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Social Media Consultant and Trainer Steve Nicholls talks to GraphicDesign.com about the importance of social media in a Graphic Designer’s world. Steve Nicholls is the author of the best-selling book “Social Media in Business” and has implemented advanced Internet applications for leading organizations. He grows client revenue dollars by millions with his effective social media training. As a pioneer in social media for business, Steve Nicholls moves companies from stuck to success in social media, starting with his firm beliefs that to be truly effective in social media, a company must develop an implantation strategy at the management level and shift company mindset to effectively integrate social media into the business process.

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We wanted to pick his brain and get his perspective on how Social Media is not only in business, but also in the world of the everyday Graphic Designer. Here is the interview below:

Q1. Does Graphic Design come into play when effectively integrating social media into a business process?

A. Social media is more than an act or a set of actions, it is very much a ‘state’ as well and the first glance at a business’s homepage can reveal if a company is doing it right or not. In order for social media to allow colleagues, clients and other key players to really interact with each other in a business context; it needs to be integrated into a company’s culture in order to be used in the most efficient ways.

Having said this, a glimpse at a business’s website really suffices to determine what kind of culture a company has – and this is where graphic design comes at play. With the right compositions and visual effects, graphic design can build upon a website – within the homepage and beyond – to look the most ‘social media friendly’ possible, welcoming clients and others to interact and engage with the business.

Q2. How important do you think social media is to a design agency or freelancer?

A. Social media is one of the reasons why the ‘freelance class’ has been rising so exponentially in the past few years. Social media has made it possible and easy to be a freelancer or a design agency because there are so many different platforms where freelancers can be found and get in touch with clients. Freelancing and social media thus almost inherently go hand-in-hand.

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Elance and oDesk are two amongst many freelance platforms aggregating pools of freelancers, with all kinds of freelancers available, from those offering general skills to very technical ones.

Q3. What advice can you give designers on utilizing social media?

A. The first advice for designers when it comes to social media is that you need to have a common language – i.e. the same understanding of what social media exactly is – when talking about social media so that everyone is on the same page, especially if you are working on a social media project with non-designers. The second advice is to have a clear, well-defined vision before utilizing social media.

Since social media is a very wide and expanding field, it is very easy to go in every direction with it, and that is why you always need to use it in the perspective of your business goals. When you know what it is that you want to achieve for your business, only then will you know which social media tools to use and for what end. There is no logic in taking all directions with it; designers need to stay focused on how to use it efficiently to achieve their business goals.

Q.4 Why do you think some business managers fail to see the benefit in Social Networking?

A. Some business managers may completely disregard social networking because they do not think it should be part of business procedures in the first place. This kind of mindset is no longer acceptable as the Internet revolution is only moving forward, and those who do not make full use of it now will lag behind everyone else. Other business managers do see some benefits with social networking but they are not aware of the full picture. It is not all about Facebook, and even Facebook alone presents a world of opportunities on its own.

A company can create its very own internal social network to help communication between upper and lower management for instance, but this is only one of the very many opportunities that social networking offers. Finally, they are those business managers who might be aware of many of social networking’s benefits, but are too wary of its risks. Unfortunately, this prevents them from moving forward as well as one thing is clear: benefits far outweigh risks when it comes to social networking and to social media more generally and if a solid, systematic and adaptable framework is put into place to bring social media into the DNA of a business, then risks will be mitigated properly and benefits optimized.

Q.5 Do you think a Business Manager of a Graphic Design agency differs from a normal manager?

A. When it comes to social media, there is no difference there. The manager – whether one of a graphic design agency or a transport company – will need to look at the social media project in the same way and adapt it to his or her own business environment. The business manager’s role will be to understand social media’s potential for the particular business goals wanted, create a common language for the company and integrate social media in a step-by-step manner within the particular environment in which the business is operating.

Therefore, in this way, there is no difference between two business managers from two different industries. The conditions in which they will integrate the social media project will however be very different, and this is where they will differ in the way they tackle their projects.

Q.6 How can a Graphic Designer utilize social media to increase profits and enhance the client experience?

A. There are 4 main ways through which a graphic designer can utilize social media to increase profits:

Communication - a graphic designer can use social media tools to communicate more efficiently with different key players in the business.

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By using Dropbox for instance to share documents and files on the Internet, colleagues can work on a graphic design project from anywhere around the world, meaning that business can take place across geographical boundaries. This increases productivity and thus profitability.

Collaboration -
graphic designers can find the ‘right’ person to participate in a project through freelance platforms for instance. This means collaborators do not have to be in the same geographical area or time zone, which in turn means that the ‘best’ person possible can be chosen for a particular project according to the budget available and skills needed. Having the ‘right’ person will increase productivity and profitability.

Communities - graphic designers can create and tap into communities to share news about products for instance. If you get one person interested, you are likely to get many, many more – that is the power of communities; they will spread the word of your project for you. The more popular a product is, the more people it is likely to reach and thus the more success it is likely to have. All of this means a bigger chance for more profitability.

Collective Intelligence - graphic designers can use social media tools to understand what the market is looking for and collect feedback on what people are saying about their products. They can then use this feedback to change their product according to market demand, test the new product again by collecting new feedback and change again accordingly if needed. The more a product is liked, the more success it will have and the more profitability it will create.

Q.7 How can a Graphic Designer utilize social media to enhance the client experience?

A. Communication – a graphic designer can use social media tools to communicate more efficiently with different clients. For instance, a basic conferencing tool like Skype can be used to communicate ‘directly’ from different geographical locations. But other media sharing tools like YouTube or Flickr can also be used to communicate different kinds of contents, like videos and pictures, quickly and in large volumes, to the client according to a project’s needs.

Collaboration – graphic designers can use a range of different collaborative tools that will make a certain project with a client much more efficient. An internal wiki platform, for instance, can be created by a graphic designer and made accessible to clients in order for them to have access to relevant information whenever needed.

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Another different collaborative example is the project management tool Wrike, which can enhance the whole collaborative experience through different features available like scheduling, document storing and more.

Communities – a graphic designer can create an internal social network in which all players in a project – designers, clients and web developers amongst others – can interact with each other about the project and more. This can increase cohesiveness between all participants and make the entire project a more interesting experience.

Collective Intelligence
– a graphic designer can collect feedback directly from his or her clients to enhance client experience. A webpage can be created for instance specifically to allow all past clients to post comments and give feedback on projects they undertook with the graphic designer in question. This can give an idea as to how the graphic designer works, and allow future clients to have a clearer idea of what to expect.

Q.8 You’ve implemented advanced Internet applications for leading organizations including British Telecom, Ciena Corp., Detathree, Inmarsat, John Laing and NSPCC, a UK Children’s charity organization, to name just a few. Can you please tell us how Graphic Design played a part in some of these projects using specific examples?

A. Graphic design was important in some of these projects to design an attractive logo and create a brand image, but also to allow team members to visualize a project.