CommonSense Blog

The Social License to Operate – What We’re Learning

By Bob Pearson | Apr 03, 2015

This week we both participated in a panel at the 40th Annual Petrochemical Conference led by the American Fuel & Petrochemical Manufacturers in San Antonio.  Our focus was on what it means to have a “license to operate” in a given community and how we can all do the best possible job to align the interests of a community, region or nation with the interests of a corporation.

Like any relationship, it’s hard work to build a good one.  We talked along with Nick Sprague of Braskem America and Mike McKenna of MWR Strategies.  Here is our summary of what resonated as important insights and lessons.

#1 – Understanding your audience is much easier today – with technology, we can understand who is creating content and who is sharing content on any topic online (the 1,9,90 model).  As a result, we can focus our attention on those individuals who are shaping public opinion.  Sharing educational content and having a conversation with the right people matters.

#2 – Alignment leads to trust – if we are aligned with a community, we are sharing content that is relevant, speaking with similar language, participating in the right social and media channels and making every effort to be present in the right discussions.  If we align in a way that both parties respect, trust can be built.  If we just talk at each other, there is no reason trust would ever be built.  Common sense, but requires focus to do it well.

#3 – Our industry is complex, so education matters – yes, petrochemicals are in the majority of products we use every day.  But it still remains that what the industry does is complex and often when a new facility or pipeline is being built, it can temporarily impact a community before it helps that same community for the long-term.  We have an obligation to provide educational content that is easy to understand and we need to make it easy to ask questions of industry.

#4 – Listening matters – just like point #1, if we are listening to the key audiences, we know what they care about, what questions they are asking and how we can best engage.  We can’t emphasize enough that engagement should be similar to what we do at work every day.  We don’t just burst into a room and start talking.  We shake hands, say hello and get to know each other before we share information.  By listening more, we can learn how to engage better.

#5 – Know where to have conversations – social media is changing how we engage to earn our license to operate.  We cannot expect people to come to our website.  It’s great if they do, but we need to go to the people we want to reach in their social channels of choice.  It is our job to join the conversation in a relevant way in all ten channels of online, ranging from forums to blogs to Facebook.

Thanks for listening,

Bob Pearson                 Rob Hatley

W2O Group                The Williams Companies, Inc