By now, the vast majority of design professionals are well aware that cultivating a distinctive and engaging social media presence is one of the most crucial steps in developing a successful marketing plan. But where to begin? Anyone researching social media strategies will be confronted with a dizzying array of tips and tricks, an endless (and often inconsistent) barrage of how to post, what to post, when to post and where to post. The sheer volume of information and advice can be incredibly daunting.
Perhaps the best place to start is figuring out what sets a successful kitchen and bath design social media presence apart from other industries. What platforms should designers focus their energy on in order to reach the greatest number of potential clients? What types of posts garner not only the most attention, but the most profitable attention? How can designers develop a distinctive voice for their social media in order to create greater brand awareness?
This month, KBDN chatted with a few of the kitchen and bath design industry’s savviest social media influencers in order to find the answers to some of those questions.
Instagram: @jeanstofferdesign / @stofferhome
Few kitchen and bath professionals exemplify social media success more than southwest Michigan-based designer Jean Stoffer, of Jean Stoffer Design. With well over 90,000 Instagram followers and counting, Stoffer has built her business almost entirely on social media word of mouth.
“[Social media word of mouth] has been so key, I cannot overstate it,” Stoffer says. “I moved to Michigan from the Chicago area three years ago. My business was solely word of mouth prior to moving. I did not quite know how to break into a brand-new market. Enter Instagram. I started posting pictures of projects, and it was picked up by some very large accounts and the work was reposted, and it has just been an upward trajectory ever since.”
Stoffer was naturally drawn to Instagram above other social media platforms due to its visual nature. “Since Instagram is photo-centric, it made the most sense to choose that platform,” Stoffer says. “With stories, [Instagram] is versatile and offers great cross-linking to our own website and collaborating partners.” According to Stoffer, high-quality photography is one of the most important assets a designer can bring to social media. “It would be impossible to overstate how important the quality of the photography is,” she advises. “I have learned what compositions my audience likes, what type of lighting, etc. I have learned some valuable guidelines from my son and daughter-in-law (interiors photographers) about how to set up a shot and how to edit it. You could have designed the most amazing space, but if it’s not presented well, it will have zero traction.”
She adds, “I only present images of the kind of work I want to get more of. I send people to the contact page of our website, where we are able to quickly determine if they are a potential client.”
Stoffer’s distinctive social media presence relies not only on a beautifully curated page full of project photography, but also on the Instagram “Story” function, a feature that enables users to post temporary content that is deleted after 24 hours, similar to Snapchat. “I ‘story’ about work in progress and personal experiences. These can be still shots, or up to 15-second movies with each story,” Stoffer explains. “My stories are more casual, more ‘here’s what’s going on at this site, or at the offices,’ etc. I never edit any photos that go on the Story – it’s more raw and unfiltered.”
As for her feed, Stoffer endeavors to post five to seven high-quality photos per week. “It’s much more professional looking [than the Story]. But I still keep the caption warm and personal. I have discovered that potential clients feel like they already know me by the time they make their initial contact. In a way, it’s a little like a personal referral.”
Twitter: @Stacy__Garcia / @KBtribechat
Instagram: @cabinetmakers / @kbtribechat
Facebook: @GarciaCabinetmakers / @kbtribe
Co-owner of Garcia Cabinetmakers, Southern California designer Stacy Garcia is perhaps best known as the founder of KBtribechat, a popular hour-long open industry discussion that takes place every week under the #KBtribechat hashtag.
Garcia first began actively using Twitter to promote the custom cabinetry business she owns with her husband in 2010. “What I found there at the time were industry professionals and brands randomly connecting,” she recalls. “I was making many good connections, but Twitter seemed limited. I wanted to have real-time conversations. It was apparent that if we organized our Twitter time, we had a lot of industry resources, insights and expertise to share between us.”
Eager to engage more actively with the kitchen and bath community, Garcia started the KBtribechat hashtag, Twitter account (@KBtribechat) and blog (https://kbtribechat.com/) in April 2011. “I come up with the topics of discussion and ask industry pros to host in their area of expertise,” says Garcia. “The questions are announced Thursday mornings on the blog for those who want to prepare ahead of time.”
Since its inception, KBtribechat has drawn attention from not only kitchen and bath designers and interior designers, but also dealers and distributors, major manufacturers such as Caesarstone and Rev-A-Shelf and industry organizations such as the National Kitchen & Bath Association (NKBA). The weekly KBtribechat blog post is typically sponsored by major brands, including Whirlpool and Elmira Stove Works.
Although she is active on several other social media sites – “As a business owner, I think it’s important to show what you are about online and this [requires] being active on multiple channels,” she remarks – Garcia is drawn to the ease of making connections with like-minded individuals on Twitter. “Most of my kitchen and bath industry social media connections originated from Twitter,” she says. “I have never focused on numbers of followers. If you are part of our industry and follow me on Twitter, I make a point to follow back. My strategy is to be social on social media. I share industry friends’ blog posts and interesting tweets. I try to be generous with likes and comments.”
Designer and trained architect Michele Alfano, of Michele Alfano Design, curates one of the most interesting and inspiring Instagram pages in the industry – and at over 17,000 followers, potential clients are taking notice.
Uniquely, Alfano’s Instagram page consists not only of project photos, as is the industry tendency, but visually arresting detail shots and a selection of candid photos. “I have a kaleidoscope of interests and like to strategically feature my experiences in a patterned, ever-changing way,” she notes. “I do not like to keep a strict schedule. So each day is different, but [there’s] a consistent pattern of content in regards to design trade shows/events, design products or fashion I like, people I meet or images of my own artwork.”
Alfano, who holds a Master of Architecture, tends to share photos of striking architectural details, in particular. “I bring an architectural eye to all things design, whether it be at trade shows, or personal experiences. I think this is what makes me stand out,” Alfano says. “I am drawn to each detail and generally like to feature what I think is interesting about what I’m looking at. I guess what I think is catchy is also what catches someone else’s eye while looking at my social media.”
Alfano largely credits her social media success to her understanding of her client base and potential audience. “I think designers first need to figure out what they stand for and who their client is,” she advises. “Then curate images to attract the most valuable audience to potentially turn followers into revenue.” She also has benefited from the more social aspects of social media: “Friends on Instagram and Facebook have helped me to grow my client base by either tagging me to answer their friends’ design questions, or referring me to someone who is looking for a designer.”
More than just pretty pictures, Alfano’s approach to social media necessitates diligent posting and scheduling. “I try to post one Instagram a day around 4-5 p.m. and stories a couple of times a week,” she explains. Her Facebook and other social media pages, as well as her blog, Mod Design Guru (moddesignguru.com), channel followers back to her Instagram page and website.
For Alfano, social media is a means of not only putting her name on new clients’ radar, but also a way to ensure that the partnership is a good match. “Instagram and Facebook definitely help future clients get to know who I am as a designer and as a person,” Alfano says. “By the time a client is ready to hire a designer, they have a better understanding of who I am and can decide if we are a fit even before they meet me.”
Instagram: @modenus / #designhounds
Twitter: @Modenus / #designhounds
An experienced kitchen/bath and interior designer in her own right, Veronika Miller has made a name for herself as a design industry social media, networking and marketing expert. The founder and CEO of Modenus, a digital resource for designers and those seeking design inspiration, Miller is an expert on the specific social media and digital communication needs of the design industry.
According to Miller, what sets social media for the design industry apart from other industries is “the visual aspect, first and foremost. It’s great for designers to be able to establish two things: their authority on the subject or a specific niche, as well as their aesthetic.” Miller points to Instagram and Pinterest as two particularly powerful platforms for designers to utilize. “[Designers] can use the platforms to curate a specific aesthetic and a specific style to help people find them online…The other thing that we find that a lot of designers do successfully is that they actually show their process. So it’s not just about the pretty face at the end, because a pretty portfolio is one thing, but you have no idea what the budget and the existing condition were.”
Additionally, says Miller, for designers seeking to court brands’ attention and become tastemakers/influencers, “social media is a great way for them to let brands know what they’re doing.” Because major brands’ marketing departments are often so distant from the end specifier, Miller believes social media is an excellent way to bridge that gap.
For a designer to have an Instagram or other similar social media presence “where they’re saying, ‘Hey, Miele, I’m planning on using you, here’s the concept for a project I’m working on’ – reaching out to brands early on – oftentimes can result in really meaningful collaborations,” Miller believes. For this reason, she encourages designers to tag their project photos with all of the brands specified in the project.
Charlotte, NC-based designer and blogger Lisa Mende’s influence spans multiple social media platforms. Mende’s bold, southern-flavored designs and curated collection of inspirational materials, as well as her bright and engaging blog, have attracted a vast following. “I think Instagram and Pinterest are both major social channels a designer should currently utilize,” Mende shares. “That being said, my blog ‘Lisa Mende Design’ has played a key role in building my brand and positioning me as an influencer in our industry.”
She began blogging in 2011 during a sabbatical from the industry due to a tragic personal loss. “I often wondered if my followers felt sorry for me and so followed me for support, but then I realized I had a voice and something to share that others might find meaningful,” she recalls. “Blogging isn’t about what I’m doing, it is about sharing information freely with others. If you can offer a service to others without cost, people will gravitate to you.” Mende’s blog features a wide variety of content, including commentary on current trends, coverage of industry events and project before-and-afters, as well as book reviews and giveaways.
Becoming an industry influencer is not just about gaining followers on social media, Mende advises. “An influencer is someone others look to for information. No one starts out as an influencer – an influencer evolves over time. One must attend markets both domestically and internationally to gain knowledge of their industry. It is knowledge that creates the influence, then sharing that knowledge with others creates a reciprocal relationship between the influencer and the industry.”
In addition to sharing her industry knowledge, a great deal of Mende’s effort on social media and on her blog is focused on maintaining an authentic, honest voice. “I never post about people or products I don’t believe in,” she says. “My vetting process for working with brands is what keeps me authentic…I only work with brands I believe in and use in my projects or even in my own home. My readers know this, so it has built credibility for me. I think my authenticity is apparent, and followers, as well as potential clients, feel this in the way I share content and promote products or people on my blog or social channels.”
Maintaining a consistent voice across all of her social channels and blog necessitates the use of an editorial calendar and careful organization. “[I post on] Instagram as early as possible in the mornings. I also link these posts to Facebook and Twitter. I use a social dashboard to create the posts for some of my channels. I keep a digital record of topics that I refer back to after so many months because readers are always changing, therefore my topics can repeat but be altered slightly so I am not being redundant…I probably spend 15-20 hours a week on social media.” She adds, “However, client work must come first, and you have to figure out ways to work the social media in so that it doesn’t take away from your main work.”
Finally, Mende says, it is crucial to remember that social media is a form of networking above all. “Always remember: It is social: Use good manners and respect others. Post with dignity and always think about what you have to offer others. It will always come back to you threefold.” ▪