By Justin Brown, Senior Art Director

Have you noticed what’s trending on Twitter? Did you tell Facebook what’s on your mind? Are people watching your videos on YouTube, Vimeo or uStream? How many Flickr albums do you have? Where does Foursquare say you are? Oh my…

Welcome to a new way of life called social media. Shake hands, sit down and learn it, live it, deal with it.

Social media has become a fundamental shift in the way we as individuals, businesses and business leaders communicate globally. We no longer have to find news but rather the news finds us. Let’s face it – social media is not a fad but rather a new way of life. You don’t even have to like the idea of social media but you should learn and understand it in order to build a level of credibility with your customers and be marketable to your business. Even though your mother told you all the kids are doing it and you shouldn’t, do it anyways – at least this time. But tell her you’re sorry. You may need money from her later on.

I’m a self-proclaimed early adapter of social media. Whatever it is, I probably have an account for it. Do I use them all? No. Do I remember my login information for some? Nope. But do/did I use them to learn something new? Yes. I would say I’m more social in media. I tweet and post to Facebook. I have followers and I have friends. I’m a designer – a creative genius if you will ☺. (That’s self-proclaimed too I guess.) The majority of people I follow are other design professionals who have made their career in sharing what they know with the world. They write and share and I learn and do. Do I know them? No. Do I feel like I do? Yes. Why? Because they have the same interests as me and on some level we can relate to each other. I may never meet these people but I feel by reaching out to other designers has allowed me to learn new things. Since Twitter is searchable, I can search for all sorts of Photoshop tips and tricks, creative portfolios, latest technology – whatever I want (as I sit here with an evil grin and tapping my finger tips together… muwahaha).

Unfortunately, *sigh, there are some who have not embraced the idea behind social media and the impact it can have on a brand. Shame. Frankly, they are stuck in their old ways and refuse to accept, at times, personal opinion as a way of thinking. But in fact, this refusal is what keeps them from utilizing the invaluable ways of communication. The majority of social medium is comprised of free tools for goodness sake. Why not use them? Sure it costs to pay someone to do it, but perhaps consider interns or new graduates.

Can social media be disappointing? Sure. Take the newest device created by Apple – the iPad. The iPad has been a trending topic for months and months before it was announced last January. All sorts of feature rumors were talked about and when it was revealed and those features were not part of it, the world felt let down. People, in a way, did it to themselves. They should have known Apple wouldn’t have put all those features in its first attempt – that would have been so un-Apple of them. Apple didn’t have to do a teaser campaign. Instead, the Apple folks sat back and let social media do the work, and allowed people to discuss their product, and allowed them to build product recognition before it was even revealed.

From blogs to texting; podcasts to viral videos; Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, Flickr, LinkedIn and still MySpace. We’re just scratching the surface of social media network. If a survey were given today, it would be no surprise that it likely would show an overwhelming majority of people use some form of social media. After all, we all have email, right? Don’t you think this is a form of social media?

Look at it this way. Social media is basically the world’s largest focus group.. It has become less about a company’s website, and more about its overall web strategy. It’s about how companies can use this new communication technology to push brands further into our lives. It’s about how they interact where their customers are spending their time. It’s cheaper and faster. Pepsi is practically putting its entire advertising budget into social media these days.

Companies all over are begging for fans. If it’s free, I’m a fan. I recently became an Einstein Bagel fan on Facebook because they were giving out a free bagel for each fan they received. Dunkin Donuts was giving out free donuts. Chad Ochocinco invites his friends and followers to a restaurant where he is at and the bill is on him. As sad as it sounds, parents are using it to be more involved in their children’s lives. Executives are doing online videoconferences to communicate with employees and politicians are even blogging about current bills, etc. It’s much easier to use social media than traditional methods to stay in touch with family and friends.

It’s a wor(l)d of mouth. If you haven’t already, you should learn to use social media. Love it, take it on a date, and buy it some flowers. You need to experiment with tweeting about your business’s latest project and try posting pictures of it on Flickr. Discover your old and new friends on Facebook. Whatever it is you do, subscribe to blogs of interest and leave some comments. Learn it. Take off the blinders and jump in the Social media ocean, and see the change it can make in personal and professional communications and relationships.

(P.S. In real life, I don’t talk this much. Just ask anyone who knows me. Like I said, I’m more social in media.)

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