He uses social media to great effect to engage not only employees and supporters, but also critics and skeptics.
A few weeks before he became bp’s CEO in February, Bernard Looney made his first post on Instagram. His caption told who he was and why he had joined social media: “I want to use Instagram not just as a platform to talk but also to listen and understand your thoughts, concerns and interests. I encourage you all to be candid – I consider honest and open discussion crucial. It’s what I care about and what I hope I can promote here.”
Social media is caricatured as either an echo chamber or a shouting contest, yet Looney grasped that certain social platforms could, in fact, foster the opposite outcomes: Help him understand how his company was seen by the outside world, while allowing him to respectfully engage with skeptics and critics.
And it’s here—key word engage—where Looney excels in his use of social platforms. Whether in likes or comments, Looney engages with a frequency not often seen among CEOs. That in itself kickstarts a virtuous cycle: People are more likely to speak up when it’s clear you’re actually listening.
Crucially, Looney’s engagements aren’t just thank you’s in response to a kind word. On a short video update summarizing bp’s Q3 results, for example, one commenter asked about bp’s efforts on biodiversity. Looney responded: “appreciate your push on this - and let me assure you this has not been forgotten.” He then linked to a post he’d made earlier in the year on the subject.
On a separate post, a commenter told Looney to “get real already.” Looney responded: “I understand we’re not on the same page – but I appreciate the challenge and alternative view nonetheless. To change our company we’ve had to set out a detailed and distinctive strategy. Things cannot change overnight, especially when we’re 111 years old. So we make no apologies for laying out our vision.”
These responses may not change minds (a tall order for any post in isolation), but they help people feel heard—while also allowing Looney to share his side of the story. A release or an announcement, at best, only achieve the latter. Crucially, in almost every instance where Looney engages with a critic, their tone becomes friendlier. For example, after Looney responded to one commenter who’d called his message “lame,” that same critic thanked Looney for responding personally, apologized for the “testy post,” and outlined the opportunities they saw for bp.