Companies (and the trade associations that represent them) need to develop social media-specific strategies as part of their non-technical risk management plans. The most effective approach is to focus on regional assets and address specific local concerns. In the case of shale development nationwide, there are issues to address — air emissions, health, seismicity and water impacts, among many others — but individual regions rarely view all of these matters as equally important. Responding to every possible problem likely will overlook the fact that a given community is interested only in one or two topics. Social media can provide a glimpse into a community’s most important concerns, as well as a platform for addressing them directly, clearly and effectively.
In an environment where towns are considering restrictions on hydraulic fracturing, local issues are bigger than an individual operator’s plans. A locally passed measure can have a snowball effect if companies operating outside that locality fail to respond in a timely fashion. Even a brief delay can mean local residents already have been flooded via Twitter and Facebook, as well as microsites with carefully crafted talking points designed to sway opinions against development. The speed with which information travels over social media means that, in the absence of a proactive engagement strategy, any public outreach after the fact likely will be too little and too late.
The oil and gas industry has an overwhelmingly positive (and broadly supported) story to tell. That story — job creation, economic growth and energy security — has not changed much over the decades, but the way people look for and share news has.
Those who are interested in “getting the story right” about their companies or organizations cannot afford to ignore social media, especially if competitors — or advocacy groups fighting against corporate interests — are themselves actively engaging in those channels. Ignoring social media allows others to shape the public narrative.
Paid advertisements and conventional media outreach still are useful to the energy industry, but they no longer are sufficient for achieving public relations (“PR”) goals. As the experience with the Colorado fracking debate showed us, ignoring social media ultimately could result in something much bigger than bad PR: It could mean losing the license to operate altogether.
David Blackmon (@gdblackmon) has more than 30 years of experience in the oil and gas industry, focusing on public and governmental affairs. His regular Forbes column ranks among the most highly trafficked sources on the web for discussions about fracking and other oil and gas issues.
Steve Everley (@saeverley) serves as team lead for the nationally recognized Energy In Depth program, a public education program on hydraulic fracturing and tight resource development. He recently was ranked among the top 10 oil and gas professionals on Twitter.