A social licence to tweet

Social media is here. Whether we like it, use it, despise it or simply just don’t understand it, every company should be connected in one way or another – even if your company sells coal.

We’ve all heard of the term social media and have seen the ways in which it can influence modern society with a click of the mouse. What we are yet to see is the influence this 21st century craze has within the non-consumer, B2B world or more specifically, the resources industry.

Social media has the power to connect brands to their consumers, increase sales through cheaper advertising and even generate a ‘following’ within communities. But why should companies use social media if you’re not using it to sell your product? Four words – social license to operate.

By simply clicking the word ‘like’ on the well-known social media platform Facebook, users have the capability to build a worldwide sharing sensation, spreading media virally within minutes.

Mark Little, creator of social media platform Storyful, believes that every news event in the age of social media creates more than a conversation, it creates a community.

He suggests that when news breaks, a self-selecting network talks about the story and others simply amplify it by passing the content on to a wider community. Current statistics state that 50% of Australians use facebook, 1 in 10 Australians online use Twitter actively and a third of global B2B buyers use social media to engage with their vendors.

Today, everyone wants to have a conversation.

We could look at Oreo or Red Bull to demonstrate a successful social media campaign, however a leading example of a non-consumer social media success came from the 2008 and 2012 US presidential elections, which have been referred to as the Twitter elections.

What helped Barack Obama’s campaign stand-out was that it retained a human voice throughout, making it personal to the audience.

In the 2012 election, 30% of online users suggested that they were urged to vote via social media by family, friends or other social network connections, 20% actively encouraged others and 22% posted their decision when they voted.

Like this campaign, social media has the ability to showcase the personal side to the resources industry and could allow people to see the individuals behind the brand and the influence the industry has on Australians.

It must be mentioned that social media is not all positive.

Although there are countless success stories associated with the platform, social media also has traps for the uninitiated corporate.

Some companies have felt the downside of social media where the platform has backfired, operating less as a sales platform and more as an online complaints forum.

An example of this being Qantas’s failed approach when they encouraged customers to share their views of what makes a luxury flight.

The misjudged campaign was immediately flooded with complaints making light of Qantas's industrial relations dispute with its workers at the time.

The response went viral.

This reflects the fact that social media provides the opportunity for people to directly challenge, criticise and even abuse major corporates in a way that wasn’t previously possible before social media.

The mining industry is faced with activists using social media to campaign against the industry on a daily basis.

Recently, environmental activists groups have used online campaigns to unnerve overseas investors in Australian resource projects.

Mark Textor, political campaign and corporate strategist and social researcher, recently suggested that online activists have lately been exposing the inadequacy of corporate Australia to deal with the speed of threats in a multimedia landscape. 

Many corporate affairs professionals who are tasked with handling emerging issues are not as skilled online.

By the time non-online skilled industry associations haveconsulted members on an emerging online threat, the digital media has bled into mainstream and other key influencers, who in turn amplify the issue to traditional media.

So why would the resources sector use a communications tool such as social media when it is open to the public for interaction?

This question can be answered with numbers.

Rio Tinto, one of the largest mining organisations currently mining in Australia, has 16,798 followers on Twitter. This means 16,798 people are monitoring the company’s comments, stories and actions on a daily basis and sharing it with others if the content is worth sharing. Anglo American has 11,106 and BHP Billiton is currently non-existent. 

In contrast, Greenpeace, one of the largest international environmental NGOs, has 692,943 followers.8 Greenpeace is currently campaigning to ‘End the Age of Coal’, one part of their strategy being online public campaigning – social media.

When we go back and look at the rapid speed at which information is shared and viewed through these platforms, it’s a little concerning that the 692,943 followers reading and ‘re-tweeting’ comment after comment on the negative aspects around the coal mining industry are responsible for educating the social media society on how the industry works.

The concern isn’t only the statements or tweets shared by these large organisations, it is the way social media’s functionalities are used.

Social media can act as a broadcast network, strengthening view points of followers and ‘friends’.

When environmentalists, take Bill McKibben as an example, suggest that we need to ‘end coal’ and that “Americans have no choice but to end their consumption of cheap, carbon-producing fuels—immediately”, it is not only viewed by their immediate following but by the hundreds of thousands following the theme.

For those that are not familiar with both sides of the mining story, and with the lack of presence the resources sector has in the space, what counter argument do they have to form a valid argument/opinion?

This opens up the question: Are there any cases of ‘unpopular’ industries using social media to counter activist campaigning? How can we enhance and increase a voice for mining?

A social media strategy should not only be developed to defend the sector or respond to activist behaviour, the platform is available as a shared space for all and is a cost-efficient communication tool. Greenpeace’s #endcoal campaign not only focuses on the negative environmental aspects related to the mining sector but advertises the growing renewable energy employment figures.

A recent Greenpeace tweet suggested that “Renewable energy companies now employ about 5 million people worldwide” .

These kind tweets are positive and encouraging to hear from an employment perspective, but who is responding with the fact that mining also employs an estimated 25 million people worldwide, and indirectly supports more than 150 million people or the fact that 41% percent of global electricity is powered by coal.

Is it a case that social media is seen by the resources sector as either hostile territory or too risky?

Maybe it is seen as an echo chamber where green activists reinforce each other’s views without ‘reaching’ the broader population. Proponents of this view point to a recent survey carried out by Westpac which proved that more than two thirds of Australians believed that the country has a strong economic outlook and 53% of all respondents believe that the resources industry and growth of Asian markets are the greatest strengths.

Think about what the percentage could be if the resources sector had more of a voice in the social media space.

Statistics show that 83% of people aged between 18-29 and 77% of those aged between 30-49 use social media.

It is important to encourage the Australian audience to see the positive aspects of mining and protect the base of the industry by maintaining grassroots support and awareness from our current and future community, political and general public members. What better way to do this than use the platform that a rapidly growing share of the population is already using and familiar with.

Adopting the strategy of sticking our head in the sand won’t make social media go away.

A proactive approach will provide the sector with its own platform to manage, interact and educate. If set up and managed correctly, it provides the power to inform society on the financial and economic and social benefits mining brings to Australia on a very personal level and can help build an advocacy and understanding of the industry first hand. It could be used as a two-way communication channel to tell a story, provide useful information and allow for conversation.

Australians will want to follow the conversation if it matters to them.

Enhance the platform with tools like an electricity pricing calculator, share tips on how to save money on your next electricity bill or educate followers on how the carbon tax works from start to finish.

All of these  ideas are about educating and engaging with the general public in order to raise a better understanding of how the industry works and why it is important for the Australian economy. Yes it does have the potential to bring about unwanted attention or activist activity, but if the time and resources are put in place to build a strategy behind the tool, the resources industry can be responsible for managing, maintaining and responding to misleading information.

Mining needs a voice in the social media world.

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