Assets at Risk: the challenge of social posting in hostile environment operations.

Assets at Risk: the challenge of social posting in hostile environment operations.

Concerns about safety and social media are not exactly strange bedfellows. Every day we are bombarded with information on how to protect ourselves and our privacy online but how often do we stop to wonder if we might unthinkingly be sharing information that could put others at risk?

How often do we read between the lines, to see what is NOT being said? And do we respect that decision?

Last week, a client working in a high-risk area posted a photo showing a close-up of their product in use. The photo was taken with care. Every effort was made to ensure the platform’s anonymity and location. The headlining comment cautiously stated the location on a continental basis. Neither the platform, country, project or the operator was named; a carefully planned, pre-agreed comms strategy to allow the business in question to keep people updated with products and services while protecting the lives of those on the ground in an unquestionably hostile area. That evening, a comment popped up in the feed – ‘Hey, that’s the [inserts platform name] in [Inserts country]. I just came back from there not long ago”. A conversation around the asset in question develops with a colleague; the logistics of getting there, the remoteness of the location, the terrible weather at that time. All information, publically shared.

Inadvertently, in just seven words and a little chit-chat, a carefully managed communication strategy is destroyed. Onboard and transitioning crews may be endangered and somewhere far away, security teams could be scrambling to respond to an upgraded threat level.

As soon as the post was spotted, the comment was removed and thankfully, to date, no lives were lost in this instance.

However, the ongoing kidnapping of oil workers in Africa and South America continues to underscore the need for extreme care in some of the world’s high-value production zones. Millions are spent protecting the locations, project schedules and roster changes and yet, it appears that the greatest threat to safeguarding assets and the life of remote workers, may come from the well-meaning support of an engaged online community that fails to understand the risks of posting key information in their commentary.

This has been an ongoing challenge from a communications perspective and I doubt I am alone here. As a digital marketer, an engaged community is rarely a bad thing and followers that care enough to engage and comment on posts – priceless. This post is not meant to discourage comments. Interaction is always good, but a little mindfulness in our online commentary could save lives in these types of situations. this presents the question of how we can best engage with active social users to encourage better consider of not just WHAT is – or is not – being said but also to take a few seconds to wonder WHY.

On the back of these discussions, we have been brainstorming ways to address the balance of protection and promotion. Some of the suggestions we are considering to allow continued posting, where there may be a degree of commercial sensitivity or physical safety issues include:

  1. Educating followers by beginning posts with notice – i,e “Company identity and location withheld to protect life and safety of assets”.
  2. Consider the use of stock photography where possible to reduce the potential for id or information disclosure. This does raise the question of post validity of course but that’s a question for another day.
  3. If necessary, restrict or turn off comments on sensitive posts to prevent wider discussion.

If you or your company has experienced something similar, I would be keen to hear how you are approaching this challenge. Even with everything we know about social and how it works, the human inclinations of users continue to present new challenges. Every day is indeed a school day 🙂