Imagine that something having to do with your business goes catastrophically wrong, in public, and you don’t look like the blameless victim. That, and worse, is the situation BP finds itself in following its disastrous oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. And, perhaps even more than the Toyota recall, social media is affecting perceptions of the disaster and those involved in it.
BP itself is providing a real-time video feed from a dozen cameras of the oil spewing out of the wellhead. This feed is becoming the defining imagery of the disaster, the constant flow representing for many the helplessness of the “experts” on the surface a mile above. BP also maintains a YouTube channel. BP has supplied its wellhead video feed to the web site of the House Select Committee on Energy Independence and Global Warming, which has maintained a steady flow of press releases focusing on BP. In addition to video, BP’s own site contains maps, claims forms (in English, Spanish and Vietnamese) and, of course, press releases.
BP is also trying to participate in the conversation on Social Media, but does not appear to be having much success in overcoming anti-BP sentiment. The “Boycott BP” page on Facebook is liked by more than 450,000 users, although it is unclear whether this movement will be able to affect BP’s business. On Twitter, an anti-BP impostor has amassed almost 140,000 followers while BP’s own Twitter feed is hovering at about 12,000 followers.
Much like Toyota several months ago, BP cannot expect to be portrayed other than as the villain. All BP can do is communicate openly and actively, and if its mea culpas come off as somewhat self-serving, at least the company isn’t stonewalling. The difference between the recall and the oil spill is, of course, scale. Toyota fixed the problems with its cars relatively quickly and was able to begin to rebuild its reputation. BP faces a much greater challenge, because the spill has not been contained quickly, the environmental impact may be enormous, and as an oil company BP did not start out with the kind of reputation Toyota had among the public.
So far, BP has demonstrated a certain sophistication in not trying to shut down the parody Twitter feed or the flow of satirical treatments of the company’s logo. In March, the environmental activist group Greenpeace provoked Nestle into overreacting to critical videos and Facebook postings that included modified versions of the Nestle logo. BP hasn’t fallen into that trap. Nor has it attempted to co-opt the fake Twitter account. This is a wise choice, since if trying to shut down the account would be bullying, trying to fold it into the company’s own communication strategy would seem, um, slimy.
The Zavee takeaway:
- In a bad situation, openness and honesty really are the best policies.
- The better you do at solving the problem, the easier it will be to rebuild your reputation.
- Frustrated people need to express their frustration. Don’t try to stop them.