You know that when the American Petroleum Institute tasks someone just to "do social media" some kind of tipping point has been reached. A former television reporter, Jane is now a featured blogger on our sister site, TheEnergyCollective. While the TEC community prides itself on avoiding easy vilification, "Big Oil" is the the most recognizable punching bag of much of the "green" blogosphere and it takes a lot of guts to want to mix it up on our site.
If Jane is guided by a "campaign" strategy it is to promote "energy literacy," which is another way of saying that she hopes that more and more people will learn the facts about energy supply in the U.S. There is no denying that oil is supplying 38% of the U.S. basic energy needs, and about 94% of transportation, and will provide a large percentage of our energy infrastructure into the future. The API is understandably concerned that in mitigating climate change and ensuring energy security, the economic baby not be thrown out with the bath water. The vulnerable baby in this case is the recent passage of the Waxman-Markey climate bill in the House, which will create a market for carbon pricing and which, according to Jane, will give some energy producers (but not her members) protections from the costs that will inevitably make for unpopular increases to consumers.Jane's "tactics" may not seem so revolutionary elsewhere but are remarkable in an industry that is probably one of the most conservative in the world. Promoting energy literacy, for example, the API YouTube channel has interviews with "average" people who don't realize that our largest foreign source for oil is Canada, not the sheiks. But perhaps most significant is the impact that she is having within the industry and in her own organization, where die-hard "command and control" press veterans see her work as transgressional and, well, downright threatening. As leading industry blogger (on The Times of London "top 20 climate blogs" last year) Geoff Styles says about Jane: , "In an industry long regarded as insular and aloof, Jane van Ryan stands out for her efforts to break down those barriers from both sides. She has done a terrific job educating people within the industry about social media, while broadening API's outreach to a host of new forms, including highly-interactive conversations with bloggers, engaging podcasts and deft uses of Twitter and other new media. All of this succeeds because of Jane's warmth and genuine interest in cultivating relationships, not just messages."
"Still, while many companies and executives are embracing new ways of engaging with media and stakeholders, others cling to old habits. The oil industry isn't Google and it probably never will be."Jane insists on authenticity. In fact, when we met she told me I should look for the person in the lobby with gray hair, a rare sight among Washington females. She tweets and blogs as Jane Van Ryan and makes no attempt to hide her affiliation. And she understands that social media is a two-way street: "I think listening is one of my most important tasks. I spend as much time as possible observing trends in the blogosphere to stay abreast of online demographics, topics of discussion, and the acceptance of new technologies. A few months ago, for example, I noticed the rapid move toward online video, so we quickly developed two YouTube video channels. Today they are helping us engage in the online energy debate more effectively." Jane also heavily networks the industry "influencers;" the photo at right shows her carrying steel-toed boots to bloggers who were getting ready to tour an oil production platform in Corpus Christi (pictured with Kate Shirley, Vice President at Edelman Public Relations.)
How does she present her success? "Edelman monitors the impact of our online activities along with another outside vendor which uses a tool called TruCast. Since I haven't thoroughly reviewed the first report that has been developed using the TruCast tool, it's difficult for me to say at this point precisely how our activities are being measured, but in general we look at blog hits, my direct correspondence with bloggers, favorable-neutral-unfavorable blog postings, as well as the overall tone of the online conversation. Until recently, we relied on v-Fluence for measuring our online effectiveness. They did a terrific job and provided a lot of insight into trends in the blogosphere."
But in the bigger scheme of things, as climate change becomes more and more severe and on a faster trajectory than previously imagined, we will not have the luxury of either ignorance about the major energy issues or of time if we create hard-line "friction points" using the same old methods of political discussion. If nothing else, social media flattens the debate landscape and speeds up the discourse, which is why, I imagine, smart people within the oil industry want Jane to succeed. For this reason we also wish her good luck, and are happy to feature her as our Blogger of the Week.