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Five Questions for Jon Hamilton – Petro-Canada

Jon and his team at Petro-Canada recently launched Pump Talk, a blog where they can engage with customers and other key audiences to discuss issues around gas prices and fuel efficiency. One Degree sat down with Jon to discuss what led up to Pump Talk, how success will be measured and the lessons that Jon and his team have learned about corporate blogging.

One Degree: You had some success with posting videos about gas prices on YouTube last year.  Why was a blog the next step for Petro-Canada?

I believe much of the original buzz from last year’s videos came from people being shocked that a big oil and gas company not only knew what YouTube was, but had posted videos on it.   We weren’t sure what to expect, but we received a lot of feedback – good and bad – on our effort.  Aside from a number of "You Suck"’s and other angry comments, we heard from people engaged in and enthused about Social Media who told us we needed to be interactive and much more relaxed.  In other words, we were welcomed to the party, but told to lose the bow-tie and our parents couldn’t stay.  Faced with the choice of just doing more videos, or taking it to the next level, we decided to step it up and launch a blog. 

One Degree: What are your expectations for the blog?  How will you measure success?

It’s up, running and being visited so we’ve cleared the first big hurdle.  I hope that over time we can create a "hub" of information for people who want answers on gas prices and are interested in having more control over how much fuel they consume…and want to talk about it.  We’re looking at various metrics, but to me, it’s all in the hands of the users.  If they feel we have something to add to the conversation and get engaged by sharing ideas on how to use fuel more efficiently, then we’ve achieved success.  From what I’ve seen, feedback on our approach will be free and plentiful.      

One Degree:  Is this just a PR stunt?  Do you really think people will engage?

People have many preconceived notions of what an oil and gas company is like on the inside…cigars, fancy suits and Dr. Evil type belly-laughing are my favourites.   Add to that the preconceived notions of PR people ..cigars, fancy suits, Dr. Evil-type belly laughing, and you’ve got a big hill to climb to be credible.   There will be doubters, but we’ve been upfront about who we are and why we’re blogging.  That’s key in social media, especially if you’re doing it on behalf of a corporation.  And that’s probably why I like it so much.  You have to tell the truth, back up what you say and be prepared to let everyone see what your critics have to say.   I hope that people will respond to that.   Or, I’ll have to go back to doing PR stunts again…(cue Dr. Evil-type belly laugh).


One Degree: What were some of the challenges you faced when putting together a blogging plan?

Approvals – Most people ask "How did you ever get this approved?"  I must admit, I thought getting internal buy-in was going to be tough.  It wasn’t.  I had to prove that we could be open and interactive while mitigating some of the risks of being open and interactive, but that was really about it.  Support started at the top of the house, worked its way down and never wavered.  Our legal team was also engaged and very helpful.  I’d say the YouTube videos, and the follow-up we did internally afterwards really helped us there. 
Translation was a big one.  We couldn’t find a company that was blogging in both official languages,  so we had to create our own approach and the supporting policies.  It’s not perfect, but it’s pretty good. We’ve asked for comments from users and are hoping that other Canadian companies jump on board and find a way to do it better.
The Learning Curve – I’ve read blogs and was pretty adept at iTunes, but really had to learn a lot in a hurry.  We had a great consultant (wink, wink) who took the time to show the team the ropes and helped build something that was right for us, but also credible in the blogosphere.  Then, my fellow bloggers and I had to learn about all the tools at our disposal., Flickr, Google, Technorati, etc.  They are all great…and free!

One Degree: What advice would you give to other corporate communications groups wanting to engage in blogging?

Ask yourself the following questions:

Are you looking for a quick flashy hit, or want to build your reputation over time? A Blog is a living, breathing thing that needs to be fed regularly.  You need to think through how you would keep the content fresh and engaging.  You may get a flashy hit at the beginning, but if you fail to keep it going, you will be criticized harshly.

Do you and your company have the stomach to blog?  If users/customers don’t like it, they’ll let you know.  And it can become a target when you are going through a tough issue.  If your executives are okay with you blogging as long as they don’t see any angry comments, then don’t do it.  If they can appreciate that you and your company are more credible if they present the good and the bad and respond in a compressed time frame, then set up your Typepad account.

Do you want to enjoy writing again?
  For me, Blogging has been somewhat liberating.  After years of writing messages and having several people review and massage draft after draft, it is incredibly refreshing to write informal and conversational material.  I spent a few years writing my own newscasts when I was in radio.  It was all about writing so that it felt more like I was telling the listeners a story and not reading a script.   I forgot how much fun that was.  And how much more interesting it was to read.

Disclosure:  Petro-Canada is a client of Reinvent! Communications, the publisher of One Degree.