It’s no secret that companies in the oil and gas industry are often at the sharp end of criticism from all angles. This criticism is also often picked up by activist groups, NGOs or media outlets, meaning simple criticism can quickly turn into a major crisis and a threat to a company and its reputation. This makes it especially important for oil and gas corporations to be prepared for critical discussions and crisis communication at all times. From customers complaining about high prices for petrol or natural gas to environment groups protesting new projects, to catastrophic events like oil spills or other disasters, there is a wide array of topics that can affect their day-to-day business. At the same time, it is important for PR and Communications teams at oil and gas companies to keep track of the overall discussion about their companies, be aware of the sentiment towards them, and monitor the company’s reputation as well as public opinion towards the company. With those everyday tasks and crisis monitoring, communication and management, it can be hard to keep on top of everything without drowning.
In our guide we will be following an established 3-Phase approach to crisis management consisting of pre-crisis, crisis response and post-crisis phases outlined here. We will analyse how oil and gas companies can use social intelligence to detect and prevent upcoming crises in the pre-crisis phase; how to respond and communicate appropriately during a crisis; and finally how to evaluate post crisis communication campaigns and optimise them for the future.
Oil spills and their consequences for the environment, controversial practices such as fracking or just fluctuations in the price of crude oil– there are many topics with a high potential to turn into crises for companies in the petroleum industry. For crisis tracking and management, it is key to be up-to-date on the conversations about these and similar topics and react as quickly as possible to prevent lasting damage to company reputation.
In the 3 phase model explained earlier, the “calm before the storm” is defined as pre-crisis. During this phase, PR and Communications should already have established social media monitoring and reporting processes to evaluate their company’s online performance and be aware of potentially critical topics. With this knowledge, they can then prepare a communication strategy, establish approval processes and train employees and management on how to handle media inquiries about these topics.
All five of the oil companies mentioned above are major players in the global oil and gas industry. A look at the number of online mentions for these companies shows that petroleum giant Shell is the leader with more than 90,000 mentions across different channels for the period between mid-March to mid-April. Many of results are talking about protests against the company’s plan to drill for oil in the Arctic. Brazil’s Petrobras also received a lot of coverage – almost 30,000 mentions just in English – due to the company’s ongoing corruption scandal. Both examples show how important it is for oil companies to be prepared for different kinds of crisis.
BP is a prime example of how important it is to set up search queries that cover all relevant topics for a company, but exclude the rest. Due to the nature of the company name - “BP” is an acronym for a multitude of different terms, from medical terminology to baseball and sports – a substantial number of results are not related to the company at all. Especially during a crisis, the Communications managers do not have the time to sort through the results and find those that are the most important. With social media monitoring already set up in advance, PR & communications professionals have quick and easy access to relevant social data and information, enabling them to react immediately.
In BP’s case, the easiest solution is to set up a search query for the petroleum giant by including industry-related terms such as “oil and gas” or “petroleum” in the search. In order to further limit the results, the team can then also add a number of exclusions to avoid irrelevant results. A list of excluded search terms could for example look like this:
Depending on the regions or languages the team wants to monitor, the search queries can also be adapted with language or country filters. This is especially useful if social media monitoring and analytics are handled by country-specific teams or the PR team can expect an increased level of buzz in one particular market, for example due to a protest or after a new campaign is launched in a country. With results specifically related to those selected languages or regions, the team can get an immediate overview of the conversation in those areas and if necessary, react quickly with a targeted communication strategy or by adapting the campaign.
Short reaction times are key to successful crisis communication. Stalling for time can increase negative coverage about any topic, as BP discovered during the Deepwater Horizon disaster. Having good social media monitoring in place helps oil and gas corporations significantly cut down on reaction times. Filtering overall mentions for specific topics enables Communications managers to get an overview of the discussion, see how many people are talking about a particular critical topic and, if necessary, involve Product and Crisis managers to address criticism and concerns as quickly as possible in order to remain in charge of the situation.
Without filters, most of the conversation goes to BP and Chevron, with French Total SA accounting for the lowest share. However, filtering the results for “fracking” and “shale gas”, two controversial topics, shows a clear spike in the topic for Chevron, after the company abandoned its fracking plans in Romania.
In this case, the Communications team should clarify the impact of the decision and be sure to have their side of the story heard. This is not only important for the company’s reputation, but the decision could also have a direct financial impact by affecting their Investor Relations.
Dashboards that show the most relevant metrics at a single glance are an easy way for PR or Crisis managers to keep track of online mentions for their company. Individual dashboards allow users to include only those metrics that they consider most important for their current tasks, e.g. to measure the buzz about a new campaign. For Crisis managers, it makes sense to set up individual dashboards within their social intelligence tool which contain the metrics that they have defined as being the most important. This could for example be an increase in buzz, but also a theme cloud that shows them which topics appear most in the context of their brand.
The theme cloud for BP over a 30-day-period between mid-February and mid-March instantly shows “oil spill” or “spill” as one of the most mentioned terms. The results here are related to the fine BP received for the 2010 oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico and the company’s failed attempt to have the amount lowered. Other discussions deal with the question of whether the spill – which happened five years ago – is still affecting the environment in the area.
By adding such a theme cloud to their individual dashboards, PR & Communications managers can monitor the development of the conversation and if necessary, react immediately to shifts in the focus of the conversation. At the same time, this allows them to monitor the success of their crisis communication strategy and further adapt it, if necessary.
Pre-defined dashboards, which already cover important metrics for different use cases, are another way to get important insights at a single glance. With pre-defined dashboards, daily or weekly updates on a company’s online performance are easily available for PR or Communications managers. This enables them to keep track of the overall conversation while at the same time staying up-to-date on further details, like which channels are most active or the sentiment towards a company or its products.
PR or Communications managers don’t always have the time or opportunity for deeper analysis of the results they receive out of their social listening tools. But it is critical for them to keep track of new developments and conversations about their brand or products. A sharp increase of mentions for certain keywords can indicate an impending crisis and is something that should be investigated immediately to prevent potentially lasting damage to a company’s reputation.
For the oil and gas industry, such terms could for example be “accident” or “explosion”. But crises are not necessarily related to such catastrophic events – they could for example also be related to a company’s management or closer scrutiny of business practices, like that which Brazilian state-owned oil company Petrobras is currently experiencing. In all of these cases, it is vital for PR & Communications managers to be informed as quickly as possible so they can draft an appropriate crisis communication strategy which will be implemented at the next stage – crisis response.
Alerts are a very helpful feature in this case, since they can deliver information about increases in buzz for a topic straight to Communication managers’ inboxes, informing them about new developments immediately.
By setting up alerts that are triggered by an increase in the buzz for selected keywords, communications professionals can make sure they stay on top of current developments and be informed as soon as the topic is discussed more heavily than usual. Being informed as early as possible allows them to draft appropriate communication strategies and prevent damage to a company’s reputation.
Read on and learn how to respond to a crisis while it unfolds. In the next part of this how-to guide, you will find out how to get your key messages across to the right audience and track online chatter for management reporting. Fill in the form to also learn how to evaluate and improve your overall crisis communication strategy to protect your brand’s reputation.