A few weeks ago, I was interviewed on CNN by Josh Levs on one small facet of BP Oil's disaster -- online communications.
Immediately following the interview, I wanted to do a follow-up post. And I was overwhelmed by the amount of potentially relevant links as the story continued to unfold. But this AP article in Sunday's news makes me assume the point I wanted to make is still worth posting.
BP Lost PR Control Before the Oil Spilled.
Here's an excerpt from the interview to underscore my point.
LEVS: So in terms of web strategy, companies all over the world are watching this. What does a company do when it's at the center of a crisis and people are expressing outrage online? What is the strategy? What do you do?
DUGAN: The first thing they need to do is listen. Hopefully they've been doing that before the crisis actually takes place.
The other thing that BP really missed the boat on unfortunately is they weren't very active in social media prior to this. They had two of the four profiles established that you mentioned between Flickr, YouTube, Twitter, and Facebook, but they really had not used them.
And you can't flip a switch like that, and expect to get traction with an audience. As you can see, you know, Greenpeace has been out there participating online for years, and they have a number of folks following them. And it's very easy for them to engage with people whereas it's not for BP, because they waited until this problem happened.
LEVS: This is interesting. You mentioned before we went to air, what a lot of companies do these days,they put information out there online and they hope people will go there and find it. And you're saying what companies really need to do, it's not broadcasting, what you really need to do is engage. What's that about?
DUGAN: Correct, yes. If they had been participating prior to this, they would have established communication with a lot of folks, and would not be trying to do so for the first time. They could engage with them when this happened. It's a very polarizing situation. And people need to express their emotions. Right now, they're using social media to broadcast.
Is the site BP's built out to address the situation robust and well-intended? Yes.
Is the search campaign they've conducted crisis/search 101 and not the devil's work? Yes.
Would a Facebook page, Twitter stream or other social sites have dramatically altered the situation? CEO Tony Hayward's actions make this a moot point. And to be clear, as the AP article notes, the PR effort won't alter the situation. The leak must be fixed.
My point is that trying to create a conversation after disaster strikes is not going to happen. It's not as if you can have a set of "dark" social media profiles and turn them on when this happens. It takes time to earn engagement. If BP had a social media presence and CEO Tony Hayward magically did not polarize the situation and make it BP against everyone...BP may have had an audience that would be helping them get the information out and help tell their factual, no-spin story. Instead it's BP against the government, activists, the media, and citizens. And that won't change anytime soon.
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