Where Do We Go From Here? SM Future Implications

Social Media (SM) is here to stay; that, we know for certain. It has shaped our entire social and business world from hard-copy, print interactions to app-driven, hand-held marketing. There are countless articles and advice on what to do in this brave, new, digitally-run world, but the future predictions on just how far this technology will go is still anyone’s guess (or is it just mine?)

I’m going to go out on a limb here, prepared to be ostracized by the most devout SM tweeters, posters, and bloggers who have collaboratively altered the marketing world and our social lives as we knew them. I’m going to predict that while SM in the general sense is here to stay, it will not continue and may even decline (gasp!) in the next 15 years.

I recently came across an article on SocialMediaToday.com called “Trust is the New Currency: Innovative Models for Business Transactions.” That title is pretty interesting. In my opinion, this has been one of the most critical emotions tied to SM. People become engaged with their favorite brands because they want the affirmation that the company deserves their business; they want to trust the brand. On Facebook and Twitter, people are blindly adding “friends” and “following” each other with zero knowledge of who that person is; again, wanting that trust and connection. We scour the web to find out everything we can about a company before we start with them; we want to trust this new, future employer.

In just 10 years (Facebook was founded in 2004), the level of SM engagement and technology has increased to a level no one predicted. But I don’t think it’s going to last. I think Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, maybe Instagram, and few others, will continue on to attract the younger generations and market. However, the overkill of participation and opinions will eventually be drowned out. It will only be a matter of time before consumers become exhausted constantly being asked to vote on products, or give their opinion/feedback on everything they do or every link they click. I argue that to an extent, we like being told what to think; we like someone else doing the research and advising us on whether to pick car A or car B.

The frantic buzz and excitement around social media has forced companies to participate, even when they have no idea what they are really participating in. The best strategy moving forward, for any company, is to remain flexible and maintain continuous measurement on your SM strategies. As this human behavior changes, be ready to adapt to it. Perhaps we will still be utilizing Facebook or YouTube as marketing platforms, but the messages shift to less engagement. Keeping a constant measure of your SM tools will also ensure that you are on top of the trend, whichever way it swings, and following it won’t be as painful as the first time around.

Whatever comes of SM and all of the tools surrounding it, my hope is that we do not lose the real “social” aspect – you remember, the one where people actually interact with one another, in person.


Viral Marketing Intiatives: With a Little Luck…

A common misconception with social media is that a mere presence will put you on the map; that a single Facebook page or a tweet once a month will suddenly start flooding your business with increased sales. Today, this is like buying a winning lottery ticket – no matter how optimistic you are, it’s just not gonna happen.

So how do you get a successful, possibly even viral, marketing campaign? Aside from ensuring you have honed-in on your target market, developed a plan over multiple social media channels, measured your baseline, and gathered a stellar, multi-department team (whew!), there are a few other characteristics that will help guarantee you hit the tipping point on social media.

1. Strike an emotional nerve: Whether it’s humor, courage, thought-provoking, shocking, etc., a viral marketing campaign will always impact you, intensely, on an emotional level.

2. Don’t just Spread the Word, Spread the Word to the Right People: Malcolm Gladwell explains it perfectly in his book, The Tipping Point. Mr. Gladwell refers to a group of people in our society that are unusually connected and have paramount connections. These people are appropriately called Connectors; and these are the people you need to get your message out to. One thing to look for are the specific groups that have organized around your industry. Connect with them, and let them help distribute your message to the right masses.

3. Pay Attention to Timing: This is a tough one, but it’s critical to do your best to time your marketing campaign appropriately. What is going on in your market? What will happen in the next month? Is there a popular event that you should time your campaign with? All of these aspects should be taken in to consideration when releasing our campaign in hopes of it going viral.

4. Make your Campaign Viral-able (if that’s not a word, it should be!): Simply put, make sure your campaign is developed to be easily spread; from YouTube, Facebook, Twitter, bloggers, etc. it must physically be able to go viral.

5. Engagement: The last key characteristic to help a marketing campaign go viral is to include some type of engagement. A great example is the 50’s avatar that the hit TV show Mad Men allowed fans to create. This type of engagement puts the fans inside their favorite brands and truly makes them feel a part of the brand. The Mad Men site has numerous interactive aspects to their website that go way beyond the show itself. There is an app for “cocktail culture,” a hair and makeup look-book that gives styles and tips based on the television show’s era, and numerous other games, RSS feeds, Twitter, and Facebook links.

A viral marketing campaign is never easy and certainly not guaranteed. But, with a little luck and considering the above characteristics, you can help your campaign reach that critical tipping point.

Differentiation – Oil & Gas Industry

Now that we have another year behind us (hopefully a successful one!), companies around the world are starting with a new balance sheet, a new vision, and new strategies for 2014.

Like it or not, we are in the day and age where social media (SM) must be part of your business’ strategy; and, it’s not just about setting up a Facebook page and then kicking your feet back, either. The presence must be focused, active, and aligned with your business goals.

I’ve decided to examine two companies in this industry and how they utilize social media to differentiate their brands, as well as promote and enhance their strategic goals as organizations. The two companies we’ll look at are Marathon Oil Corporation and Murphy Oil Corporation.

Both of these high-powered oil & gas companies are relatively close in gross revenue at $15B (Marathon) and $28B (Murphy) in FY 2012 and are substantial upstream market players. Just looking at the shear revenue volume of these companies, you would imagine a robust social media department; however, the oil & gas market is not only controversial, but a market often saturated with more “seasoned” professionals than some of the other service-based markets like transportation or technology. This, in itself, requires companies in this industry to take a thorough look at their market, their clients, and determine where SM is best suited.

Marathon Oil Corporation seems to be on the right track. Right on their homepage, you notice the menu bar at the top with links to their profiles on LinkedIn, Flickr, Twitter, and even their own YouTube Channel. Four out of their five core values are focused on people – whether it’s their employees or the communities in which they work. To support these values, the first video that plays on their YouTube Channel is employees discussing the opportunities and culture at Marathon; the tweets on their Twitter feed are mostly job openings, charity events, and/or community outreach photos and postings. Utilizing SM as a human resources/recruiting tool has become increasingly popular for the oil & gas industry and Marathon has done a good job of promoting their core goals externally through SM.

When you navigate to Murphy Oil Corporation’s website, there are no direct links to their SM presence. In a larger search effort, you find that they “technically” have a Facebook page, but it does not display a profile photo or logo, has no postings, and a gloomy 64 “likes.” They have no Twitter account. For a company founded on more than 80 years in the industry, they may be fulfilling their stated Formula for Success: Develop and produce fields in a safe, responsible, timely, and cost-effective manner; but it sure isn’t through the new wave of SM. In the long term, a company like Murphy will need to develop a presence on SM to, at the very least, begin attracting the talent that will one day run the company.

I come across these drastic swings in SM involvement in this industry a lot. Some are on-board and put the investments in the right places for their business, like Marathon. Others still deem that this “trend” of social media will not last and cannot find the strategic links to it in their business. To the latter, I say good luck. The future of the industry is scanning Facebook right now, searching for jobs on LinkedIn, and watching YouTube videos of their next employer.

Social Media Success: Talk Less, Listen More

In my recent attempt to thrust myself in to the world of blogging, tweeting, poking, and posting, I’ve learned quite a few things. I’ve never been much of a social media participant (frankly, who has the time for it?) Yet, the reality is that every industry has a place in the new virtual world. But it’s not enough to just be present – companies have to be active in social media. So in my adventures on social media, I’ve learned that abiding by just a couple key guidelines, you can successfully manage a brand regardless of your industry.

In my previous posts, I’ve discussed how the industry I work in (oil and gas) can leverage social media to respond to crisis or emergency situations and use social media to help keep a transparent image to the public. In addition, the oil and gas community should be more actively monitoring social media and staying attuned to what clients and even competitors may be saying about them. The importance of shifting the focus from what you, as a marketer, put out on social media about your brand, to what your clients/consumers are putting out on social media about your brand is astounding. This brings me to one of the most important best practices I think companies need to adhere to in social media – listen first, then act.

In the book, Groundswell, the authors help to explain the social media craze – the lessons from the companies who have failed and the companies who have triumphed – and they try to help make sense out of it all for those who are still reeling from the idea of internet on our phones. In one particular chapter, the author discusses an unhappy Dell customer and how his rants on social media were virtually ignored by Dell until he began forwarding links of other unhappy customers to the Chief Marketing Officer (CMO). Dell learned the hard way, the importance of listening first, and then acting. Companies have to be actively listening first and foremost, and then develop a path of responding to both positive and negative feedback from clients.

One of the other most important keys to success in social media is the consistency and relevancy. Whether you are on Twitter, Facebook, or LinkedIn, any company that wants to retain any kind of following they must be consistent with their postings, and ensure that the content is relevant and important to their audience. According to emarketer.com, roughly 1 in 4 consumers around the world are on social media, uploading videos, blogging, and posting feedback and comments about various companies and products. The interactions on social media are endless and companies must ensure they are right in the middle of the clamor, providing up-to-date and interesting information that keeps people talking about YOUR BRAND.

The one aspect that I think has been ignored in the flurry of trying to gain a foothold in the virtual world and understand social media is listening to your internal organization as well. Websites like glassdoor.com, allow employees to rate and comment on their current workplace. Listening to what your co-workers are saying is just as important as listening to the external clients and consumers. Your employees are the easiest marketers for your company, but only if they are happy.

So off we go with these few tools and endless possibilities. There’s plenty of room for growth and expertise in social media, but keeping these few items at the forefront will put you well on your way to creating an integrated brand that can reach across the globe.

“Most people do not listen with the intent to understand; they listen with the intent to reply.”
― Stephen R. Covey, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People: Powerful Lessons in Personal Change

Oil & Gas: Communicate in Crisis

The oil and gas industry is faced with a changing technology and let’s face it, we haven’t been leading the pack with innovation and participation in this digital media world. However, that fact isn’t necessarily a bad thing. The oil & gas market is a controversial and confidential industry that, unlike many other industries, must understand the importance of using social media for crisis before anything else.

No one will argue how critical branding is to any business. In the oil and gas industry, many companies have driven human resources efforts such as recruiting, and other achievements, through social media in an effort to shape their brand. Petro-Canada is an example of a company that has been a pioneer for the industry by getting involved early in the social media boom. Petro-Canada posts YouTube videos and has a popular blog (PumpTalk) that address common questions the industry faces – like, why gas prices increase? These well-known approaches to social media are a rewarding and low-risk way to have a presence without drawing more attention to an industry that would honestly prefer less limelight.

The challenge that the industry (and every company involved) faces are not related to simple branding or recruiting, but hinged primarily on crisis management. With the state of the market, the controversial “fracking” technology and lack of infrastructure to support it, there is digital gluttony of information and opinions circulating. Due to this, companies involved in any part of the oil and gas supply chain must be prepared to handle crisis communication situations. Companies do not have the luxury of “gathering the troops” and strategically discussing a response in the wake on an incident. A team and plan must be in place to help make quick decisions, and then get those decisions out to the world.

According to an article on ABCNews.com, the BP Oil Spill was the largest tweeting trend of the year in 2010; an achievement that the Supermajor would likely prefer to forget. The responses to any crisis, especially in the oil and gas sector, must be close to immediate. Further dialogue and explanations can follow, but the risks of not responding to the public in such a debated industry can be devastating and leaves the uninformed masses to guide the conversations.

“A person is smart. People are dumb, panicky, dangerous animals, and you know it.”
-Tommy Lee Jones, Men In Black

Oil & Gas Industry: Thriving, but not-so-Mobile

The component of the oil & gas industry that I am intimately involved in is the actual bidding for construction of pipelines, fractionators, revamps/retrofits, and most other midstream and downstream infrastructure. This unique business utilizes social media as a heavy-hitting public relations tool. As most companies, especially all the supermajors, have jumped on the bandwagon to create a Facebook page or Twitter feed, the mobile applications for this industry are pretty sparse.

In a service-based industry like oil & gas construction, contractors cannot do much by way of promotions or product placement via mobile applications. The common approaches to mobile applications for this industry lean toward news, directories, and even a clever dictionary for the industry.

At a conference I attended last year, the collateral that one contractor handed me was in the shape of an iPod screen. As I read the ad, it was promoting their new mobile application that included industry news and an oilfield glossary. Of course, the application has this contractor’s logo at the top of every page and also on the application’s icon when you download it. Not only does this increase their branding, but it is a useful, practical mobile application. As a young professional working in this complex industry with veterans of 40+ years, the glossary of oilfield terms is extremely helpful and a clever way to help the younger generation keep up and learn.

Another popular mobile application for this industry is from the Oil & Gas Journal, Penwell’s popular news magazine. This magazine was first published in 1902 – so yeah, it’s been around a while. They are one of the few publications in this industry that have quickly followed the trend of developing a mobile application to accompany their magazine. It’s similar to the magazine and links to industry news and articles. For those that want to keep up in the market, this is a mobile way to check what’s going on, while you’re on the go and away from the computer.

I consider myself significantly involved in the public relations of this industry and I have not heard much “buzz” surrounding these applications. That being said, the majority of the industry is not the generation that mobile applications would appeal to. I am fully confident that as this industry goes through a shift in personnel (many of the veterans retiring and a younger generation taking the reins), that there will be massive movement in our digital media world.

Oil & Gas Industry: Slowly Drilling in to Social Media

I am in an industry that is the lifeblood of America; an industry that started in 347 A.D. with bamboo “pipelines,” and has grown in to one of the largest industries in the world, today.

The oil and gas industry held 54 of the world’s 500 wealthiest companies in 2010 (Searles, 2012). This vast market has made Houston, Texas its epicenter and living here, you cannot deny importance and vitality of this natural resource.

Driving just a few minutes through Houston and you see the mark this industry has had on the city. There is even a stretch of highway known as the “Energy Corridor” that is lined with nothing but energy Owners, contractors, suppliers, and vendors. But, for those who do not live inside our bubble, there’s a strong need to communicate the happenings of this market to the rest of the world – both for public relations aspects and to address controversy.

Companies like British Petroleum (BP), are making great strides in staying on top of the social media craze. It’s not easy for an industry that often refers to its veterans as “Good ‘Ole Boys” to adapt to such a fast-paced, virtual world. In the wake of the Macondo blow out in the Gulf Coast, BP had serious public relations issues to handle. In my opinion, they have done a great job of promoting their increased focus on safety, and in recruiting top, young talent via Twitter. Their Facebook page does not screen comments, as you can scroll through and find several negative reactions to various postings. I think in such a controversial industry, BP is smart to leave the positive and negative comments up on their Facebook page. This allows people to feel a level of transparency with the company, who has struggled with their image since the Macondo spill. BP also recently tweeted a link to an article that promoted their training and development program in a small Gulf Coast town in Louisiana. This type of use of social media – for human resources or branding – is primarily what you see in this industry. The other large oil and gas firms like Chevron, Shell, and Exxon are also leading the pack on social media. All have Twitter, Facebook, Flickr, and YouTube links that can easily be found and followed from their homepages. Some of the smaller firms, however, are still behind in trying to navigate social media.

One of the reasons I think this industry is not more involved in social media is because the return on investment (ROI) is so difficult to measure. In the book, The Tao of Twitter, the author explains this same theory relative to social media in general. When the ROI can’t be a number at the bottom of an excel spreadsheet, it makes senior management squirm in their seats when faced with the decision to invest in it. Also, the oil and gas industry, like many others, was founded on relationships. A handshake sealed a project award; a phone call to wish someone happy birthday got you in the door to meet their project managers. Trust is everything. So as the world moves in to a new era of digital communication, the relationships have turned to status updates; the phone call is a Facebook post; and “trust” can be evaluated by a LinkedIn resume.

While the big players in the industry seem to be adapting and utilizing social media as a public relations platform, the smaller firms are struggling with the adjustment. More and more we are seeing connections made (Facebook pages and LinkedIn Groups), and the recognition of a qualitative ROI measurement for social media uses in this industry increasing.

The oil and gas industry will get there and hopefully soon we will find our niche in digital media. But, like our southern drawl, it just might take a little longer.


Social Media Tools: Not Everyone Can Ride the Bandwagon the Same

As I move through my career in a competitive-bid, project-based industry, I find the uses for social media tools to be quite different than a typical service or product-based industry. Tools such as Facebook and Twitter serve their purpose on a personal level for millions of Americans; even most businesses offering a product and/or common service, have been able to navigate and market their roles in these two forums. But, is there an industry that doesn’t see a very significant benefit in social media (gasp!)?

Utilizing social media gives consumers an instant rush of a world outside of where they are, in that very moment. On Facebook, you log in and access a virtual realm where (with little effort on your part) you can get the latest trends, download coupons, win merchandise, cyber-stalk celebrities, connect with old friends, and partake in a variety of social interactions such as liking, poking, sending cyber “gifts,” and even declining or ending friendships. Whew! On Twitter, you have the opportunity to share your thoughts (hopefully they aren’t too deep, since the character limit is 140) and your opinions with an unlimited number of users with just a hashtag (#).

Many companies today see the benefits to the above-mentioned engagement that social media has on consumers. Product-based companies are offering discounts and friend-only promotions through Facebook pages. News outlets are streaming live Twitter feeds during newscasts to allow for public scrutiny or praise. The opportunities seem endless for marketing on social media and everyone has jumped on the band wagon.

But, consider the companies that build infrastructure such as roads, bridges, and highways; or the companies that build the oil refineries where crude oil is cleaned, cracked, and converted to make plastics or turn in to gasoline? What about the contractors who build manufacturing plants? All of these project-based companies have been left scratching their heads on how to approach and use social media.

For these businesses, the social media world provides a platform for branding. They can’t post discounts or deals; they can’t give away a free gas plant; so, it’s a chance to get their name out. For a tool like Facebook, the most beneficial utilization is as a Human Resources application. Posting jobs, recruiting, and targeting new employees via Facebook can travel much farther and much wider compared to the archaic method of posting on Monster.com or Careerbuilder.com. Twitter also becomes an avenue to “tweet” new company awards and accolades, upcoming events and sponsorships, and even project photos from recently completed jobs.

The impact of social media on our culture is changing just as fast as we can adapt to it. And in the wake of Facebook, applications like LinkedIn have been adopted to appeal more to a professional services or project-based industry. So while we all scramble to find our place in the social media world, my advice it to just give it a year or so – I guarantee it’ll change.