How to be a social butterfly

Are social media sites a waste of time or the best thing since sliced bread? Many artists and designers use Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and Flickr to help further their careers. According to Joseph Simpson (Vehicle Design MPhil, 2008), these sites are tools to advertise your work, build contacts and speed up research.

Advertising Your Work

Social media is a brilliant advertising and publishing tool. A strong online presence increases the likelihood of someone stumbling across you, your work or company. A blog or Facebook page is a ready-made portfolio of your work which can be accessed from anywhere in the world. They provide an information resource for you to direct future clients towards. They allow friends and colleagues to know what you are up to, without you having to tell them. People can offer feedback if what you are saying or doing interests them. Best of all, they are mostly free.

I work with Ford of North America. Ten years ago I would have had to find their job advert in a trade paper or magazine, send examples of my work and attend an interview in the US. Today, Ford found me. The Ford marketing team were looking for someone with a car background to work on a sustainability project. They followed my website, blog, Twitter and Youtube accounts for about three weeks before engaging me first via Twitter, then email. Following a few phone calls, I had a contract.

Getting to the top

You can build new connections through social media and gain access to people you want to work with. Look at micro-blogging site Twitter, and you will see design stars and senior executives ‘tweeting’ on a daily basis. ‘Follow’ them and you can not only keep up with what they are doing and thinking, but also start to have conversations with them by directly addressing them or joining in debates. Have you ever wanted to speak to a designer in a big company, only to send a portfolio, email or make a phone call which is met by a wall of bureaucracy? In many cases, Twitter circumvents the formal structures of such organisations.

Cutting-edge information

Twitter has replaced the time-consuming process of online research. Nearly all the brands and individuals whose websites and news feeds I regularly check are present on Twitter, so I can keep an eye on what they are doing without having to search for them. When Italian styling house Bertone first announced they were working on a new design of supercar, I was one of the first to know. A short conversation over Twitter with the guy running the project was followed by a phone conversation and interview. I wrote features about the project for a car design magazine and Business Week. You can also sign up for alerts from organisations offering awards and residencies, to ensure you get applications in well before deadline.

Still having doubts?

First-time users of social media may need to overcome concerns about online relationships and privacy. The online community has its share of geeks and nerds, but today our lives are often half-physical, half-virtual. This applies to the people who are likely to hire and work with you too. By researching someone online via social media, when you get to that crucial first face-to-face meeting, you know what to expect. And this makes things run more smoothly and move more quickly.

Those seeking work in traditional corporate structures may find social media of limited use. But for the many who will practice alone or in small collectives, or those who are looking for a job right now, social media provides opportunities. Many companies and individuals in creative fields are embracing the medium and using it to scout for talent. Ultimately, social media offers the chance to make your name and win your next job, client or commission without ever sending off a CV.