The Energy Chamber of Trinidad and Tobago’s (Energy Chamber) conference theme of ‘Technology: Transforming the Industry’ will rightly be interpreted by many as a call to acknowledge the role that innovative geological, engineering, process, and IT solutions have – and will continue to have – as local energy companies strive to maintain global competitiveness. I endorse this, but I would like to broaden the idea of the technology impact to consider the impact of new technologies in the space of reputation management, namely social media. 

I have been privy to private research conducted within the last year which indicated that amongst the local public, just about one in three persons suggest that they get most of their news from social media. In the international context, this might be even higher. This is the context for business in our environment, and an effective leader must be able to embrace and respond. This is just not about channels of communication, although that is a part of it, but rather it is about a fundamental change in the way leaders leverage social media, even for businesses that are service-oriented and cater just to other businesses.

I am aware that many local leaders, particularly those in the energy service sector, will not have given any primary consideration to the role of social media in their business, nor about their leadership. All of their work will be business-to-business (B2B), and they might have few customers’ — many of whom they will have personal connectivity. The organisations might be small, and the need for proactive ‘stakeholder’ engagement and reputation management tools might be considered unnecessary, far less so social media. 

All of the above factors might be true, but as the energy sector seeks to internationalise and go to new markets, one of the first ways in which potential new customers will try to get some information about prospective companies will be via their online presence. The virtual footprint of your company creates a brand, just as the absence of a virtual presence also creates a brand. Many companies will think that a website is sufficient, but increasingly, social media has to be part of your reputation presence if you really are customerfacing and export-driven. 

There are some obvious benefits of social media. It creates enhanced connectivity with a global customer base which would be aligned to the expansion strategy of many of our energy companies. A social media presence is also a way to ensure that the company can create access to an audience or public that can be reached quickly if needed such as in the case of a crisis. At a more sophisticated level, social media allows the use of visitor and follower analytics to understand potential customers or broader public views on your company. 

However, there are ‘business development’ aspects offered by social media. A social media presence helps to ‘fill out’ the questions of the ‘why/who/what of your company’. Instead of a dry corporate mission or vision, social media gives a prospective client a more nuanced view of your company. It allows you to ‘show up’ in a very different way — in a more personal way — and if done right, in a way that is a natural extension of your brand. This can be especially important amongst service sector companies for which there will be a need to work very hard to have a distinctive offer from other service providers. Social media allows a company to highlight the central area of differences with competitors. This can range from showing its concern for safety by highlighting safe practice posts, demonstrating its interest for environmental responsibility by promoting articles or videos about related issues or even highlighting the company’s technology stance by promoting or commenting on industry-related technology news. Done right, social media offers an opportunity for a company to emphasise its beliefs and interests, and highlight its main competitive differentiators. 

But there is an indirect benefit that comes from an online presence which is much more tangible. The website hosting site, GoDaddy, highlights one variable that helps illustrate. The results from 2016 small business owner and customer surveys conducted by GoDaddy said that 75 per cent of consumers say an email address matching your domain (vs. a generic email anyone could have) is critical to trusting a small business. In the same way, a live and updated presence on social media is a proxy indicator for progressiveness and alignment to cutting-edge business practice. It shows your company as using technology to maximise advantage. In other words, it signals a business commitment to stay current and wholly relevant to the ever-changing communication and marketing context. Many service companies will need to engender this level of confidence in potential customers, and a social media presence helps in this regard. 

It is clear to me that some companies have understood this and are using it to maximum effect. For example, Aegis Business Solutions Limited, one of our outstanding business outsourcing services has an active presence on Twitter which highlights the range of activities that are undertaken by the business and its leadership. This is primarily a B2B company, but the social media presence offers insight into the company’s business activities, helping to make its brand position much more tangible. President of The National Gas Company of Trinidad and Tobago Limited (NGC), Mark Loquan, regularly posts industry updates and companyspecific information on his LinkedIn profile that helps reinforce NGC's brand positioning as one of the most powerful local energy voices and a reminder that NGC is a repository of knowledge on local gas development. These two examples highlight that there can be different approaches to using social media for companies that focus on B2B, but that when used effectively, can add focus and edge to your company’s external profile. 

All of the above suggests that a more strategic approach to social media presence is required in today’s competitive business world. While this needs to be done within the frame of overall reputation management, social media must have its own agreed objectives and plan and an accountable person to deliver. This should include a determination of the best platform for your business, agreement on targets such as regularity of updates and metrics to be measured to assess effectiveness, and an agreed-upon internal policy on the type of posts and outcomes for a social media strategy. Ultimately, all social media activity must be linked inextricably to your brand — a reinforcing mechanism. 

As service companies in particular think through their export strategy, social media presence should be considered an essential element of their marketing thrust. Done right, it will help new, potential customers have a sharper understanding of your business offers, and serve as a competitive differentiator.