Sea change

If companies don’t find a way to use social media in their business, they are going to go the way of the dinosaurs, says Tim Gibbons, president and CEO of Level2 Communications Inc.

“In the next 10 years, at Level2 we predict as many as 25 percent of companies are going to go out of business because they don’t understand social media,” says Gibbons. “Too many companies are still doing business in the 1970s and, as fast as technology is moving, there’s no way companies can survive without a deep understanding of various new media channels.

“A company might have good products and services, good values and a good corporate mission, but because they are unwilling or unable to grasp new technologies, they are likely doomed to fail.”

Smart Business spoke with Gibbons about why social media is critical to your business and how to use it to your advantage.

What kinds of companies should be using social media, and how should they be using it?

All companies can utilize social media on some level, whether in highly strategic ways or tactically to advance their marketing and communications goals.

How you use it depends on your marketing and customer communications strategies. Start with where you are as an organization. Who are your customers? What do they do? How do they live? How do they consume media, and how is that different than the way they did it last year, or last week? Where are they? Are they interacting in social networks? Are they primarily blog readers, or do they interact, leaving comments and taking part in online communities?

Companies must deeply understand the customer’s wants, needs and desires — and determine what it means to the company, the brand, the products and the services.

What are the advantages and disadvantages of using social media?

Social media can help companies become better. It’s a sea change for most companies, changing the way they look at and communicate with customers. Anything that forces a company to look deeper at itself — to better understand itself and its people on a deeper level, is a good thing.

The only disadvantage being, if your company is perceived as a poor quality company, you’re going to be an easy target and you’re going to get talked about.

Twenty years ago, you could hide; a company may have a few angry customers talking badly about them at a cocktail party, but, today, consumers go on Facebook and tell 3,000 people in a few seconds.

If you’re not running your business the right way, I would be very, very cautious.