Social media and the energy sector haven’t exactly been the best of friends.
Opponents of everything from hydraulic fracturing in British Columbia to oil sands development in Alberta have been effectively using platforms such as Facebook and Twitter to present their case and sway public opinion in their favour, but the oil and gas industry has been considerably less successful in that arena, according to social media experts.
“It’s just foreign for oil and gas companies,” said Melonie Dodaro of Top Dog Social Media.
“Using social media for them isn’t like it would be for many other businesses,” she continued. “It’s not like they’re looking to use social media to attract new clients or customers in most cases. But one of the things that they can be doing [with] social media is … improving their image in the public eye. Because anything that’s perceived as environmentally unfriendly or not socially responsible, there’s a lot of things that they can do to really improve that image.”
The energy sector hasn’t been completely absent from social media, however.
“We’ve been involved in social media for just over three years,” said Christina Rontynen, digital communications advisor with the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers (CAPP).
“Our main focus would be Facebook and Twitter,” she continued. “We have, actually, five different Twitter and Facebook accounts. They encompass everything from our natural gas advocacy to our oil sands campaign to some of the energy literacy things that we do. And then also more of a general CAPP presence.”
CAPP participates in a pair of online discussions, including shaletalk.ca, where they are simply part of the conversation around shale gas development across Canada.
The organization also has a presence on LinkedIn, Flickr and YouTube.
“We try to be on all the major mediums,” said Rontynen.
Additionally, CAPP encourages its member companies to take advantage of social media, particularly through initiatives such as their OilSandsToday Twitter account, which includes an #OSTLive feature that allows followers to join question and answer sessions with individuals involved in oil sands development.
“Direct encouragement for it not just to be CAPP, but for it to be an industry voice online,” Rontynen added.
Individual companies are also striving to make their presence felt on social media outlets.
“We first launched our branded social media channels in late 2010,” said Dean Paddock, who leads the brand management group at Encana.
“We are currently active on Facebook, YouTube, Twitter, LinkedIn and Pinterest,” he continued. “In the case of our Twitter and Facebook accounts, we generally update them daily, while LinkedIn and Pinterest are updated as needed.”
Encana boasts over 13,000 Facebook friends, 5,300 Twitter followers and 7,500 connections on LinkedIn.
“Which allows us to promote and share our stories with thousands of people on a daily basis,” said Paddock. “Social media ensures that important information about our company is both easy to find and easy to share.”
That was the goal Encana had in mind when they began their social media endeavors two years ago.
“We joined the online conversation primarily to broaden our audience reach beyond traditional forms of media,” said Paddock.
“We embraced this tool for a number of reasons,” he continued, “one of which was enhanced stakeholder engagement. A major part of our corporate responsibility mandate is to be an operator of choice and a trusted member of the communities in which we operate, and that means regular engagement and collaboration with a diverse array of stakeholders. Along with face-to-face consultation and leveraging of traditional media, social media provides another tool in the toolbox in terms of two-way communication with our stakeholders and creating awareness about our industry.
“We also use social media in our natural gas advocacy efforts and to monitor dialogue about our company and our industry.”
Paddock remarked that the effective use of social media is becoming increasingly important for Encana and the oil and gas industry overall, largely because of its low cost and potential to connect with a wide audience.
“Given the huge reach of social media, and the millions of daily electronic conversations that it encompasses, this technology has become a very important business tool,” he said.
That is particularly true when part of their business is proving their social license to operate in the face of opposition that is very adept at using social media.
“It is crucial that we proactively engage in the online conversation about our company and our industry,” said Paddock. “We believe it is incumbent upon us to share stories of how we are dedicated to continuous improvement in terms of responsible development and our operating practices.
“Given the social nature of the technology, we believe it is very important to provide an online community to answer questions, share facts and encourage dialogue about our company and our industry.”
It is what Dodaro calls education-based marketing.
“The worst situation is an uneducated consumer – an uneducated person – because it’s easy to judge and to place blame and do all that stuff without any education,” said Dodaro.
“One of the best things that social media can be used for is education,” she added. “And education-based marketing today is probably one of the most effective ways to market a business of any kind.
“And in this type of situation, it’s really important for people to understand what is being done, what’s the downside, what’s the upside, and being honest if there are some issues: these are the issues and we understand them and there’s either little or nothing we can do about them, but this is what we’re trying to do to make up for that, or these are the things that we’re working towards to improve that.”
However, Rontynen prefers not to think of social media as a marketing tool.
“I would say that anyone who uses social media as a marketing tool has kind of missed the purpose of it,” she explained. “We use it for its intended purpose, which is to be social and to initiate conversation on topics that matter to Canadians, but also to be present when they want to initiate conversations with us.
“Our social media strategy has been consistent for the last three to four years,” she continued. “Our purpose is to promote open and frank discussions… based in fact rather than emotion. And our goal on social media is to have reasonable discussion. Our goal is to be out there, to be an open and transparent voice, and to be able to answer questions that pop up about the industry.
“We stay consistent with our strategy and we believe that our strategy’s been really successful in terms of engaging Canadians in the questions that they have.”
Dodaro pointed out that the difference between opponents of the energy sector and that industry when it comes to social media is that the former is playing offense and the latter is playing defense.
“Environmental groups,” she said, “they can definitely be using it to damage the reputations. And the only thing that [the industry] can do is really to look at creating a strategic plan in ways of how they can show what they do to give back to the community or what they do to be as environmentally friendly as they possibly can, what ways they’re working toward social responsibility and being more of a social enterprise.
“Really just improving the perceived image within the marketplace and the public and the media.”
It isn’t just about public image, according to Paddock.
“Social media has also become an important recruitment tool in terms of attracting top talent to Encana in an increasingly competitive job market,” he said.
“Oil and gas might be slightly different than a lot of other sectors,” said Dodaro, discussing social media as a recruiting tool.
Dodaro noted that LinkedIn is the top business social network, but also suggested that it may not do the trick for those companies looking for skilled labourers, as opposed to upper management types.
“There’s not a ton of the skilled type labourers that are going to be on LinkedIn,” she said. “So, if you’re looking for management or anything above that, that’s going to be a wonderful, wonderful tool. If you’re looking for skilled labourers, you can have some success on it, but I would imagine that it would be more limited.”
Facebook ads are a better fit for employers seeking skilled labourers.
“Use Facebook ads to target specific age groups, interests, anything that’s kind of written in their profile or pages that they’ve liked,” said Dodaro, adding that a large percentage of the population is now on Facebook.
“Even if the person that they’re looking to attract isn’t on Facebook,” she continued, “friends and family are going to see that listing too and mention that to whoever it is that might be seeking other employment.”
That is the sort of idea that recently caught the eye of Steve Troyer, the owner of Troyer Ventures, when trying to address his own worker recruitment challenges.
“It’s not difficult to recruit people,” said Troyer. “What’s difficult is teaching managers how to recruit people. So, there’s people out there. Lots of people out there.
“We might be taking them from one of our competitors. We might be taking them from a different job somewhere else. There’s people out there and we can get them,” he added.
The difficulty is learning how to attract those workers in an increasingly digital world, especially when it is not enough to simply be participating in these forums.
“Facebook is powerful, but you have to know your market,” said Troyer.
“It’s about knowing what market you’re trying to get and how you’re trying to do it,” he continued. “Obviously, if you’re not a Facebook user, you got a real challenge, you’re at a real disadvantage. And the fact of the matter is, if you’ve only been a Facebook user for a year, you’re at a big disadvantage.”
Troyer suggested that becoming an employer of choice for the workers of today isn’t simply about effective use of social media, but it is also about the wider use of computer-based technologies throughout the business.
“In our company, we’ve shifted dramatically from paper to electronic,” he said. “And so as you make that shift, you start learning the power of these tools.”
Troyer cited the example of new employee orientations that used to be done with pen and paper.
“Now you sit down and you watch a video and answer online questions,” he said. “And the records are kept online.”
The same is true for job applications.
“Once you start going through electronic communication, now you can direct them to your website,” said Troyer. “Now you’ve gained a whole other level of efficiency. Because now they’re applying online.
“When people apply online, the information they provide is held, it’s reviewed online, we contact their references, we keep our notes online. And if we hire that individual, by clicking a button, all their personal information that they’ve provided is transferred into our [human resources] system.”
That approach depends on having a quality website.
“Most websites are pathetic. They’re just a brochure online, which is highly ineffective,” said Troyer.
“People wonder, ‘Well, why is my website not doing any good?’ Well, it’s because your website isn’t doing anything,” he added.
Troyer looks to his father’s new business servicing motor homes for proof of the benefits of a good website.
“He’s been a tradesman for many, many years,” he said of his father. “Very talented man. But he’s moved into a new town, offering a new service. This service isn’t available in town and he’s not known in town. And I said, ‘Dad, let’s set up your website and invite people to log into your website and book their own work online.’ And Dad just thought, ‘This is crazy. It will never work.’
“We got a simple, interactive website built. And you could go in there and request service for your motor home online. And we advertised both his phone number and his website. And between 75 and 90 per cent of his bookings are coming online in a brand new business. Why? Because people think electronically.
“It’s just more convenient.”
Troyer has been incorporating other new technologies into his business, including an electronic logbook system for his drivers that hasn’t been adopted by other businesses in the region.
“Our industry is a long way behind in integrating technology into our operations,” said Troyer.
“There’s no reason why every company in town isn’t on it,” he added, referring to the electronic logbook. “Every company in the industry. It’s brilliant, it’s simple and it works.”
The system is appealing to the younger generation of drivers that grew up with computers and who would much rather be using a touch screen than filling out logbooks with misspellings and poor penmanship.
Of course, age is part of the issue when it comes to adopting new technology, but it isn’t just a simple relationship between old age and a lack of interest in applications such as social media.
“Seniors, particularly – it’s amazing how they pick up on Facebook and some of the social media,” said Troyer. “Because they want to keep track of their kids and grandkids and their friends. They have time for it. Young kids – they learn it through high school and they bring it with them into the workforce.
“My generation, that middle group in [their] late thirties to fifty or something, tends to not want to deal with it. We see it as a distraction and a waste of time. … We actually build a resistance to it.
“We have to learn it,” he continued. “I am learning Facebook. I ask my kids all the time: how do I do this? You have to figure out how does it work. And it takes time. And I don’t want to embarrass myself in front of 400 people.
“But we have to learn how does it work. And when we learn it, it’s a tremendous advantage.”
“Social media is relatively new,” said Dodaro. “It was only five and a half years ago that I joined it. And I said that I was never going to do that.”
Dodaro eventually saw two benefits that attracted her to Facebook: the ability to communicate with friends and family in faraway places and the opportunity to promote business.
“I started learning everything that I could about it,” she continued. “And everybody’s perspective is shifting. The largest demographic that’s growing on Facebook is people 55-plus. So, even people that they thought wouldn’t use it are gravitating to it. In fact, my mother started using Facebook before me.”
Dodaro suggested that the old boys club culture of the oil and gas industry could be slowing down their progress with social media and other new technologies.
“Old boys are proud of being old boys... it’s a badge of honour,” said Troyer.
“We’ve got to quit that,” he continued. “We’ve got to start realizing that we have no right to sit and complain about not having any workers if we’re not talking to workers where they are.
“Schlumberger goes to Halifax and puts on job fairs because they know that’s where the workers are. So, they can get them. That’s smart. Go to where workers are. Let them be aware of it.”
The fact is that where workers are is on social media.
“I promise you,” said Troyer, “if I was looking for 100 employees, I’d have a YouTube clip done and it would be cool. And it would be something that would be funny, maybe.
“Because you can send that around through social media.”