aspire to be recognized as a leader in your specialty, Social Media can enhance the perception you want to achieve. For content to be worthwhile it has to tell your audience something they would like to know about a topic that they care about. Even a mundane specialty, say school design, can do this. But a generalist will struggle to find a topic that appeals to consumers of architectural services (a tiny, tiny segment of the population). A strong specialty, say cancer research labs, should have an easy time demonstrating expertise. Re-publishing information of interest to your audience is also beneficial in connecting you to the specialty/niche you are building.
If you don't have a specialty/niche, Social Media might be more of a distraction than a help in building name recognition. Project signs, networking and email campaigns will deliver better result if you are consistent.
Social Media can assist you in building a reputation for an expertise, but you will need to do the heavy lifting of building that specialty, which is a very worthwhile endeavor on its own.