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Mar 19 2009

Live from HOK – guest post

This is a guest post by John Gilmore (right), one of the HOK corporate communications team behind the Life at HOK blog that I wrote about recently. I asked John if he would like to explain more about how the site (and other HOK Web 2.0 activities) is managed and policed and what business benefits have been achieved to date. Many thanks to him for contributing.

Life at HOK – the HOK perspective

You’re right that HOK.com is a slick tool for showcasing the projects our people have designed. But with our Web 2.0 channels – especially the Life at HOK blog – we want to shine more light on the people behind those projects and the design culture here that allows them to flourish.

Our hope was that blog would help change the external perception from “HOK the big company” to “HOK the creative people.” We thought that if we could set up a talented team of bloggers with a good blog tool, the pieces would fall in place in terms of helping with recruitment and retainment, appealing to future business partners and clients, connecting with traditional and new media members (everybody Googles!), and even strengthening our internal design culture. As you know well, today’s Gen-Yers are living their lives online and we needed to get in on these conversations. Life at HOK also serves a practical purpose as a launching point for all HOK’s Web 2.0 properties, which we call the “HOK Network.”

How the blog is managed

Managing the blog and our other HOK Network channels is a team effort for our Corporate Communications group. We do have a Facebook Queen (our youngest, 20-something team member), a Chief Executive Tweeter (twitter.com/SomeChum) and a Lord of the Flickr. But it’s all very much a collaborative effort.

Launch

  1. HOK’s Communications team joined with our HR group to recruit 20 bloggers representing offices in the US, Canada, London, Hong Kong and Singapore.
  2. We wrote a “Blogger Manifesto” outlining the creative vision and goals for the blog.
  3. We wrote an HOK Blog Policy covering topics like etiquette and confidentiality. Although bloggers always decide what to post, they committed themselves to client confidentiality, professionalism, mutual respect and good taste.
  4. The Corporate team hosted a two-day, in-person training session in St. Louis for bloggers to learn about the concept, to receive training on how to use the software, and to get to know each other. A half-day team-building session included visits to several local HOK-designed projects.

Ongoing Training/Support

  1. The team developed a Help Blog that houses troubleshooting tips and suggestions and that provides a resource that helps newly added bog team members get up to speed.
  2. To keep the blog front of mind with bloggers, the Communications team sends a Weekly Blog Update to all bloggers. This message includes pats on the back, blog traffic reports and content suggestions.
  3. The Communications team edits posts (after they are published) for grammar, punctuation and spelling – never for content.
  4. The team will hold semi-annual WebEx meetings with all bloggers worldwide to continue the conversation begun at the launch and to get their ideas on what is working well, what could be improved and what could be the “next big thing.” The first meeting is in April.

Business benefits/results

Benefits to date have included:

  • More than 43,000 visits and 120,000 page views from people in 60+ countries since the blog launched in October 2008. Daily traffic is on a steady uptick, with recent spikes of more than 1,000 daily unique visitors. More than 1,000 comments have been posted to the blog.
  • Individual posts and the entire blog have been featured in several publications and web sites. See a recent story from Architecture magazine, and an earlier post on the AIA’s blog.
  • We have received several inquiries from people looking for jobs.
  • Online friendships and conversations are better connecting HOK’s people around the firm and, as people get to know each other, fostering true collaboration. We received this comment from one of Life at HOK‘s most prolific bloggers:

“The communicative pool of collaborating talent is what I enjoy most. I like to know that I’m working alongside many individuals who have the same ideas, passions, and problems that I face every day, but with perspective and cultural insight that I may not have. The commonalities of our personalities are almost scary, regardless of geography. It’s also a neat vehicle for younger architects and designers to break away and see the big picture of HOK, and at the end of the day we’re just cool people doing cool stuff.”

  • We currently are adding several bloggers from around the firm who have asked to join the team. This will ensure continuity and the emergence of fresh voices.
  • Working on the blog together has helped our Communications team better connect with HOK’s HR group and other initiatives. We realize that our efforts often overlap.
  • We are beginning to work with designers and practice groups on incorporating these Web 2.0 tool into their marketing and project work. PlanningNet, for example, is a blog-powered internal workspace for our global Planning team.
  • In the long term, we believe that the potential for the type of radical and open communication taking place on the blog could help HOK move from a hierarchical firm-wide communication model to something more organic and unstructured.

Incorporating social media is clearly the future of Corporate Communications at HOK. We have a small team – four people based in St. Louis, Mo. — serving the considerable and constantly growing communications needs of more than 2,000 HOK people in 24 offices on four continents.

Meanwhile, with the ongoing decline of traditional media, there are fewer outlets picking up the stories we pitch. It makes sense to move toward a model of self-publishing on the HOK Network. Especially when this model allows us to, in true Web 2.0 fashion, engage other HOK employees peers, industry leaders and ultimately even clients in creating authentic user-generated content.

Paul: We would love to read more about what other large AEC companies are doing with Web 2.0 stuff. We have lots to learn. Thanks for starting the dialogue!

Many thanks again for this fantastic guest post, John. It makes an excellent case study that I am sure other businesses can learn from. I am currently talking to a couple of other AEC firms about their web 2.0 activities and aim to showcase their efforts shortly – ultimately developing a series of case studies of AEC web 2.0 adoption in the pwcom 2.0 blog.

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