Guest post by Larry Spada the vice president of branding and marketing at Outdoor Living Brands.

Apple changed my life. When I saw my first Macintosh computer in the mid-1980s, I was speechless.

My only exposure to computers at the time was those ugly, old, ochre cathode ray streams of digits beaming from clunky monitors – or those big monster server rooms that we typically see in spy movies.

So there I was, in my buddy’s office, looking at this unusual beige box with a seven-or-so-inch monitor. And he was showing me a slowly bouncing, rotating 3D black-and-white checkerboard-patterned ball.

“How the heck are they doing that,” I asked myself – this coming from a then copywriter who used a manual typewriter to practice his craft.

Fast forward a few years later, and more than 40 Apple product purchases since, (I’ve owned virtually every make and model issued under the Apple brand, some a few times over). Today, I find myself leading the brand strategy effort for Outdoor Living Brands, the world’s only franchise company solely focused on outdoor living. And Apple is still surrounding me, constantly.

Working with 200 franchisees around the United States, Canada, the Bahamas, and Kuwait, it’s great fun helping these entrepreneurial folks bring their business plans and visions of franchise growth to life through a variety of outbound and inbound marketing tactics.

Speaking of the latter – helping businesses “get found” – I always say the same thing during each marketing training session: “Buy an iPhone.”

I have found the iPhone to be the quintessential gadget for doing your best work in social media.

Having Gini Dietrich from Arment Dietrich work with us last year, we put together a comprehensive social media strategy and road map for all of our franchise brands to follow. All of our franchisees now realize why blogging, social media, search engine optimization, etc. is so important – and how to participate. But to do it correctly, and efficiently, I continually tell them that they need the right tool. And the iPhone fits the bill, perfectly.

I encourage our franchisees to think of the iPhone as a natural extension of their body, always at hand to shoot a video, snap a photo, dictate a blog headline, or record a stream of consciousness for a social media post.

Pat and Laura Harders from Outdoor Lighting Perspectives of Northern Virginia have been operating like this for some time. They attribute 30 percent of their annual revenue from social media and inbound marketing.

Eric Kent from Archadeck of Charlotte is doing the same thing. Virtually unfamiliar with social media before January, he’s taken the proverbial bull by the horns and is doing an awesome job with blog posts and YouTube videos, all connected to each other via backlinks to the various web properties he has in his synchronized outreach and inbound mix.

Next up? The iPad, of course. I’m now encouraging our franchisees to use the iPad to showcase their beautiful before-and-after designs of outdoor living spaces and exterior illumination designs with digital photos they’ve taken, using a slight finger flick to open stacks of stunning photo galleries to showcase their best work during their design consultations.

As for the new iOS4 platform, I’m thinking of how awesome it would be for our franchisees to stay in touch with FaceTime video chat – a great way to help design consultants in the field stay emotionally connected to the franchisee leader.

And no, Steve Jobs is not paying me a commission. Live long and prosper with Apple all around you.

Larry Spada is vice president of branding and marketing for Outdoor Living Brands and author of the blog Web Wise Rants and Raves.