Last week Craig presented a paper on ‘Social Media Use in the Australian Energy and Resources Sectors‘ at the Australian Petroleum Production and Exploration Association meeting in Adelaide, which is the main annual meeting for the O&G industry in Australia.

Building on work that past students have done in Craig’s Social Licensing course, the paper documented the relatively low (but increasing) use of Social Media by Energy and Mining companies in Australia over the past five years.  Companies appear to have a clear focus on recruitment and other stakeholders such as shareholders or the finance sector – communicating with these stakeholders is obviously important for companies  and so using social media for this is a sensible strategy.

A common theme during the APPEA conference, however, was Social Licence to Operate and there were several keynote speakers from industry promoting the idea that industry should be more proactive about communicating with the general public, including via social media. Consequently, Craig’s talk which provided data about just what industry was actually doing (which wasn’t much of that!)  was picked up by several industry news bulletins.

While communicating more widely with a diverse range of stakeholders is a worthwhile goal, simply broadcasting a message ‘that fracking is safe’ etc. may not necessarily be as effective as some in industry hope …after all, it’s not as if some companies/associations haven’t already tried this.  Although Craig’s work was a high level summary of rates of adoption and use of social media, it was clear that in most cases companies were largely broadcasting information, rather than trying to initiate true, two-way conversations.  Others have delved more into the sorts of conversations that occur on social media – and in many cases, social media isn’t a place where there’s a large uninformed populace all waiting to hear both sides of a debate before critically analysing all the evidence presented! Certainly, strategies to have real (social media) dialogue with a broader range of stakeholder will take effort and sometimes will be difficult conversations for companies to deal with. Thus, there may be an important role here for industry associations like APPEA to develop strategic approaches for using social media to communicating with stakeholders (rather than just broadcasting to).

An open access version of the extended abstract of Craig’s talk will appear in the UCL research publications service shortly, but if anyone is interested they can also contact Craig for a copy of the slide pack from the talk.