The standard approach to monitoring and analysis work is largely transferable from one company to the next. The basics are straightforward—setting up search terms and monitoring keywords, assessing content that is pulled in, and determining things like sentiment and messaging within identified content.
There are some industries that present additional challenges for monitoring and analysis work, either because they are highly technical, or they have a wide array of stakeholders and target audiences to consider, or they are global and operate in a number of countries, which adds to monitoring and analysis complexity.
The energy industry, broadly speaking, matches all three of these challenging conditions. There are complex interactions between differing audiences, because many energy companies are both consumer brands and wholesale suppliers. Fossil fuel and nuclear industries have vocal environmental critics, but alternative energy sources have critics too. Balancing reputational and shareholder expectations can also be challenging. There are regulatory considerations to take into account, along with site concerns, and all forms of energy are developed using highly technical engineering processes that can be difficult to communicate clearly in layman’s terms.
The first challenge: search terms
Technical fields, like science, engineering, and medicine have an interesting challenge at the outset: the terms they commonly use in-house are not often the same words or phrases used by the media or general public. In these situations, a two-pronged approach to designing good search terms is best. First, develop a list of search terms of issues that need to be monitored. Then, set aside time for a manual “reverse” search—read articles and blog posts about those topics and see how similar phrases are being used by the public and media. Commonly used industry-specific acronyms are a great example—go to an energy company website, and you’ll likely find an alphabet soup of acronyms that make perfect sense to anyone in the industry—but few outside of it.
Your monitoring objectives need to accurately map to the types of publications you will be searching. The best way to ensure that you’ll find what you need is to use the forwards-and-backwards method of designing search terms mentioned above.
The second challenge: using sentiment measurement effectively
Sentiment analysis is one of the most commonly used baseline measurements. It’s fairly straightforward and easy to understand, and automated analysis is improving in accuracy, making it an attractive metric for time-pressed communications professionals. There are several issues with measuring sentiment in the energy industry, especially when including social platform data:
- Negative perceptions arising from a news story about one company often mention the entire industry, with no mention of varying policies or behaviors of other actors in the same space;
- Some energy firms are highly diversified, and negative perceptions of one line of business with positive perceptions of another line can confuse sentiment results;
- High-profile issues bring forth strong opinions, with defenders and opponents battling online, causing volume spikes and wildly varying degrees of sentiment, making baseline analysis difficult; and
- Sentiment can be difficult to assess for different communications aspects of the business. CSR efforts, public affairs programs, and investor communications target different audiences, so sentiment is sometimes being assessed through multiple lenses.
There are a couple of approaches that can address the above issues. One is a simple solution—have different monitoring accounts for different objectives. This provides each communications strategy the flexibility to assess sentiment in a manner that is consistent with how they view the clip.
If multiple accounts are not an option, another way to view sentiment is by looking not just at the raw sentiment data, but how volatile sentiment is. A monitoring tool that allows for a custom scale of sentiment, such as a five-scale (positive, somewhat positive, neutral, somewhat negative, negative) or even a seven-scale (add very positive and very negative to either end of the five-scale) is helpful for this type of measurement. A change that can show how the volatility of sentiment is either declining or increasing is potentially more useful than just knowing the percentages of positive and negative sentiment.
The third challenge: global scope
Energy companies have some of the farthest-reaching issues of any industry—their concerns literally are spread the whole world over. From exploration and discovery to geopolitical issues to global commodities markets, the energy industry exists as part of a complex web of interdependent forces.
Consider this: an event that affects the supply chain of oil in one country can lead to a surge in the per-barrel cost in the global commodities market, which can then spark an interest in investing in renewables as a hedge against price spikes. This in turn can lead to increased demand for wind turbines or photovoltaic panels. Adding in factors like tracking international treaties to reduce emissions, restrictions on nuclear energy production due to waste disposal concerns, trade, and strife in energy producing regions and it’s not hard to see how the mountain of information that energy companies must keep on top of can present a monitoring challenge.
The need to keep abreast of regional news in not just the countries in which a company operates, but also in countries that could have an impact presents an enormous analytical challenge. Expertise in the industry should be paired with language fluency to get the most comprehensive analysis. This is sometimes addressed by having local expertise within the company, paired with regional analysts at corporate headquarters—and there are probably as many paths to address this issue as there are global energy companies.
Meeting these challenges
One way to address these challenges is to break up the monitoring and analysis into manageable chunks. This can work to an extent, but also brings with it the potential to operate in informational silos. A comprehensive picture is difficult to come by when working off of multiple resources deployed across the company. Another way is to pull the most critical elements together—this is more comprehensive, but could miss some detail.
Energy companies determining what the best fit is for their situation should consider the elements listed above when looking for a monitoring and analysis solution that is as comprehensive as they need, with the detail that they may want to have on hand.
Continued discussions on the energy sector and its coverage in the media will occur at Renewables and Climate Change: Global Media and Business Perceptions. This event, taking place at the National Press Club in Washington, DC on April 20 at 8:00 AM, will include a panel discussion with industry experts about media coverage of energy supply, climate change, and renewables, as well as a presentation of original research on these topics.