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The Role of Social Media During the Industry Transformation

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Authors Stephen Forrester and Tarang Lal are members of the TWA Editorial Committee.

The term “digitization” has become ubiquitous, with major companies—from operators and drilling contractors to service and manufacturing companies—announcing some sort of digital initiative. The purpose of this digitization is to allow the oil and gas industry to work more efficiently, unlocking savings in a cost-constrained environment while simultaneously developing technology to address future problems. Within operations, the onset of the digital technology in traditionally analog processes is a major paradigm shift. Replacing antiquated equipment and functions with automated processes controlled by systems means the nature of how the industry does business is changing, diverging from a historical norm. This transformation will be further accelerated by the emergence of IIoT [industrial Internet of things] leading to more big data, machine learning, and analytics as powerful business tools for the sector. However, what about the role of the digital in a different sense—using social media?

Many might think that social media is not as prevalent in the oil and gas industry compared to others, including technology, due to a variety of factors: the makeup of the workforce, the remote locations of much field work, and the often-secretive nature of business and technology dealings, just to name a few. The burgeoning population of millennials in oil and gas and diversified, global workforce, however, means more and more engagement with social media will be necessary to attract top talent.

In the past, having a functioning website was considered enough of an online presence; today, an online presence cannot be considered complete without social media. While the true value of engaging in social media may be nebulous, being an active participant in the major social networks provides unique opportunities for companies to engage entirely new subsets of employees and potential employees, building rapport and creating a platform for thought leadership, collaboration, and sharing. With that in mind, three primary purposes of social media in the oil and gas industry appear to be education, awareness, and business.

Education

One purpose of social media is education. It can be leveraged as a tool to reach both current and future industry employees as well as the public; social media can be used to explain the “how” and “why” of oil and gas. Some people, for example, might seek out educational videos that explain technical concepts in simple, accessible language with accompanying visuals—how does equipment work, how does one drill a well, what is drilling fluid, why there are so many different drill bit designs. The potential list of topics is almost endless, particularly as the industry continues to grow and evolve with each passing year. Some of this is incorporated through excellent YouTube videos, but opportunities to integrate advertisement with such videos is extremely limited.

The purpose of education is fulfilled by a broad range of sites, including those that bring in quizzes and devices for learning and knowledge transfer, and social media is the platform by which such information can be shared. This creates a feedback loop where educational content can be created, then consumed, then refined as commentary on the content comes up. It was not possible to achieve such iterative improvement so quickly in the past.

Business Tool

Social media can, and should, be used as a legitimate business tool. This can occur via both organic posting—posts simply uploaded to an account—or through paid content, which involves paying the social media company to post and promote content to achieve higher engagement and viewing rates with targeted advertising. In both cases, social media platforms can help showcase what the company is doing, successful projects, new technologies, and so forth. It can also provide a forum to engage with the posts on the company’s page, allowing commenters to discuss content with SMEs [subject matter experts] and exchange relevant information; it can be, that is, a place for active collaboration and networking. Think reddit + Instagram, but for oil and gas.

The posts can also potentially generate revenue, often due to the sheer volume of people viewing the content; in some instances, impressions (the number of times a post is viewed in a newsfeed) can exceed 100,000, a number that doesn’t even include impressions from re-shares of the post and their related metrics. One can imagine the massive reach of social media when 100,000 or more people are viewing a single post, and a company is posting four or five times a week. If even one person makes a purchasing decision based on a social media post, it is likely that the social media budget—including hiring and retaining a social media coordinator—will be covered, and then some.

Of additional interest is that brand recognition plays a huge role in this space, enabling companies to retain top talent while maintaining a positive image in society. It seems that not every company that uses social media truly understands how to do so effectively—how to post, what to caption, what photography to use as a complement to the text. Yet after examining LinkedIn, one major service company had more than a million followers despite posting content infrequently, while a page with extremely active posting had almost five times fewer followers. The impact of this goes both ways; for one, the potential of the first company to succeed on social media is massive due to the huge follower base gained via the strength of its brand name. A smaller following, however, is not necessarily a bad thing if those people are engaged and committed to the brand. Audience size is only one piece of the puzzle with regards to potential social media influence; consistently creating and publishing content that is interesting is the other. When balanced, social media has the potential to be a legitimate business driver, generating revenue, and reducing costs while strengthening a company culture.

Awareness

Perhaps the greatest purpose of social media in oil and gas is as a means of overcoming the general public’s misperceptions about the industry. Though there are certainly valid points on both sides of the aisle, it seems that few people truly understand what this industry does and how daily lives are deeply dependent on it. The oil and gas industry dramatically changed the standard of living over the past century, a metamorphosis so profound that no one could have dreamed of it 100 years ago—intercontinental travel, telephone lines, hygiene, medicine, and plastics. This is an industry of highly trained technical professionals and businesspeople, hundreds of thousands of them, working collaboratively to produce and refine a resource from the planet that is the backbone of modern society.

 

Social media can be an effective resource to share this message—that the oil and gas industry is essential, even in a world that is slowly transitioning to include more renewables, and that it has made massive strides to improve safety and environmental stewardship. There is still more to be done, and working together to correct society’s broader misunderstandings about oil and gas as a business will be critical to survival in the long term. This will be even more important as information consumption accelerates due to the digitization of other industries.

The oil and gas industry is the seventh-largest industry sector within the S&P 500. Recognizing the scope of the industry means that one must also recognize the impact social media can have in moving toward a digital world. What is key is that those who engage with social media, especially on behalf of their company, be active participants in discussions, sharing their stories and using social platforms effectively. Now, in a time where Millennials and Generation Z spend up to 10 hours per day on their phones, technology is a way of life, integrated seamlessly into both the personal and professional worlds. Companies must adapt or be left behind by their peers.

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