15 Mar 2012 The skinny on social media for oil and gas from Kate Trgovac
This week we continue our digital literacy series with an interview with Kate Trgovac (@mynameiskate), a digital marketer with almost two decades of online marketing experience. Kate is President of Vancouver-based LintBucket Media, a boutique marketing agency specializing in social media marketing and digital content creation. Her clients include large corporations like Suncor Energy and Maple Leaf Foods as well as startups like Kinzin and Osmosus.
It’s fair to say that Kate is a social media trailblazer, especially in the sometimes reluctant oil and gas sector. Way back in 2006 (when social media was really in its infancy) Kate led a major player in the oil and gas industry on their first foray into social media. She’s one of the minds behind Petro-Canada’s successful PumpTalk blog. I spoke to Kate about the success of this blog and got her take on current social media trends for the oil and gas industry and businesses in general.
What was it like to begin the PumpTalk blog? When did it launch? What issues did you have to consider? What do you think was the key to success?
The PumpTalk blog actually began as a series of YouTube videos. An individual in the communications department, Jon Hamilton, took inspiration from the large number of downloads of a one-pager on gas prices and hurricanes that was posted on the Petro-Canada website. He surmised that people were looking for more of this kind of information – and he was right. In Fall 2006, we filmed eight videos (four unique questions in both English and French) that answered common questions people had about gas prices: what factors determine gas prices, why do they seem to fluctuate so much, etc.
Following on the success of the video program, we launched the PumpTalk blog in September 2007 – the idea was to allow for a more interactive experience than the videos offered and to expand the content mandate of PumpTalk. There were several issues to consider; it was almost five years ago – no major company in Canada had a blog at the time, let alone one in a heavily regulated, not particularly loved industry like oil and gas. We worked with legal to address liability issues, with marketing to address content and control issues, and with senior management to address reputation and ROI issues. It was a long sell up the chain but we did it by including key stakeholders at every step of the way, having a clearly defined mandate for the blog (Gas Prices and Fuel Efficiency) and having an exit strategy (PumpTalk was initially positioned as a one year pilot project).
Almost five years later, PumpTalk has gone through a few changes. The content mandate continues to expand – we’ve polled readers about what they are interested in and now have consumer-oriented articles on topics like safe driving or octane boosters as well as slightly more technical posts on topics like WTI vs Brent Crude.
PumpTalk’s success has come largely through a committed authorship; PumpTalk is written by a team of writers. This team has evolved over the past five years, but they have all been enthusiastic about sharing information with customers as well as sharing their own passion for driving-related content. The readership and, perhaps even more importantly, the engagement has continued to grow each year. Customers see value in the content that is provided.
What are the current social media concerns and trends for oil and gas companies?
These days, oil and gas companies can really be anywhere along the spectrum of social media readiness and evolution – so their trends are really everyone’s trends. But in general, these are the top three that I see or have clients asking about:
- Crisis communication readiness – getting plans, process and communications channels in place and ready to go when a crisis occurs. Tip: Getting the process right is the hardest one.
- Mobile readiness – this takes a couple of forms. Making sure websites are ready for mobile (smart phones and tablets in particular). Also discussing the need for offline content in the form of an app. For example, CAPP recently ported their Oil Sands Fact Book to an iPhone app.
- Employee engagement – I’m thrilled that oil and gas companies are starting to open up access to social media sites for employees. This needs to be accompanied by strong programs that educate and support employees, not only on how to use social media appropriately vis a vis the company, but also how to protect their own privacy online.
What are you working on lately as it pertains to oil and gas and social media?
Well, certainly all of the above. Crisis communication social media channels are top of mind – it is so important for companies to have a plan and for everyone on the team to be trained and ready to go. During a crisis is not when you want to be using Hootsuite on your Blackberry for the first time. And more than one person should have the keys to your emergency blog – make sure you know who those people are.
I’ve also been working a lot on social media policy development. As internal access to social media is opened up and as more employees tweet, blog and post photos/videos, companies must provide guidance around appropriate use and appropriate content. Expectations need to be set and employees should have clear guidelines.
Finally, I’m also starting to see some branching out by companies in their social media efforts to specialized or niche audiences. Recruiting is a significant issue for a number of companies, particularly those operating in the oil sands. We’re working on social media efforts that are focused on recruiting: campus-based initiatives, geo-location based initiatives – video, blogging, tweeting – providing as much information as possible to potential employees.
What reasons do you give your oil and gas clients for becoming digitally literate? What are the risks of ignoring this?
Honestly, these days ignoring social media is like ignoring the telephone. If you’re going to do business, you at least need to be aware of what people are saying about you. Ideally, you’d get involved.
What are the risks? To me it’s mainly about missed opportunities – for collaboration, for product improvement, for showing your customers that you listen to and support them, for showcasing partners and enhancing both their reputation and your own. The opportunity of participation in social media is so much greater than any perceived “safety” of not participating.
What unique challenges have you found in working with oil and gas companies in the social media world?
Companies that are in heavily regulated industries like oil and gas have special challenges. One of the biggest I’ve seen is the mindset change required to move from a reactive to a proactive stance. Social media, the digital world, demands proactivity. People want more information, more communication, and more transparency into what companies are doing. However, big companies in regulated industries are reactive – sometimes not by choice but by the constraints of regulatory bodies.
I have to keep reminding myself that an oil and gas company tweeting isn’t like Joe’s Bait and Tackle tweeting. Or even like Zappos tweeting. The partnerships that have to happen in the organization to start social media initiatives and keep them flowing are extraordinary. I have so much respect for the people in these organizations who keep sharing their passion and their knowledge to get others on board. It can be a long row to hoe.
What do you think are the key things for businesses, oil and gas and maybe all industries, to remember/know about digital media?
The main objections to social media involvement that I encounter are around time commitment, technology and fear. Here’s what I ask my clients to remember …
- Time commitment – yep, there is one. Every new skill has a learning curve. But, you don’t have to do EVERYTHING in social media. Pick one thing and do it well. Maybe you tweet, maybe you post videos, maybe you guest blog. It’s ok to do just one thing – but pick one and start. Corollary: social media is best played as a team sport. It shouldn’t be one person’s job – it should be a communication mindset.
- Technology – yes, social media requires technical skill to be effective and efficient. But it’s not about technology. And it certainly isn’t rocket science level technical skill. Breathe. And put a training program in place.
- Fear – yep, people are going to say mean things about you. Terrible things. Things that are hard to hear. But guess what – they are already saying those things; you starting a blog doesn’t start the bad comments – they are already happening. Why wouldn’t you want to know about them so you can fix them? And, some people are actually saying really great things about you. Why wouldn’t you want to thank them?