If there is one thing that remains constant about the Internet, it is the pace at which it changes: Fast. Just when you think you have a lock on one technological advance, something newer comes along. Google trumps Yahoo. Facebook shuts out MySpace.
As daunting as it is to stay abreast of these developments, it's clear that websites, blogs, e-newsletters, and social media platforms are shaping today's business. For those who embrace the Web—lighting designers and educators, manufacturers and sales representatives—its impact goes beyond simply marketing products and services; it's enriching the lighting community with new ideas and connections.
WEBSITES In our fast-paced world where first impressions carry a lot of weight, a website often is a company's first introduction to potential clients and customers. In fact, they have become a fairly ubiquitous part of present-day business practices as it's now unusual to find a company that doesn't have one. In a community composed of architects and lighting designers, what your Web presence looks like is as important as what it says. For manufacturers, a website also is a way of keeping customers up to date with their latest product offerings and company news. For designers, it's a way to communicate a firm's portfolio. Ultimately, having a website is like having a receptionist on call 24/7 who can answer questions and provide basic information, regardless of what hours your office is open.
BLOGS First developed as individual personal diaries, blogs now are a quick way for firms to post news and project updates. For example, Cambridge, Mass.–based lighting design practice Lam Partners launched a blog in June. The firm recently had redesigned its website and brand identity, but it was looking for a more active way to reach a broader audience. Ready-made blogging software eliminates fussing with the HTML code every time you want to change content, and Lam Partners uses Wordpress to run its blog (blog.lampartners.com) as a subdomain of the firm's main site (lampartners.com). Because the software is easy to use, the technology becomes background to its real strength—content.
More in depth than a newsletter and quirkier than a magazine, the blog shows off the firms' personality with articles on sustainable design, daylighting, and a “photo of the month” feature. Marketer Carlene Geraci, an associate at Lam Partners, developed and runs the office blog, but posts are written by everyone in the 15-person office. “The blog is a means of getting our ideas in print. It keeps us relevant and timely,” Geraci explains. “What began as an internal thought to educate each other about cool links and new products now reaches an international audience.” According to Geraci, clients read and track articles on the site, although she concedes it is too soon to judge if the web traffic is increasing Lam's project list or client base.
If nothing else, the blog ties the firm to the greater lighting community. Lam principal Glenn Heinmiller recently wrote a piece on the energy-efficent Solar Decathlon houses that were showcased on the National Mall in Washington, D.C. (The firm was one of the sponsors of the Team Boston project.) The week-and-a-half long event, hosted by the U.S. Department of Energy, pitted international teams of students against each other. Magazine editors, reporters, and citizen journalists were all on hand to document it on their blogs and Twitter accounts, as were lighting designers such as Heinmiller.
Manufacturers also are using blogs to great effect. One example is lighting manufacturer Lighting Services Inc. Based in Stony Point, N.Y., the company is known for its line of tracklighting products that is well-suited for museum lighting applications. Its blog (blog.lighting servicesinc.com) discusses several recent museum installations that incorporated the company's products. The blog is a helpful resource that goes beyond self-promotion and provides valuable information about the lighting installation and selected luminaires.
ONLINE COMMUNITIES The social network site Facebook is ideal for building online communities. Facebook friends flock to companies' and organizations' fan pages for events, listings, links, and photographs. For instance, the International Association of Lighting Designers (IALD) has both a fan page and an IALD student group page. When the IALD hosts a conference, the fan page documents and promotes the event. Participants also can use it as a forum to connect with other lighting designers.
The more professionally oriented site LinkedIn helps jobseekers and employeers network, and it is a great resource for getting input from colleagues on important issues using the various discussion groups. Both the Illuminating Engineering Society and the IALD host discussion groups on LinkedIn. While these forums are not active on a regular basis, the posts are a mix of general inquiries and links to articles. There also are LinkedIn groups started around specific topics, such as the lighting educators and researchers group started by Edward Bartholomew, a teacher at the Integrated Design Lab at the University of Washington in Seattle, and the museum and art gallery lighting group, which was started by Lighting Services Inc president Daniel Gelman. “From our standpoint, it's a great opportunity to connect with people we might not have been able to reach before,” says Gelman. “It's a way to provide a forum and speak openly.”
For quick posts, Twitter seems to have redefined the web landscape. What Twitter does best is real-time “micro-blogging.” In 140 characters or less, it connects users who subscribe to “follow”—in Twitter-speak—other accounts. The IALD has a Twitter account (@IALD) and encouraged attendees to “tweet” from the sessions at the IALD Enlighten Americas conference (Oct. 8–10), thus broadcasting ideas and information to the field and to the public at large.