The Uncomfortable Age of Transparency: Energy Companies in the Social Media
by Aryna Kastavetskaya, PR/IR Adviser
In 2012, social media has become an extremely powerful tool which offers companies new opportunities but also threats. In order for the company, working in the energy sector, to succeed, - it is crucial to communicate quickly and efficiently at any time and any place. Social media gives that opportunity. It builds an easier platform for interaction between company, shareholders, partners and employees, providing a chance to engage and build relationships.
One-Step Communication No Longer Works:
One of the main mistakes made by companies is establishing a one-step communications model and believing it will work. For example, a company, such as Chevron, understands that importance and allows comments to be made on their social profiles. They also use visual tools in its Twitter account, such as photos and videos to draw user’s attention. With the web 2.0, companies have a great chance of not only making their websites full of corporate information but also to express their personalities.
Loss of Control:
One of the main reasons for companies not jumping into social media is because they feel that they cannot control the message. In today’s world of media relations, it is important to say the truth because earlier or later, it will come out. Controlled online environment does no longer exist; people all over the world come together in one place which is Internet and they do speak out. It is better for a company itself to break bad news, rather than wait until someone else does it. Ethics is a very broad subject of discussion. It is even more difficult to define it, in terms of the social media. Things such as confidentiality are not so confidential anymore.
Blogging is another strong social media tool which collaborates to the leaking of the sensitive information. Anyone can start a blog without having to reveal his identity. This has led to many sources posting sensitive corporate information and projecting their opinions. There are around 50,000 posts published hourly. Many people blog about their interests in the company, their opinions of the management and the assets. Those people are individuals whose voice can reach the world and make changes. This is why the companies should start caring more for the individuals, rather than the mass market. ExxonMobil have a regular blog from Ken Cohen called Perspectives, writing about the latest trends within the energy industry. Rivel Research 2011, has showed that 49% of institutional investors occasionally read financial blogs and 33% do so at least weekly.
The Uncomfortable Age of Transparency
Google provides companies with an unintentional transparency. Political analyst and writer Micah Sifry has called this “the uncomfortable Age of Transparency.” He argues that we are struggling with the change of the older, closed systems and are now entering the open culture in the Internet. It can be quite damaging if the company has undergone any unpleasant scandals. For example, BP have suffered a major downfall with the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico and their crisis have been one of the first to get listed in the Google search associated with BP. It has to be noted that some of the negative corporate news may be listed for over five years. On the other, hand BP has largely concentrated on their social media communications since the spill. BP has used Twitter as a way of updating its followers and public on the progress of the oil spill clean-up. The company has now been ranked by FTSE100 as the best company, amongst its sector, using its social media channels for the management of corporate reputation.
Energy sector PR has to restructure its approach in order to meet the new needs of the interactive society and investors. Edelman has summed up this new trend: ‘We should adopt a new tone, moving away from selling, towards a continuous conversation with the goal of learning from stakeholders. Public relations practitioners must become informed advocates, dedicated to speaking the truth and listening.’ He also notes that the conversation between the practitioner and consumer cannot be done, unless it is based on the transparency and accuracy.