The palm oil industry is turning to social media to actively engage communities and disseminate accurate information.
Some time into Ross Candido’s presentation, the poster of the recent blockbuster Guardians of the Galaxy appeared on two huge screens at the grand ballroom of Hilton Kuala Lumpur. While the view of Chris Pratt and his band of unconventional superheroes do provide some entertainment value, its presence at the venue was certainly eye-raising.
After all, the South Africa native was speaking at the Palm Oil Industry Leadership Forum – an event that seeks to forge business networking through Malaysian palm oil.
Bearing the day’s agenda in mind, the sight of Marvel characters did stick out like a sore thumb.
But Candido was certainly effective in illustrating the highly effective power of social media such as Facebook and Twitter with Marvel characters.
“The movie is the perfect example of how a budget in social conversation is not necessa-rily the most important thing. The most crucial thing is engaging with the right communities and ensuring that your message is out there in front of the right people that have a level of influence to support your ground,” Candido said.
The managing director (client success) at Meltwater has been invited by the Malaysian Palm Oil Council (MPOC) to share his insights on effective digital media strategy in fighting anti-palm oil campaigns.
The software-as-a-service company helps companies build brands by better engaging their markets, something that the local palm oil industry is striving towards.
“It’s a battleground out there. A lot of NGOs that oppose palm oil are appealing and getting success because these communities aren’t aware about what the actual industry is all about,” he said.
Candido is referring to the campaigns against palm oil in the West for many years. The focus of these negative sentiments includes social, environmental and nutritional issues driven by misinformation.
“They don’t know about sustainability initiatives and positive yield from the palm oil and how much more effective it is as compared to other oil producing plants. We have to find the opportunity to really start snagging influential people and driving home the message of the sustainability and future of palm oil,” he said.
Candido believes conversations within social media will be an important, and ultimately, effective tool to change the mindset of the masses about the industry.
“We have to keep in mind that people are far more inclined to pay attention to someone in their online community than they are to pesky marketers. With that in mind, it’s crucial for social marketers to be a part of the community by providing value content that is engaging, helpful or entertaining,” Candido said.
“If we find the right communities to engage, we are no longer guided under the influence of organisation but instead guided by people that are passionate about initiatives that we’re taking part in,” he added.
According to Candido, information shared on social media creates a ripple-like effect that helps to propagate the message to wider audiences.
“When we create excitement around brands or products associated to palm oil and we get education out to communities that are influential, we begin to spark something very exciting. That excitement is something that we should slowly take steps towards when it comes to increasing our influence,” he said.
However, Candido said the large pool of information circulating on social media might hinder the positive message regarding palm oil from being disseminated effectively.
“With so much data, it’s critical that we find key players that will have the most impact. There are definitely people out there within the palm oil industry that can be influential. The key aspect is of course to identify who these individuals are and provide them with the right information to really drive influence,” he said.
Candido said it is unfortunate that the palm oil industry had been exposed to emotional responses from many NGOs. To resolve this, he suggests identifying and addressing those with the most influential negative sentiments about the industry.
“Social media is an opportunity when it comes to slowly growing the palm oil industry’s ability to be an active engager. It’s critical that we engage with these people and provide them with proper content. We have to shift the emotion evoked by what’s being depicted by influential NGOs to what we are effectively doing on the ground,” he said.
MPOC chief executive officer Tan Sri Dr Yusof Basiron said palm oil plantation has a good story to tell, but the industry is still unable to “tell that good story properly” due to the many negative perceptions.
Yusof said the council has been cultivating opinion leaders,but its stand isn’t defensive.
“What we’re doing is we want to contribute to the so-called positive image of the industry. This is done by cultivating better understanding about the industry and its value contribution,” said Yusof.
He said compared to other oil seed crops, less land is needed to grow oil palm due to its superior land productivity.
Candido said: “When it comes to the education of palm oil, the community has to understand that extensive pressure on the industry affects every product that is associated with palm oil. If everything is produced differently tomorrow, that is a particularly nerve-wrecking point for every community globally.”
While social media helps in the educational aspect, Candido said its effects are not instantaneously tangible.
“Entering social media is not going to have a direct impact immediately on palm oil’s pricing, structure or revenue output. But it will educate and turn the mindset of the community that is currently negative,” he concluded.