The Importance of Being Social
Social Media is a powerful tool. While most view it as a pastime, you should view it as a means of networking. Many designers share ideas through social media. Most Companies have teams dedicated to managing their public image by way of Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, YouTube, and others. Products are announced in a Tweet or in an advertisement within Snapchat. With all that goes on within social media, you shouldn’t merely use it as a way to kill time. While there are arguments for avoiding social media use altogether, I would not recommend that.
If you want to work in the tech industry, you have to immerse yourself in the technology of the day. Use your time on social media to study interfaces, colors, trends, and be mindful of the user experience. More importantly, use social media to network. Nothing beats face-to-face interaction, but in the increasingly globalized society we live in, you now have the opportunity to personally interact with leading designers and developers from all over the world. Don’t waste that opportunity.
I think I socialize on social media less than most people my age. I use Facebook like nearly every other American, but in many ways it has become a chore. I like it for keeping up to date with what my friends are doing and sharing or viewing funny media, but Facebook is often about as exciting as checking my email. A few years ago, I decided to uninstall it from my phone so that it would not be a distraction. I suppose I should follow my own advice and install it on my phone to study the mobile experience, but I really don’t want to. I do have it installed on my iPad Pro so I am not missing out entirely on the mobile experience. Facebook is the king of social media so it is essential to be mindful when using it.
Like with any social media platform, it is important to be polite and professional whenever you post. Too many people have lost their jobs due to foolish posts. While I believe everyone is entitled to free speech, you still have to live with the consequences of what you say.
I am fairly new to Twitter, having only setup an account two years ago, but it has quickly become my favorite social media platform. I follow dozens of designers and programmers. I follow a few celebrities and artists, but I mainly use it to stay up to date with industry professionals. I follow so many different people in the industry that it would be exhaustive to list them all. I will probably write a post with a list of who I follow, but that is for another time. However, I will say how I have found most of the people I follow.
On the way to and from campus, I listen to podcasts. The subjects of these podcasts range from design, coding, personal growth, and feature entrepreneurs, artists, and experts in design and development. All podcasters and their guests have the primary underlying theme of being creative people. I learn of new industry professionals from these podcasts. Whenever a podcast has a guest on it I follow them on Twitter as soon as practical. Once I am in front of a computer and when I have time, I will check out that guest’s portfolio or website. In this way podcasts are not only beneficial for the industry insight but they also allow you to have the potential to network to a greater extent.
Of course, I use Twitter to unwind a bit too. Based on my experience with it, I really like the interface and the analytic information Twitter provides. In my opinion, Twitter is the most well-designed social platform on the market today. The company has designed a great mobile, tablet, and desktop experience. Using Twitter on each device is distinct but it still feels like Twitter no matter which device you are on.
I am pretty new to Instagram but I like it because many designers and artists post images of their sketches at different stages in development. I have followed classmates, former professors, and people from other industries that I have come in to contact with. It is critical to network with people outside of the software development industry. Not only do these people have the potential to be future clients, but you may get inspired by their work. The same goes for companies. Follow every company that interests you, regardless of the industry they work in.
You want to be exposed to as much marketing and PR work as you can. You will get a better idea for how to use a consistent voice across web pages and mobile apps for the same company by seeing how other companies do it. You will see other companies doing it well, and other companies doing it poorly. This will make you a better judge at what is good and what sucks. I do this primarily on Twitter but I am starting to do this on Instagram now as well.
For example, I follow Tillamook Dairy Company on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram because I love their yogurt and their marketing. Does a dairy company have anything to offer me as a designer? You bet!
I have learned how to have a grassroots company voice that sounds genuine and humorous just by looking at the packages of my favorite yogurt. Tillamook’s packaging voice is consistent with their Twitter, Facebook, and their Instagram voices. It’s a good lesson. Hopefully, the copy I write on websites and apps will be better as a result.
Like, Comment, & Subscribe!
In order to network through social media, you have to participate in said social media. In the case of YouTube, it is important to like videos that are beneficial so that the creators of those videos are encouraged to continue production and so more people will see the ideas presented.
I try to subscribe to any channel that has produced a video that has taught me something. This includes videos outside the realm of design. Along with subscribing to videos, I also create playlists so that I can review or share them later. For example, I have a playlist called “Isometric Tutorials” that includes a half dozen videos relating to isometric art. I created this playlist while working on the interactive infographic I wrote about previously. When I need a refresher, I can go back to those videos and review what I have learned.
Email — do you even consider email social media? If you don’t, you should. Despite popular belief, email is not dead. There are around 2.5 billion email users world wide. That’s 500 million more users than Facebook as of June, 2017. This would make Email the most popular social media platform. You can network with people at companies you want to work for using email, but it is different than all other social media. Every business worth it’s salt has at least one email address. While I’m sure this isn’t news to you, using email as a means of networking might be something that you hadn’t thought of before. Until recently, I hadn’t considered it.
I would recommend starting with 10–20 companies you are interested in working for. See if they have email lists notifying subscribers of job opportunities. Email their HR department asking if there are any internships or jobs available. Send them your portfolio, résumé, and a cover letter explaining why you want to work there. That way you will at least get your foot in the door and if you’re lucky you’ll showcase your skills to someone. Make sure to follow all of the companies social media platforms before you send the email and actually participate within those platforms on their channels. Do this for months or until you get an interview at one of these companies. In this way email can work in tandem with the other social media platforms you utilize. This will be a time-consuming process but it should help you land a job or internship out of college — a challenge for many budding designers.
Another great way to network is by using Slack. If you haven’t heard of it, Slack is an instant messaging tool designed for team communication. Slack allows you to have separate channels on each team. A company might have a development team, a design team, and a marketing team. Employees can post messages on each team they are a part of and stay in touch with employees from other teams as well.
I have been using Slack for about a year now. I am part of two teams. I am a member of Product Hive, a Utah based Digital Product Design community. I have attended a couple of their meetups and interacted with various designers and product managers within the Utah area. Product Hive has a job board that I follow religiously and there are several other beneficial channels. Slack is a great place to post work-in-progress and get expert feedback for free. This is also a great way to get your name out there and show off your work.
The other channel I am a member of is the UX/Product Design Club of UVU. It is similar to Product Hive but for classmates and alumni of UVU’s Digital Media Web degrees. I often post articles I have read or things I am working on. It is a great resource to network and learn from. You never know what your classmates will end up creating. You could be sitting next to the next unicorn company CEO.
And lastly, Medium… don’t forget about actively participating in Medium. If you are reading this article, you obviously know about Medium. Get to know all of the features Medium has to offer. Follow every author that has written an article you found to be worthwhile. Read from a variety of topics. Recommend articles, participate. Comment on other people’s articles and most importantly, write your own articles.
Even if you are a college freshman, get in the habit of writing about your experiences. Who cares if you suck at Photoshop. Employers care more about your ability to problem solve. You get better at tools the more you use them and those skills just come with practice.
Write about your frustrations learning Photoshop and how you overcame them. Write about the features you wish Adobe had included. Write about what you learned about yourself by learning how to use Photoshop. The more you make your voice heard, the bigger the impact you will have on this industry, and the better your chances are of getting a job.
Regardless of the social media platform you are using follow one simple rule — Mend your fences. This is a phrase I learned from my grandma. It means to maintain your relationships with the people you get to know. It works a little different in the digital age, but the concept is the same.
If you enjoyed this article, let me know. If you didn’t, let me know. I am pretty active on Twitter these days —
Russell Andlauer is a student in the Digital Media program at Utah Valley University, Orem Utah, studying Interaction & Design.