Thursday, 29 May 2014

“Under-engagement is the biggest risk”

Many will agree that communication is not Aggregate Industries' strongest point. But just how should quarrying and mining companies communicate with the communities that they impact? And how has social media changed everything?

All over the world experience tells us that conflict around mining is increasing, communities are not convinced a mine in their backyard will benefit them, governments have mixed views on the benefits of exploiting their natural resources and investor confidence is dropping. Today, more than ever, mining is a marriage, a long-term relationship between a community, a company and their government. It will not succeed without overcoming conflict and misunderstanding. Technological innovation and an increase in society’s expectations are pushing the industry to build relationships and create mutual understanding in new ways. Simply sharing information is no longer enough.

Here are a few lines taken from the document, starting with a warning:
In 2011 a junior exploration company operating in a well-known mining region was riding high. The company’s project was progressing nicely and it had secured a respected international investor as a major shareholder. Seemingly out of nowhere the company found itself the target of online petitions and protests (organised by mass text messages) that drew hundreds of people. Its environmental permits were eventually denied and the project stalled. The company’s share price took a major hit and it had to completely reinvent itself and its image, including changing its name. The company had less than 50 employees and only one person focused purely on communication.
In its 2012-2013 survey of mining executives, Ernst and Young found that maintaining a social license was the second highest risk facing the sector. When trust is lost, the cost is financial and reputational. 
Social media is also changing the way people engage with companies as platforms like Twitter, Instagram and Facebook create communities who expect to be heard and influence change.
Most companies had tentatively experimented with communicating through social media but were concerned about the seemingly endless resources that such engagement could take. On a limited budget, traditional engagement channels – face-to-face dialogue, media engagement and community programs – were favoured. But nearly all respondents believed that this under-investment could be a major risk if they were not prepared to respond to online influencers or to pick up what is being said online before it becomes “fact”.
The document gives its Top 10 tips on “Using communication to support sustainable development”; one is "Embrace digital dialogue”, another is "Find more opportunities to listen”:
The old attitude of ‘the less we tell them, the better’ is no longer valid. Information gets out fast. Social media is the best listening tool the world has ever known.
How much does Aggregate Industries “embrace digital dialogue” with the communities it impacts? Click @AggregateUK to see how much.

Why should Aggregate Industries and other mining corporations want to engage with local communities? One very obvious reason is dealt with in a paper entitled "The costs of conflict with local communities in the extractive industry".