How Shell Made It Big on Facebook
By Ben Rooney
AMSTERDAM — How does an oil company — not exactly a category of enterprise popular with young activists — clock up just shy of one million Facebook fans in under two months? It’s an impressive achievement by anyone’s measure.
Royal Dutch Shell, the Anglo-Dutch oil major, has achieved just that. At the Next Web Conference here, the company’s executive vice president for communications — and the man charged with masterminding its social media strategy –revealed the secret to the company’s success in social media.
The appointment of a new chief executive, Peter Voser, marked the sea change in the company’s approach to communications, according to Herbert Heitmann. “He said he wanted the company to engage, to open up,” he said.
Given the size and scope of Shell, which has some 50,000 employees world-wide, it took some time. It wasn’t until May 2011 that Shell had its first Facebook page. “Nothing happened. It was a dead place. We had a few fans, but that was it,” he explains. The company faced a serious issue: Send the social media idea off into the sunset or revise its strategy and go for it in a big way.
“We wanted one million fans,” Mr. Heitmann said. “That is a huge number, but it had to be big because we had to make it clear that it would not happen by itself.” Coincidentally, Greenpeace has around one million fans, too. By contrast, companies such as IBM has around 113,000 and GE has around 300,000.
Mr. Heitmann approached Facebook and brought in social-media experts. “With the help of Facebook and other partners, we designed an approach that was designed to engage and open up,” he said.
The company actively sought out people. ”Somebody who has indicated they are interested in energy, in motor sports, is much more likely to engage with us,” he said. Three areas with the highest level of engagement were the future of energy, working at shell and Shell’s work in the community.
Rather than attempting to hide controversial topics, such as Antarctic oil exploration, the company was open about it. ”When you have a good reason to do what you are doing, you just need to explain yourself. You get more buy-in than if you hide behind walls, and don’t share, don’t give insight, don’t explain what you are doing,” said Mr. Heitmann.
While Mr. Heitmann is delighted with the figures, he is less happy with the geographical breakdown. The company has 224,000 fans in Malaysia, but it fares much worse in Western Europe. “One disappointment is that we only have 1,000 fans here in the Netherlands, given that 10,000 people work for Shell here,” he said.
His main advice to others looking to copy Shell’s success: “If you decide to go social — don’t try to do it with amateur approaches. Be willing to invest, and above all put the right people in, surround yourself with experienced partners.”
“[Social Media] is like the wind, so the least you can do is to build a windmill,” he said.
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