Are you on LinkedIn? Facebook? What about Twitter? If you’re an A&D professional or manufacturer, your answer to these questions is most likely no. Although designers are the pioneers of style innovation, the industry as a whole is ironically far behind on the social media front. However, tech start-up company Designer Pages (DP) is aiming to help the industry get up to speed via a continuing partnership with the Merchandise Mart (MMPI) to seamlessly integrate online sharing opportunities at NeoCon®.
The collaboration started back when DP exhibited at MMPI-produced NeoCon® 2008. Having piqued MMPI interest with their socially powered search platform for architecture and interior design products, the two companies began exploring the potential benefits a partnership could birth.
It soon became very clear that MMPI and DP had a similar goal to help manufacturers reach buyers. “They’re doing it with showrooms and we’re doing it via pixels on the screen,” explains Jacob L. Slevin, co-founder and CEO of DP. “The partnership is to really think about how we can merge the physical and digital search experience, starting with tradeshows but then taking that to showrooms, design centers, as far as we can.”
NeoCon® 2009 saw the partnership’s first leg. DP sponsored a Twitter-inspired installation—a scrolling, visual Twitter feed to display all tweets being generated from the show floor. DP also arranged for a group of Citizen Bloggers, comprising a group of over 30 design students, to cover the event and actively tweet their product and event findings. Overall, the “experiment” was a huge success, with a minimum of one tweet per minute for three straight days!
“Last year everyone walking by was like ‘What is twitter?’ Sadly, most people in this industry didn’t know what twitter was or what it was used for,” says Slevin. “The purpose of the installation was to express how twitter is a tool to generate useful information… how the Web can change and help the way we work. It was able to help thousands experience NeoCon® as though they were in the Mart themselves.”
Designer Pages will naturally seek to build upon last year’s success by expanding the existing value propositions available to both attendees and manufacturers at NeoCon®. And they’re doing so by adding yet another key player to the collaboration team—Contract magazine—to help generate content and support for NeoCon® Live (live.neocon.com), the show’s virtual press room and a one-stop-news-shop for the A&D community. The online platform will aggregate and display live editorial content, photos, and videos from a variety of design blogs, publications, and tweets side by side and encourage others to join in the conversation.
More than 40 Citizen Bloggers, including Contract magazine associate editor Stacy Straczynski, will again serve as the quarterbacks for NeoCon® Live’s real-time updates, as they tweet about the new products and seminars they attend. As an added bonus, the three most prolific design student bloggers will win an opportunity to write a regular blog for Contract’s TalkContract.com blog for an entire year to expand their blossoming design career.
According to Slevin, The NeoCon® Live portion is very much tied to the Twitter application from last year in that both aim to showcase that in an environment like NeoCon® all attendees can offer valuable information to collectively paint a picture of the day’s events.
“In collaboration with the Mart and Contract magazine, I think we have the support to really gain more participation, more contributions,” Slevin says. “What we’re really trying to do here is create a global feed of all of the editorials of every source so attendees can access it very easily. Having Contract contribute is going to validate that exercise very, very deeply.”
Contract is also helping DP gain support for the new My NeoCon® component, the event’s first online tool that allows the A&D community to plan their show experience on a printable NeoCon® Guide of the Mart, as well as preview all of the products showing on the floor. The tool also includes a heavy social component, which allows users to share their product picks and NeoCon® Guide with colleagues. Contract editor-in-chief Jennifer Busch recently was highlighted as one of six design celebrities who are actively sharing their NeoCon® Guide at my.neocon.com. “As we celebrate our 50th anniversary and look to the future, Contract is happy to be working with Designer Pages to help push NeoCon—and the industry—into the digital age,” says Busch. “The opportunity dovetails nicely with our own goals of expanding our online presence and offerings.”
And even more capabilities will be available at future NeoCon® events. DP and MMPI are already planning a mobile integrated product search that will enable attendees to snap photos of their favorite products and automatically save them to a virtual NeoCon.com and DesignerPages.com workspace. Other ideas being passed around are mobile tools that also show you nearby similar products at other showrooms, as well as product specifications.
Overall, the key to acceptance of these new features among the social media-hesitant A&D community will be a gradual integration and providing the “what’s in it for me factor.”
“We’re trying to be simple but drop in a bit more socially engaging concepts than people were familiar with in the past…Here we’ve created something for them to help explore the Mart that’s a part of the basic registration process. It’s not about whether they want to join the social Web or not; they’re just doing it,” says Slevin. “And we’ll continue to nurse them a little bit to taking the next steps to sharing information.”