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Low Energy Buildings, Storytelling, and 5 Ways to Promote your Project. Professional content

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By Will - October 24th, 2012

Conveying the benefits of home performance, and high performance homes, is one of the central challenges facing our industry. As is so often said, home performance is "hidden in the walls," so telling compelling stories about successful low energy home building projects and energy retrofits is a crucial part of spreading the gospel of home performance, and getting people to understand how truly compelling high performance homes are. Good storytelling also spreads best practices, and ensures that the public gets the maximum educational benefit from each project.

But what's the best way to tell the story of a low energy building project? We've seen homeowners, builders, architects, organizations and independent enthusiasts across the country using a variety of online media to tell the story of their project, and each has its ups and downs.

Between blogs, websites, social media, photo galleries, and forums, there are a lot of channels to choose from. In this post we take a look at a handful of the low energy homes and deep energy retrofit projects that are being documented online, discuss the different channels that builders, remodelers and homeowners are using, and discuss some of the benefits and downsides of each.

Independent Blog

Setting up an independent blog to document a low energy home or deep energy retrofit story is one of the most popular ways to do so. The Almost Passive House is a good example, as is the 100K House (which has now wrapped up, but you can still read through the archives).

Ups and downs:

  • A blog is heavily chronological, so key phases of the project are typically moved "down the page," and are difficult to find.
  • A blog is social, but not as inherently social as a Facebook page or Pinterest pinboard -- it's possible for people to share, engage, etc., but not quite as easily as if it just existed on social media.
  • You have some control over the design (depending on the platform you use), so you can control your content and how it's displayed more than if it were on a Facebook page or Pinterest pinboard.

Facebook Page for the Project

A Facebook page dedicated to a particular project can be a great way to call attention to the project on the world's biggest social media platform. The Mallett House Deep Energy Retrofit at 57 Depot Street here in Maine has a Facebook page which is the go-to place for pictures, q&a, and other info related to the project, and it's worked out pretty well. But there are some other things to keep in mind before focusing exclusively on Facebook:

  • Like a blog, it's set up chronologically. There are ways to avoid this being a detriment (highlighting posts that are particularly important so they show up at the top of the timeline, for example), but it still poses something of a challenge.
  • Facebook allows you to create photo albums, which can be a good way to highlight the different phases of the project.
  • It's inherently social, and very easy for people to engage, share, etc.
  • On the downside, it all exists on Facebook. If you're a contractor, builder, energy rater, etc., and you're hoping to get more business out of the project, Facebook makes this a little difficult. Also, if you don't like Facebook, it might be tedious to be chronicling the whole project here.

57 depot deep energy retrofit on facebook

Pinterest Pinboards

Snug Planet has been using Pinterest to document Deep Energy Retrofit projects, and they're doing an awesome job. Pinterest is the hippest new social media platform, and it's very cool to see a home performance company jumping on board and seeing how they do.

A few +/-'s of Pinterest for documenting low energy home projects:

  • Pinterest is highly visual, which could be an advantage or a disadvantage depending on the project. Most energy retrofit projects take place in attics and basements -- not exactly pretty... on the flip side, for a well-designed passive house the visual element could be a benefit.
  • It has reasonably good commenting functionality, which is a crucial component of a good project documentation online -- question/answer, etc.
  • It's a very social platform in general, which means there's huge potential for an especially compelling project (or component of a project) to get some viral action.
  • It can be difficult to see the phases of the project, because images are typically "pinned" one at a time -- so it can be difficult to get a comprehensive overview of a project for someone who's just browsing.
  • The emphasis on aesthetics may be at the disadvantage of the more technical aspects of the project -- energy data, design specs, etc.

pinterest snug planet deep energy retrofit

Case Studies on Your Company's Website

Some website platforms have "case studies" functionality (particularly if your site has a good CMS). Having a Case Study on your company's primary website that highlights the details of a particular low energy home or deep energy retrofit project can be a great way to highlight the project. One of our favorite Case Study approaches is on the awesome community site we helped build for The Claremont Home Energy Retrofit Project (CHERP.) If you're a builder, contractor, architect or part of an organization, this method has another benefit in that the traffic is being driven to your primary website (which improves your site's SEO, and can help get you more business). We believe Case Studies should be a central part of your web content regardless of whether you're using the other approaches listed here. But, as a story telling tool, there are some imperfections to this approach.

  • Depending on your platform, may not be as social as a pinboard or Facebook page.
  • Having the other design elements of your site on your Case Study may be distracting, or make the content seem primarily commercial rather than educational. 
  • Still, having Google Analytics data for this content, and the other control that comes with having the info on your primary website, is a benefit.
  • Limitations in design/content/interactivity/etc. will be dictated by your particular website platform -- so it all depends on your existing site. 

Dedicated Website with Blog, Galleries, Etc.

Having a website dedicated to the low energy home / energy retrofit project is pretty similar to setting up a blog, but opens the doors to a bunch of extra functionality that a typical blog doesn't provide. You can set up case studies with further details (case studies within the larger case study), photo galleries that highlight different aspects of the project, "static" pages that are dedicated exclusively to different parts of the project, upload documents, etc, etc. You can also have a blog that exists within the site to contain the chronological narrative. The Castle Square Deep Energy Retrofit is a great example of this. (The Energy Circle PRO platform would work really well for this, and I'd bet that if someone pitched Peter, he'd probably make you a helluva deal.)

So, in short:

  • Similar to a blog, but with more functionality.
  • Not as inherently social as FB or Pinterest, but you can set up a site that you control to incorporate social elements -- comment functionality, prominent "share" buttons, etc.
  • Depending on the platform, you control everything about the design/content/etc.
  • Allows you to include content that doesn't get buried "down the page," as in the case of the blog. You can have pages with information about the team, the project's goals, technical specs, etc.
  • Gives you full control over Google Analytics, and total ownership of the content -- as opposed to Facebook or Twitter, or a lot of the blogging platforms out there, where analytics data is limited.

Have you tried chronicling the process of any of your retrofit or low energy home building projects online? Which channel did you use? We'd love to hear about it!


Comments

Will, A shout out to you for taking us through the ins and outs of storytelling across various social media platforms or channels. Your advice is also applicable more generally regarding professional service firms like architects, engineers, contractors, interior designers. On our end we pay attention to analytics but in a more limited way today. We seem to be getting traction over LinkedIn more so than other channels. There is the ability to link to pages, create project information but not like this. It would be great LInkedIn if you could create something more along the lines of what you can do on Facebook, Pinterest or on micro-websites for deeper dives on projects. Overall though, a thoughtful broad article. Posted by Stephen M. Frey, AIA - LEED AP on Oct 28, 2012 7:43pm

Thanks for chiming in, Stephen.

The inspiration for this post, which Will and I have been talking about for a long time, is that the process of low energy projects, whether new construction or retrofit, are amazing learning opportunities. Without a doubt, the professions involved in the upfront planning and design of these projects are, in so many ways, the ones best equipped to be telling these stories. 

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