Making the case for getting your company into social media

By Stewart Muir

Is there a case for smaller energy and energy services companies to engage in social media? There are significant pros and cons to wading in, so it is no wonder this can be a hotly debated topic for management.

Nothing is easier than avoiding the question completely. If your expertise lies in a specialized niche of the natural gas value chain, what is to be gained from straying off into the murky world of public communications?

Especially at a time when budgets are squeezed to the limit, managers might well ask whether it would be reckless to put limited marketing dollars into Twitter and Facebook.

We are at a moment in history when the oil and gas sector is facing unprecedented scrutiny across all levels of society. In many cases this means it has been tarred with a broad brush, a state of affairs that is often perplexing to those in the industry who understand how totally dependent society today is upon the responsible extraction and production of oil and natural gas.

Today, natural gas supplies 34 per cent of Canada’s primary energy. The National Energy Board says that by 2040, as cleaner gas pushes out oil, coal and nuclear, that share will rise to 44 per cent.

Today’s high environmental standards have created many jobs in managing the risks and impacts of oil and gas development – in air protection, GHG reduction, and water protection.

Clearly, we cannot do without natural gas if we expect to create a greener society. Unless we want to purchase it from foreign nations, local people must be in place to safely locate, extract, and process natural gas before delivering it to consumers in a variety of forms.

It’s a great story. But have you ever heard your social-media-saturated children, grandchildren or nieces and nephews talking about it?

Social media platforms like Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn give anyone with an opinion a level playing field to reach audiences in ways that only a few years ago were accessible to the information elite.

Campaigners against fossil fuels are today following a long tradition of mass activism. Social media represents a natural opportunity for resource opponents to get even better at winning public favour. It is inexpensive, accessible from anywhere, and in the right hands can produce exponential rewards in the battle for public opinion.

We’ve seen the opponents of oil and gas extraction revel in the freedom of social media. Tech-friendly Vancouver has become a global hub of activism focused on limiting resource activities.

Meantime, industry has seemed by comparison to be a plodding participant at the best of times.

There are many reasons for this. Management may see social media as too risky to be manageable. Or they might simply prefer to pour their energy into operations, red tape and investor relations.

It’s not about picking fights or getting drawn into other well-known pitfalls of social media. The industry could do itself a big favour by taking up these new tools to make friends.

I regularly encounter social media specialists who work with companies to help them get stories out. Executives who show themselves to be personally willing to attach their own social media identity to interesting content can develop genuine, enthusiastic followings.

A few suggestions for starting a management conversation around social media:

  1. What is your company doing to make a positive difference in its local community?
  2. Who are your employees and what do they, themselves, have to say about how your company is striving to be a leader in environmental and social responsibility?
  3. Beyond employees, how are you interacting in social media with natural supporter communities (First Nations, local residents who benefit from company operations, other companies and associations) to discuss issues in common?

In my opinion, every company, no matter how narrow its niche, would do well to think about how it can be part of quality social media conversations. The cost of acting is small, yet the cost of doing nothing will only rise and rise.

Stewart Muir is founder of the Vancouver-based Resource Works Society.

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