The rules have changed and there is no going back.

What’s that? Social media (e.g. online networking, blogging, podcasting, webcasting, video incorporation) have taken solid hold and companies and organizations large and small are collectively scratching their heads, trying to figure out how to make money, spread the word and/or gain more customers via these new digital tools. Most have not figured it out, but the answers may be hiding in plain sight, beckoning millions to later ponder: “If I had only thought about that?”

Sunday’s “Doonesbury” comic strip by Garry Trudeau http://www.gocomics.com/doonesbury/2009/11/08/ pokes fun at the obsession of many about social media or new media. This phenomenon is just beginning and is growing rapidly, while traditional media (e.g. regional newspapers) is heading toward the ash heap of history. We all need to worship at the altar of the digital imperative.

So what is the digital imperative? It means that public relations practitioners not only have to understand digital media, but they have to demonstrate to their bosses, hiring managers and recruiters that they have made social media a part of their daily lives. You can fake orgasms, but not social media.

Are you on LinkedIn.com www.linkedin.com? Please don’t say “no” to this question. If so, how many connections do you have? Have you incorporated your resume, your introductory photo, your blog, your PowerPoint presentations and recommendations….superiors, subordinates and colleagues? This site is an absolute must.

Okay, how about Twitter www.twitter.com? Some scoff at Twitter and its 140 character limit or SMS (Short Message Service). Scoff all you want, but let me assure you every one reads these 140 characters, meaning that the entire message is received and understood. Sounds like a great way to create an instant buzz by even writing your e-mails as a series of tweets.

There are some who are skeptical about Facebook www.facebook.com, dismissing it as a way to merely share pictures and messages between friends. Keep in mind that Facebook commands 300 million users worldwide…..that’s a lot of friends, who could become customers of your ideas and products.

And before you totally curl your lip about MySpace www.myspace.com and relegate it to those under 19 years old, keep in mind that MySpace is owned by Fox Interactive Media or Rupert Murdoch. Like him or not, Murdoch has figured out time-and-time again how to make a ton of money in news and information.

There is more. Do you have your own blog? Yes, there are people who write about their felines. There are also serious bloggers who command huge audiences. A great example is Gizmodo http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gizmodo, a must destination for any company selling consumer electronics, even the big boys such as Samsung, Sony and Toshiba. Think of it this way, a blog is great way to demonstrate that you command the language and can write creatively.

Another reason for the growing importance of blogs or web logs is the simple fact that the most trusted communications in society are colleague-to-colleague communications. Sorry, it is not the imperial CEO talking to the huddled masses from on-high, but what your friend and colleague is saying beside the water cooler, over a beverage of choice or via cyberspace.

PR practitioners need to provide recruiters and hiring managers with solid examples of how they have used blogging, social media sites, podcasting, webcasting and online video to generate revenue for a client, sell a product, market an idea or all of the above. Also keep in mind that LinkedIn and MySpace were formed in 2003, Facebook in 2004 and Twitter in 2006. What will be the next big thing in social media? Will you be all over it? Will you be ahead of the game?

 If you fail to respond to the digital imperative, you will be left behind. There is no more denial about digital media, only acceptance.

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