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.
How can you protect your company’s reputation and brand in the various social media environments?
You can’t. Companies wish they could, but they can’t. But you never really had control of your brand in the first place. You don’t really own your brand image; that’s in the minds of your customers, and you can’t control the minds of your customers.
If someone has a bad experience buying your pet food, that’s it. That’s their perception. The customer owns the brand, and then other influences can move them away from that perception.
As a company, you can’t control if someone blogs about bad service. But what you can control is having better products and service. The way you can make sure that no one blogs about a bad experience is to make sure that no one has one. If you have better customer relations and better customer communications, no one has a reason to go on a blog and say something bad about you.
One of the smartest things you can do is monitor what people are saying about you and about your competitors. What are their likes and dislikes about every area of interest around your brand, your competitors, your products and services, and your customer relations? Monitoring those conversations can be as good as any market research that you would spend millions of dollars for.
Is it better to manage your social media in-house or to outsource it?
It depends on your company’s talent, expertise and knowledge. If your company can benefit from social media and every company can and you don’t have the internal talent to do it, or the budget to hire internally, rather than spend $300,000 to manage it, you could outsource it for $100,000.
Should you encourage your employees to push out your company’s message via social media?
I would not want my employees just randomly out there representing my brand if that’s not part of their job. You want your social media effort to be strategic and coordinated.
If your marketing department understands social media, you should work that into your marketing plan and have your marketing people researching the competition, going into user groups and getting involved in discussions about your company, your brand, your products and services to advance your communication strategy.
Social media is not going away. It’s a whole new world, and as a company or a brand, you’d better get up to speed fast or you’re not going to be here in five years.
Tim Gibbons is president and CEO of Level2 Communications Inc. and provides Tampa Bay WorkForce Alliance with Web site and blog maintenance. Reach him at (813) 956-8950 or firstname.lastname@example.org.