On February 15th, 2012 Shell launched its first globally integrated Facebook page, representing a significant milestone for the company and its commitment to open communication and community engagement.
In many ways, the learnings and experience (in the first 10 weeks) have clarified our viewpoint on what community and social engagement truly means for a company like Shell. I call it our "Back to the Future" insights and learning moments.
The Need to Engage.
Shell's senior management endorsed the company's progressive entry into social media (starting with Facebook) driven by a need to engage with people in a way that reflects the realities of the world that we operate in today.
Energy is a complex industry that affects every person on the planet.
There are many socioeconomic, environmental and geopolitical issues surrounding the energy industry that require a great deal of education and exchange with people of all ages, cultures and in all countries, to progress.
Although Shell was not the first energy company to embrace social media, we have been the fastest growing and are now leading all others by measure of followers. As we enter the tenth week with our Facebook effort, we have surpassed 900,000 followers and are on track to reach 1 million in the first three months.
We are learning daily as to "why" people are following and engaging with us. The learning and insights have been tremendous.
Back to the Future.
Modern day public or community relations (circa early 1900s) was famously founded and put into practice by Edward L. Bernays, Ivy Lee and other early public relations pioneers.
The principles were rooted in the need for companies and government to engage with citizens and stakeholders in local communities to make progress on very complex social and economic issues that existed in the U.S. at the time.
The many technical and professional innovations introduced to the world in the 100+ years since (e.g. advancements in radio, press release, telephone, television, facsimile, Internet, email, social media, etc.) have increasingly made communication with people and communities easy and scaleable but arguably less personal.
This has tested societal trust in "the message" as the content that many organizations create has become increasingly generic, technical, fragmented and detached (from everyday people) to compensate for the desire to reach the "masses".
Corporate marketing and communication professionals have worked hard to adapt by tapping into the social phenomena of "word-of-mouth". The fixation to develop strategies to drive influence with and through specialized audiences of consumers, professionals, voters and citizens (from within) have brought about a more purposeful but vulnerable level of engagement.
The recent advancements to communication through social media has, in many ways, taken us right back to where we started over 100 years ago as a profession.
Social media and its implementation through blogs, and robust communities like Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter (among other social media peer groups) is one of the greatest advancements and innovations to the "new" modern day public and community relations profession. The principles introduced over 100+years remain the same.
Back to Basics.
There are many "back to basics" realities that companies must employ to be successful, today. Early lessons from our work at Shell reinforce that success (in part) is driven by leadership discipline and conviction to:
- Understand and acknowledge the difference between audiences, influencers and stakeholders and how to communicate with each. There is a big difference between them. Here is a great articulation of the difference.
- Seek to understand what your general or specific stakeholder audience cares about and adapt your message to relate to them. In doing so, it's important strip away corporate, technical and/or buzz words that often annoy and turn people away.
- Invest the time and human resources to support constant, active engagement. Simple gestures of responding to someone is sometimes enough to move them from concerned, to informed and to advocate. We witness this on a regular basis.
- Minimize the complexity of your organizational structure in how you represent yourself to the world. The general public does not see you for how you're organized, rather they see you for your behavior (past and present) and the impact and value that your products and services provide to them.
- Provide simple and easy ways for people learn and experience (or share experiences) with your brand.
- Create shareable moments, experiences, view points and insights associated with your brand (products and services) that allow people to engage and develop informed viewpoints. The shareable moments should be visual and allow people to be informed and inform their own perspectives.
- Don't be afraid of controversy or adverse view points from the public. Trust and progress happen when you accept contrary viewpoints and adapt or take action accordingly.
These are just a few of the lessons we have used to guide the design of Shell's social media strategy to build and sustain a community of followers (not just "fans"). We are constantly learning, testing and adapting the content and practices to increase informed view points (two-way) and build authentic advocacy, loyalty and social-economic results.