March/April 2015

Social media

Mining’s untapped vein

By Patrick Thoburn

About 44 per cent of technical professionals spend more than one hour per week on social media for work-related activities, according to a recent IHS GlobalSpec study entitled “2014 Social Media Use in the Industrial Sector.” Some resource industry players like General Electric (GE) have highly developed social media programs, effectively reaching and engaging employees, investors and influencers. However, others do not take advantage of these online platforms. Using the social media analytics tool “evalue,” we at Matchstick, a social media marketing agency, analyzed the activity of seven mining companies: AngloAmerican, Barrick Gold, Cameco, First Quantum Minerals, Rio Tinto Alcan, Teck Resources and Vale. Our conclusion: The potential for social media as a communications tool for mining companies to reach their constituents is largely untapped.

Among the companies in our analysis, there is a wide range of social media activity and results. At the top end, Barrick Gold employs many best practices for reaching and engaging with social media audiences. At the low end, First Quantum has no Twitter account and, notwithstanding a large following on LinkedIn, is not using the platform to its advantage. The rest fall in between. Some suffer from infrequent posting, low use of images or poor content.

Social media platforms have proliferated over the past seven years; each one offers companies different ways of engaging with their customers. However, mining companies seeking to reach employees, influencers (social media users with a significant following who tend to be an expert in a certain domain) and investors should focus their efforts on Twitter and LinkedIn.

Twitter, ideal for carrying on one-on-one conversations with influencers and investors, has 5.6 million Canadian monthly users, or 20.8 per cent market penetration.

Most of the mining companies we analyzed have some presence on Twitter. Typically, their posts cover company announcements, such as quarterly reports, awards, jobs and corporate social responsibility (CSR) programs.

Cameco divides its Twitter presence among three separate accounts: jobs, news and community announcements. The Cameco community account (@camecocommunity) is solely devoted to promoting the company’s CSR and community initiatives. In one case, @camecocommunity used the hashtag #C95camecocares for a fundraising event in conjunction with a local radio station, sparking conversation with hundreds of social media users.

Barrick, meanwhile, has combined its CSR and corporate news posts into one Twitter account. Its posts make excellent use of images that feature company employees or executives and stories from the communities in which it operates.

LinkedIn, the premier business-to-business (B2B) social media platform, has 10 million members in Canada and continues to grow. Its ability to target audiences by geography, industry, title and more make it an unparalleled platform for B2B marketers to reach employees, policy-makers and other key audiences.

Few of the companies we analyzed are active on LinkedIn despite the potential for targeted reach, particularly that of employees. Internal communication is key for most companies, and unlike any other social media platform, employees are automatically followers of their employer’s LinkedIn page.

Barrick is one of the few mining companies that are both active and effective on LinkedIn. It has 150,000+ followers, and the content posted generally receives high engagement, demonstrated by frequent “likes” and comments on its posts.

One of the challenges for brands in social media is producing and curating content. A brand may wish to communicate the same message on social media as it does through other channels like its website, email, or print and broadcast ads, but the medium is starkly different. With its constant flow of content, no single post or image defines an identity or a platform. On average a tweet “lives” – that is, may be surfaced in a user’s feed – for a window of just 18 minutes. An active company’s page therefore requires a steady, bite-sized flow of content. With eye-­catching visuals like high-quality photos, posts perform better by reaching more people and eliciting deeper engagement.

For most brands, reach, and not content creation, is the main objective in social media. Today, organic reach, or the number of unique viewers who see company content in their news feed, is low and declining. According to Facebook, just 16 per cent of fans are reached organically by brand content on their social media site. The solution to this is paid media. LinkedIn and Twitter both offer advertising products such as native advertising, sponsored updates and promoted tweets that match the targeting, reach and efficiency of any digital media.

Earned media efforts can also increase reach and engagement. There are online influencers in environmental issues, energy, mining, sustainability and more. By engaging in conversation with influencers and inspiring them to share content, particularly on Twitter, companies can attract new followers and increase their organic reach.

Mining companies must learn to manage their social media presence and connect with all of their target audiences in order to strengthen their brand and overall business.

Patrick Thoburn is a co-founder of Matchstick Inc., an independent social media marketing agency, whose clients include GE. A lawyer by training, he was named one of Canada’s most influential marketers on Marketing Magazine’s Power 100 List.

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