Instagram Stories are a fantastic social media channel for architecture practices.
They tick so many boxes on our marketing plan.
In this article, I’ll walk you through the reasons my clients and I are talking about Instagram Stories more than the feed looking forward to 2020.
The most common issue architecture firms have with being consistent on Instagram is a lack of regular content. It’s an obvious problem. Our projects take ages to finish and shoot. Small firms might only have a few projects finished each year.
It’s pretty tricky to ration our projects out bit by bit over the course of a year. You can repeat images, use inspo, or do little tricks to extend that shelf life as best you can: but that’s not for everyone.
Most of us just want to post fresh images when we have them. But then we end up posting 10 times per year, so our account doesn’t grow. How frustrating! But, that’s okay. It’s not that we don’t have other stuff to post. We definitely do.
Look at any architect’s iPhone photo gallery and you’ll see thousands of site visit photos, material samples, sketches, furniture and so on. The problem is that this stuff just looks rubbish. It doesn’t belong in the Instagram feed. The feed is a beautiful museum. As a collection, it represents our firm. We want it to be curated, refined, and deliberate. We want it to delight new visitors with the best possible first impression of our work, and our aesthetic. This is the crux of the problem. Our projects are shot professionally, beautifully. Everything else, shot on our phones, looks chaotic and messy.
Enter Stories. Instagram Stories are culturally different to the feed. They aren’t a beautiful museum, they’re breaking news. They’re what’s happening right now. They’re fast, messy, and to the point. They’re daily. They’re chronological. They’re behind the scenes, the “making of”.
All of this means that your iPhone shots now have a place to live. There isn’t any expectation of high production value in Stories. You don’t have to elaborate on your images with lengthy captions (thank god!). Stories are designed around taking plain, off-the-cuff images and video from your phone and enhancing them with stickers, tags, text and scribbles. This makes them accessible. Your audience has a different set of expectations. They’re looking for quantity, personality and regularity.
With Instagram Stories, the tools to give them that on a daily basis are at your disposal – while your feed can remain focused on strong, beautiful images on a slower schedule.
Pick an architecture firm at random, and what do you see on their Instagram? Typically, it’s just finished project photos and site visits. From a potential fan or client’s perspective, that’s disappointingly one-dimensional.
Here is a non-exhaustive list of the kind of subjects that can, and should be turning up regularly in your stories.
- Finished photos
- Site visits
- Media coverage (magazines, online, Instagram features)
- Original content (your blog posts, newsletters etc)
- Events, conferences, talks.
- Research and teaching.
- Culture: restaurants, art, music.
- People we meet: collaborators, mentors, clients.
- Office culture: space, team, dogs, daily routine.
- Inspiration: travel, books, podcasts.
- Politics: causes, passions, campaigns.
A three-dimensional, living and breathing architecture firm that captures and shares a variety of content spanning the categories above will win the hearts and minds of like minded clients hands down.
Stories are for insiders. They’re aimed directly at your inner-circle, the interested, the people who opt-in to find out what you drew today, and what progress has been made on site. What books you’re reading. Where your travels are taking you.
It’s a miniature Grand Designs episode about your firm, and it airs every day to hundreds or thousands of people. I don’t know about you, but I’m pretty blown away that something like that exists for architects in 2019 – it was unimaginable just a few years ago.
The competitiveness of the Instagram feed algorithm has robbed us of any real continuity with our followers.
They’ll see an image from time to time, but they won’t see the full story from week to week. They’ll miss a lot of what we post.
Instagram Stories are more consistent. Readers who post regularly to their stories will have noticed how the same people view your stories repeatedly, without fail.
That loyalty matters. It means a deeper relationship with a narrow set of your followers. They’re the 1%. The super fans. The segment of your broader audience who are most likely to consider engaging you in the future.
We need a channel that will cater to them, that will allow us to stay top of mind with the people who matter. Stories are great for that.
In my consultancy, emails drive most of my new business. I send a blog post, I remind people I exist, and they reach out to start working together. Timing is everything.
Instagram Stories serve a similar purpose for design brands. They expose your audience to your process again and again. They change beliefs at scale if your stories inform and educate. They remind people that you exist.
Tone and context
Stories are the DVD extras to your Instagram feed. They’re the making of, they’re personal, and most of all, they’re lighthearted.
What is the mood of Instagram Stories? They create a context of fun, intimacy and informality. This is the biggest challenge for architects. Stories demand the softer side of your brand to shine through.
The increased attention on brand “tone of voice” in our industry has been great for our websites, and captions – but when it comes to Stories, I believe we need to be a bit more flexible.
Architecture brands err on the side of serious, professional sophistication. I don’t advise firms to extend that to Stories. It’s just not the place for it.
Here’s another way to look at “tone of voice”. We speak and act differently with our mates at the pub than we do when we’re visiting grandma, right? We’re real people.
Every social media platform has it’s own culture. It’s own mood. Twitter is sarcastic and pithy. Instagram is optimistic and upbeat, yet totally narcissistic. Reddit is argumentative and dismissive.
The context of where we’re talking matters as much as what we’re saying.
I advise clients to avoid the impulse to overthink how they plan out their stories. We don’t need to set a detailed weekly regiment of two finished photos, one site visit, two lunches, and one event.
That kind of logic just doesn’t make a lot of sense with stories.
There is no such thing as a “best number of stories to post each week” or “best time to post a story”. I mean, you’ll find that kind of information out there, but it’s complete BS.
Instead, just commit to variety. Review the list of available content types I posted above, and decide which elements are relevant to your firm – then make a mental commitment to capture and share those things, in real time, from day to day.
It’s not about catering to the perceived interests of a large, mysterious crowd of “followers”. It’s about showing whatever the hell you want to show, and giving people the choice to self-select themselves into it if they like it, and skip if they don’t.
The handful of people who really like what you’re doing are the ones who matter.
The increasing popularity of Instagram Stories has been a windfall for architecture firms. It’s taken the designerly vibe of Instagram and injected storytelling, continuity, intimacy, informality, spontaneity and variety to the mix.
Instagram is great for architects. It’s 80% of what marketing a small architecture firm is all about today.
But, a common refrain in our industry has been the deleterious effect of Instagram on the substance, depth and meaning of our work.
The feed was limiting. It was set up for aesthetic prowess. Simple geometries. Bright colours. Architecture that presented best on a 2.5 inch screen.
Stories are broad spectrum. Right now, you can do anything. Stories allow a broader diversity of communication styles to shine through.
They teach the world that we’re not all the same. There’s more than one genre to get excited about.
If you’re into big-thinking TED talker types, there’ll be architects known for that.
If you’re into fashion, food and culture and you’re looking for an architect who shares your interest, you’ll be able to discover that too.
If you want someone who is deeply obsessed with materials and landscape, you’ll find that as well. That diversity is a good thing for architects. I’m excited to see what you guys do with it.