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By Kristy S. Bonner, Account Executive and Digital Strategist for Foster Marketing Communications

We frequently get asked if companies in the oil and gas industry are embracing social media and what kind of ROI, or return on investment, they are getting.

To the first part of the question, it appears many in our industry are curious but skeptical about using social media as a business tool. Foster Marketing recently conducted a survey on social media in the oil and gas industry that proved just this. Although many survey respondents wanted to know more about how they could use social media to their advantage, most were not yet using the medium, and many were still not ready to add it to next year’s marketing plan.

When considering the potential ROI from social media initiatives, the key is to identify what types of returns have value for your company. Although revenue may be the ultimate goal for most efforts, we usually count the steps that lead up to a sale as a return as well. In digital efforts, returns are often referred to as conversions, which could be someone clicking a link to go to a website; a potential customer picking up the phone and calling; or getting a meeting request.

Noteworthy gains from using social media include:

• Brand awareness: If they do not know who you are and what you do, how can they buy from you? Social media venues such as Facebook offer the opportunity to put your experts — both their names and faces — in front of customers; Twitter can link your company name with what you specialize in; and YouTube can be used to show what you can do.

• Public relations: If your company has good things happening, let people know about it. Industry forums are a great way to tell people in your field what you are good at; LinkedIn groups allow you to connect with people who are interested in a specific field; and StumbleUpon can be used to put your innovative ideas in front of people who understand the potential application.

• SEO, or search engine optimization: It is vital for potential buyers in need of the products and services you provide to find you first. A well-researched social media strategy provides links to your website and directs users to other online information about your products and services. Direct links to your website from popular social media sites build credibility with search engines and give your website an extra edge.

• Transparency: As potential customers become more and more skeptical of businesses, the best way to build trust is to provide useful information about your company. Potential buyers want to know where you are located, in what areas you are active, how many people you have on staff and if you have partnerships that could benefit them.

• Thought leadership: Many companies label themselves as leaders and experts in their field. Instead of just telling potential buyers you are an expert, prove it. Share a case study on a blog; post a podcast that documents a recent success; or join an industry forum to share your knowledge.

Social media has become a part of most people’s personal lives in some way. Grandparents keep up with their grandchildren on Facebook; former colleagues and classmates are networked on LinkedIn; and friends share links to funny videos on YouTube. So, why are we still skeptical of using these tools to grow our business?

Here are some of the reasons we have heard:

• I cannot control the message. This is not true in most cases. When you post a blog, it is yours to edit or delete. When you share photos using Flickr®, you decide which images are posted. Companies frequently submit news releases and technical articles to industry journals and someone else decides if they will run and how much information will be included. When you post an item via social media, you have the final say. Many companies also are adding posting standards to employee handbooks so your message on social networks is consistent. People will talk no matter what you do, so it’s important to participate and be a positive and proactive part of that conversation.

• My customers are not online. If you doubt your customers are using web-based resources to solve their problems, just ask them if they used a foldout map the last time they needed directions or if they looked in the phone book to find a telephone number when they couldn’t find a business card. Likely, they went online for both of these, so it is very likely they are looking online for other solutions, too.

• Why would I give away my services for free? The serve, not sell concept behind social media can be a stumbling block until you look at a specific situation. For example, your vehicle is making an odd clanging sound but you are not blessed with the ability to pop the hood and fix it yourself. So, you take it to an expert and ask for advice. A mechanic will identify the problem and recommend a solution; however, he does not hand you the tools and the parts with step-by-step instructions on how to fix the problem yourself. At this point, most of us will not say thank you and clang our way home to do it ourselves, we ask for an estimate. Unless we doubt the mechanic’s ability or his prices are way out of whack, he gets the business.

• How do you tell if it is worth the time? Like any business endeavor, you start with a strategy to manage the time and expectations in the initiative. A digital strategy also should include goals and how you will measure your success.

Social media can open up a world of opportunities for your business by building relationships with a wide group of people around the globe. Social media expert Paul Cheney has described this as the digital handshake. When it comes to oil and gas, most deals and sales begin with a handshake that kicks off the working relationship. Getting to know more about the person, company and needs before a meeting puts you way ahead of the game.

Maximizing your time is also something to consider. How many potential buyers can you possibly interact with in a day? There are only so many hours in a day. Even if you can juggle eight meetings with potential clients each day, how long will it take to share your solution with 30 or 3,000 or 300,000 companies? Social media allows you to reach the millions of businesspeople using search engines to find a solution each day.

Social media allows you to connect with an infinite number of people and potential buyers each day — whether they are next door or across the globe. Get a game plan and jump in!

Click here to view more findings from Foster Marketing’s Social Media in the Oil & Gas Industry Survey.

Foster Marketing believes in partnering with clients to help them reach their business goals. With this in mind, we provide marketing solutions to help you achieve your goals and track your progress along the journey. By integrating your advertising, public relations, event and digital marketing efforts, we help you get to your goal quicker. Social media is just one of the many up and coming digital tools that you can add to your marketing toolkit. As always, we are here to help you craft a social strategy, launch the effort and help you sustain a successful social media program in the future.