A couple of years ago I quizzed a CEO of a successful business on why he refused to embrace social media.

“It’s an open invite for the public to complain about you,” was his explanation. “You never hear from the happy customers but anyone with a bad experience will take to Twitter.”

I politely explained that unhappy customers would still complain even if you didn’t have a Twitter account but by having one you could engage with them and monitor customer feedback.

When KFC had to close many of its restaurants because of a chicken shortage it turned the PR disaster into a unmitigated success with a self-deprecating campaign on Twitter.

The point is if you’ve got a problem under the bonnet than you don’t pretend you can’t hear the rattle or see the steam coming from the engine. Social media is the same.

Fracking

Imagine my surprise when I noticed that one of the UK’s most controversial companies had finally recognised the value of social media as a tool to change public perceptions of it.

 Mention Cuadrilla to most people and it will normally be followed by the word fracking and images of noisy public protests.

For the record Lancashire-headquartered company owns the only operational shale gas exploration site near Blackpool.It was the company which prompted the Government to implement a nationwide moratorium on hydraulic fracturing in 2011 after causing an earth tremor measuring 2.3 ML (local magnitude) on the Richter Scale.

Cuadrilla is a brand that is rarely out the news and is good at responding to media requests for interviews and comments to present their side of the story.

However the company has always been reluctant to use tech and social media to get their message across –until now.

The company has always been on social media platform like Facebook, YouTube, LinkedIn and Twitter but it’s never engaged with the public properly. Comments were closed down on Facebook completely for a time and direct messages went unanswered.

On Twitter, tweets were scheduled and published with regularity but it was rare to see any conversation between the company and its audiences on the back of them or in response to emerging stories and topics.

Their reluctance to engage was understandable. Cuadrilla was concerned about the content of some of the posts and the sheer number generated.Now that’s all changed as the company has finally recognised the opportunity social media presents in engaging with the public.

Comments have been opened up on Facebook. Posts and direct messages are receiving a response. On Twitter people are talking to Cuadrilla – and Cuadrilla is talking back.

Why the change? Shelley Wright recently joined the company as head of communications and has done this thing before. It’s important to say that I’ve known Wright since 2006, when I was the editor of the Chorley Guardian and she was head of comms at Chorley Council.

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She won’t mind me saying this – and for the sake of impartiality I don’t really care if she does – but we’ve butted heads on more than one occasion but we have a professional respect for each other.

Wright said they’ve been “pleasantly surprised” with the “unexpectedly positive” response so far.

“We’ve had some protestors posting on Facebook and Twitter but, on the whole, they’ve engaged in the conversation constructively and productively,” she said.

“We’ve not had a deluge of offensive or abusive comments. We’ve been able to answer question, challenge inaccurate assumptions or assertions presented as facts and generally chat to people about what we are doing, how and why.

“One long-serving protestor at Preston New Road replied during one exchange to say the ‘relationship had turned a corner now you have finally acknowledged us’ although it was quickly answered by another with the reassurance we wouldn’t be invited for tea and biscuits any time soon.”

As a resident of Lancashire myself I’ve seen the anti-fracking protests but I’ve also heard the positive comments from many businesses that are broadly in favour.

Cuadrilla has invested millions on pounds on fracking in the UK and it’s clear they’re not going away anytime soon.Whatever your view on fracking – and there’s still a lot of vocal opposition –   Cuadrilla’s decision to finally embrace social media is a step in the right direction and will watched by other controversial brands.