Last month I had the extreme privilege of being selected by NASA to report live at the launch of STS-132, the last scheduled mission for the space shuttle Atlantis.  After a thorough screening process I was issued press credentials and allowed 2 day access to the historic NASA Launch Complex 39 Press Site next to the Vehicle Assembly Building where they prep the shuttles (and the Apollo Saturn V rockets back in the 60’s and 70’s), put them on a giant crawler and move them out to the launch pad.  The funny thing is: I’m not a reporter.  But here I am at the final launch of Atlantis with news crews and media outlets from around the globe.  I’m meeting astronauts, NASA engineers and getting up close and personal viewing at the launch pad where Atlantis proudly stands getting final prepping for launch. How did I, a non-reporter, manage to trick NASA into giving me press credentials for a shuttle launch?  It’s simple: Twitter.

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We all know about Twitter and Facebook – how could we not as they have been beaten into our brains over the last year.  Most of us are likely fatigued from the overload of media attention they have generated – Facebook this, Twitter that.  Yet if you use these tools to help promote your business, you know the importance of keeping up with any news related to these two social media giants.

On a smaller scale, Twitter and Facebook are not the only games in town to pay attention to as there are newer players on the social media field.  These newer players are helping to define the future trends in social media and networking.  Here are 4 trends to watch and the web apps that are behind them: […]

Google is huge, no doubt, but one area they have struggled is in establishing a social networking platform to connect their huge user base.  The more time users spend with Google – the more opportunities for Google to monetize off of them.  Granted, they have a lot of cool and free tools to play with, but there is a reason Google Adwords appear in your Gmail inbox.  Having a social network that users can hang out on for hours at a time is the big nut Google hopes to crack, and Google’s primary social networking nutcracker for the last few years has been Orkut.

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Now that the hype has settled and the new website smell has faded, let’s take a look at Twitter and how to maximize it’s effectiveness via third party Twitter tools.  These tools come in various forms; from websites, desktop apps to mobile phone applications, there are many ways to get your tweets in order.

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Yep, that is my predicition.

In 2009, while our economy continues to slug along, those that do a good job of marketing themselves online stand to have a very good year. We’ve all probably heard stories of how a lot of people became rich during the Great Depression – because it is true. Those that keep their eye on the ball when everyone else is distracted will continue to hit home runs – it won’t be as easy as it was before, but it will still happen.

Markets are shifting right now. While mainstream for quite some time now, the internet is now starting to subplant other channels of distribution and marketing. Newspapers are struggling, some either are, or are planning to go to internet-only distribution. Video, which had the exclusivity of TV delivery, is now more popular than ever online (even traditional TV’s might be hooked up to a PC or Apple TV), Google searches are replacing Yellow Page look-ups, users are carrying around internet-enabled cell phones loaded with mobile apps that connect to their online accounts, businesses are advertising online with pay-per-click advertising. While lower than before, the spikes in gas prices over the last few years has more people getting used to the idea of staying at home where they can spend more time surfing the web. A new generation is growing up not knowing of a world prior to high-speed internet. Social networking is redefining public relations for major companies and public figures.

There is a fundamental shift that is taking place – while we thought we have already seen the impact of the internet on our lives, we are now realizing that the last 10 years was just a slightly advanced stage in it’s infancy. A major growth spurt is coming in 2009 and a lot of companies that thought they had a “web presence” are going to get left behind, while a lot of companies that are “plugged in” to the coming changes will reap great rewards.

So, what are the nutshell nuggets of knowledge to pull from all this?

First you can’t be just a “web presence”. You can’t be “static” online. You can’t think of a website as the beginning and end of your online efforts. Sure, it has worked in the past, and in many cases working still. But at some point it no longer will.

Second, change the way you think about the internet – almost consider it a parallel universe. 20 years ago, they called the concept “virtual reality”. It made a lot of buzz but died down as the real world realities of the internet’s limitations at the time softened our vision of this “cyber-space”. Now we are seeing virtual reality slowly coming about. Sure, it’s not a funny headset and Tron-like graphics, but the internet is becoming another place that we exist, or more importantly, where your customer’s exist. They are not just hopping online to do a quick search with a keyword phrase to find your product or service and then signing off, they are living much of their life there. So, you will need to be “plugged in” to where they are, what they’re doing and how to get their attention.

We are already seeing this shift in our business. We are not a website development firm anymore, despite my old-habits-die-hard habit of calling us that. We are actually an interactive agency now. Developing the site for your web presence is no longer the beginning and end of our involvement. Throughout 2009 we will be asked to build the “main” site, setup the blogs, create sub-sites, recommend lead tracking solutions, secure advertising, handle marketing campaigns, develop a social media strategy, manage company brands, oversee public relations, broadcast online call-in radio shows, produce video, write copy, record podcasts, program applications, create training materials, research keywords and provide consultation services.

By being prepared for changes in 2009 as the internet leaves behind it’s infancy, you can be a part of it’s growth spurt.