How A Design Influencer Uses Social Media

Newport-based designer Barbara Segal talks about how social media can be a small business owner's best friend.

How are designers using social media? We spoke with Barbara Segal, the principal at Noir Blanc Interiors, an interior design firm that specializes in coastal homes, yachts and high rises and has offices in Newport, Chicago and California. She’s worked on projects like a residential unit for the Ocean House and has long been active in social media, teaching it at trade shows.

Segal founded Interior Designer Chat, a virtual gathering that has been taking place on Twitter for nearly three years and has an international following. In 2012, she was named a top Twitter influencer in design by Decorex International.The chats take place Tuesday nights at 6 p.m. Eastern Standard Time, and can be found by the hashtag  #intdesignerchat, and by following Segal at @noirblancdesign. Last night's timely topic? "Safety and Design: Pretty Isn't Enough."

When did you get interested in social media as a forum for design? Three years ago I found myself being here a lot and the economy was down. My nephew had just graduated from Roger Williams as an architect and he and I used to talk and talk about the business being soft. So I started doing chats in the social media branding, blogging area, because I have a PR background and I had this epiphany one night that this would be a way for me to share with other designers and architects and people in the home furnishing industry. I did a lot of reaching out and no one wanted to team up with me and went against me and things, but I pioneered forward with my vision and it took off right away.

With my background in radio and publishing, I very much had a vision of how social media works and where it would go. So I built it on all platforms, which was really key to the success of where we’re at now. The topic is very timely, what’s important that week. We have guest hosts that can draw: I just had a professor from Naples last month, I had this young designer of the year from Dubai a couple of months ago, I just had a HGTV celebrity. I’ve had Architectural Digest 100—those are celebrity designers.

It’s like a class. It’s 6 o’clock Eastern Time Tuesday nights, but it’s international. We have people from Australia, we have people from London. It will be three years in June. As it’s developed, I’ve added ambassadors because the one thing with Twitter—if you go into a chat, and people don’t say hi to you, it’s like going into a cocktail party and people aren’t nice to you. You have to feel welcome to stay. So a huge part of the success is that we’re welcoming, and the other part of the success is the who, what, why, when and where and promotion. For three years, we’ve had hundreds of people get on, every single Tuesday. It just really surprises me because even in the dead of summer when you think people would be playing tennis or doing stuff with their kids, they get on.

Why is the chat good for business? Basically, everyone that comes into our chat is a professional and a small business person. You don’t know who is reading your tweets. Someone might see your tweets and hire you. One tweet goes to the world. That hour of every tweet you’re tweeting, you’re promoting yourself. And that’s why you should be really careful in terms of what kinds of Twitter chats you do go into, because you don’t want to be talking about babies and poop and have it go out to the world when you’re trying to be a businesswoman. When I worked in radio and publishing, it would take me weeks to connect with people. On Twitter, one tweet can connect you with someone you would have never ever connected with. And it is funny when you meet people you’ve connected with on Twitter, you feel like you know them.

What other types of social media do you use, and what do you find them useful for? I’m a huge fan of Pinterest and the reason is, besides the fact that it’s visual, is it fuels your Twitter followers. It’s unbelievable. There’s a guy in Newport, for example, and he’s a history buff and he is pinning like crazy about the Gilded Age. You can go down the rabbit hole—you dig deeper and deeper to find out more about the person. So the discovery level of Pinterest is amazing. You start following their Twitter, you start following their Facebook, you start following their website. Celebrities are on there. It’s growing, growing, growing.

For a business to be pinning through the day is a key attraction. Part of the mistake people make is they pin all at once. It’s just like Twitter—you have to do it slowly or it’s spamming. So I’ll pop on there a couple of times a day. If I’m at a coffee shop, I’ll do it from my phone. But I try to have floating pins going through the day because of social media. It fuels your Twitter, it fuels your Facebook, it fuels your business. It puts you out in the forefront. Facebook, I do strictly for business. I am not a personal Facebook fan, I think it’s too much information right now. It’s a publicly owned social media platform, but it’s still number one and I strongly believe in it for business.

And Google Plus. I believe that every blog post you do you immediately put it up on Google Plus because obviously Google is the SEO search engine. A lot of people are doing these Google Hangouts right now, which is video, and I think there’s a real future in that, but because I’m from Hollywood, I can’t stand that they’re not done professionally. Brooks Brothers does a terrific job with theirs, Obama does a terrific job with his…it’s pretty cool.

Anything I haven’t asked that you think is important that you might have missed? Small businesses need to embrace Twitter, because it’s free and it can grow their business like nothing else. It’s also a news source. Everybody’s mobile nowadays and everybody’s on Twitter. It and Facebook are really the most powerful tools out there for business nowadays. A lot of people wanted to think it was a trend. And I’m older and back in my day, people thought a cellphone was a trend, people thought a fax was a trend. It’s not going away. It’s here to stay.

And pictures on Twitter are just amazing for businesses. If we’re focusing on design, for interior designers, we’re a huge reach on Twitter. If you have a blog, you can post your blog posts throughout the day. You can show pictures of your projects, of your houses, of your rugs—people love pictures. And we’re all friends with one another through this, when we go to the Boston Design Center and the New York Design Center today, we all feel we know each other. Internationally, we’ve connected through it. It’s an incredible way to promote your business.

 Correction: An earlier version of this post included the incorrect year for when Segal was named a top influencer by Decorex International.




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