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Social Media for Crisis Management: Watch BP to learn what NOT to do May 3, 2010

Posted by StrategicGrowth in Social Media, Strategic Growth Concepts, Web 2.0.
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Anyone who has watched the news lately is likely familiar with the horrors of the situation currently taking place as a result of an oil rig explosion in the Gulf of Mexico, which has resulted in 11 deaths and a continuing and ever-expanding oil spill.  This rig was owned by international oil company, BP Global, and several investors.

As I have continued to see news coverage of this horrific incident, I was struck by the fact that I’m hearing from the news media, various industry experts, politicians, and just about anyone else who has an opinion – the only one I haven’t heard from is the CEO of BP.  So I started doing some searching to see if I’d missed it.  First I searched the Internet to see if I could find any statements from BP’s CEO, then I searched their website to see what news releases had been issued.  My findings were interesting.

The incident happened on April 20th.  Three days later the company finally issued a news release with a statement from the CEO, stating that employees were the first priority and they were cooperating fully with the Coast Guard etc. to insure everything possible was being done for them and their families.  It wasn’t until today – May 3rd – that the CEO finally made a public statement himself on MSNBC (at least that I could find); and in that statement proceeded to indicate that BP is not to blame, to tell you who else should be blamed, and also noting that they would, of course, be responsible for clean-up.  From what I could find, I didn’t see any evidence that BP had made any effort to communicate other than basic posting of news releases to their website and some minimal distribution of them to the major news outlets.  As a result, very few of the search results came from BP, but rather from anyone and everyone else who has something to say on the subject.

Here are some of the articles I found:

For BP, Oil Spill is a Public Relations Catastrophe

Feds Raise Pressure on BP Over Oil Spill

Oil Spill’s Blow to BP Image May Eclipse It’s Cost

BP, TransOcean Lawsuits Surge As Oil Continues to Spill

BP Had Other Problems in Years Leading to Gulf Spill

BP Chief: Failed Equipment Caused Explosion, Spill

When I look at this situation from a PR perspective and consider how Social Media could have helped them – instead of the immense damage it has done to them since everyone else is talking, but they aren’t; I saw this as an educational opportunity for small businesses.

If you Google ‘BP Oil’, you can find hundreds of references to the incident – on blogs, on Twitter, on YouTube, but none of it by BP themselves.  This is not to say that active participation in Social Media could have made the problem go away, but it could have given them a chance to better inform, to answer questions, to gain sympathy from the worldwide community by showing that they cared deeply for the lives lost and the on-going damage to the environment, and the resulting economic challenges that will be faced by the regions affected.  Instead they have chosen to distribute limited information, and when they do speak, it’s all about trying to shift the blame elsewhere.  So much for the years they’ve spent crafting an image as an environmentally-conscious firm; that’s up in smoke now (or covered in oil may be a better phrase)!

The mistakes in their strategy are so numerous I can’t even begin to count them; therefore I’ll suffice it to say that the company has provided us with ample opportunities to learn from their mistakes.

So what are the lessons learned from observing BP? Let’s reflect (I will only comment on mistakes and lessons as they relate to Social Media, not BP’s specific message):

  1. Don’t wait until a crisis happens to think about the ways that Social Media can assist your company; establish a presence on all appropriate Social Media sites and incorporate them into your everyday communications strategy, that way, they’ll already be there when you need them.
  2. Place links to your Social Media sites on your website to insure that people interested in your company know that you have a presence on Social Media and they know where to find you.
  3. Right now –  develop a Social Media strategy for your firm that incorporates everyday communication and crisis management, and put it in place so that it already exists should you need it for managing a crisis situation; should you need assistance in this area, Strategic Growth Concepts will be happy to assist you.
  4. Having an established Social Media strategy in place prior to a crisis will enable you to build a constituency of customers and followers to which you can explain your position and provide information if and when a crisis occurs; this constituency will help you disseminate your message virally through the Internet.
  5. When a crisis does occur, immediately step up your communications!  Develop a message plan and start distributing those messages through every Social Media platform that is appropriate.
  6. Communicate as often as possible through every means possible; issue news releases and insure they are distributed to related blogs and Internet search engines – not just the standard press; utilize YouTube to show videos of the situation if its appropriate, or of your CEO making a public statement; use webcasting tools such as BlogTalkRadio to engage in two-way live conversation with those interested in talking with company representatives about the matter – and then distribute it as a podcast via Facebook and Twitter (assuming of course that your company already has a presence there!).
  7. Don’t talk ‘at’ people on Social Media, talk ‘with’ people; engage in conversations, answer questions, ask for input.
  8. Put a ‘face’ on the company; take advantage of tools such as YouTube to distribute a message and speak plainly about the company’s thoughts on the situation.  Allow people to see how it affects the executives at the company emotionally.
  9. Monitor all Social Media – even those in which you are not participating – so you can address any issues being discussed there about your firm and its crisis situation and pre-empt some of those discussions that are just getting started.

Obviously it’s unlikely that your firm will ever experience a crisis of the magnitude of the one currently being experienced by BP Oil.  However, situations are relative – while it may be an incident of a much lesser magnitude, its impact upon your company and its customers may still be significant.  The best thing you can do is insure that your company is prepared to handle it in the best way possible.

In closing, we urge you to be pro-active in considering how Social Media can assist your company in communicating, and insuring that you have a plan in place in case a crisis situation should ever affect your company.  Should you need assistance in developing a Social Media strategy, we at Strategic Growth Concepts would be happy to assist you by evaluating your needs, and then developing and implementing a plan with you.  You may easily contact us at info@StrategicGrowthConcepts.com or via our website.

____________________________________________________________

The author, Linda Daichendt, is Founder, CEO and Managing Consultant at Strategic Growth Concepts, a consulting and training firm specializing in start-up, small and mid-sized businesses. She is a recognized small business expert with 20+ years experience in providing Marketing, Operations, HR, and Strategic planning services to start-up, small and mid-sized businesses. Linda can be contacted at linda@strategicgrowthconcepts.com and the company website can be viewed at www.strategicgrowthconcepts.com.

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Comments»

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[…] prepared for “social crisis communications” is critical for all kinds of organizations (Exhibit 1: BP). Your public relations team should have a crisis plan in place – for before, during and after […]

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[…] prepared for “social crisis communications” is critical for all kinds of organizations (Exhibit 1: BP). Your public relations team should have a crisis plan in place – for before, during and after […]

3. Marketing Using Video - May 27, 2011

Although it is historical from my point of view still a great read!

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[…] on what BP have done right, but that blog (available here) shows the strengths and this one, “Social Media for Crisis Management: Watch BP to learn what NOT to do“  shows the […]

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11. Lisa Merriam - May 3, 2010

BP was always bragging about being innovative and responsive. The true company brand is coming out in this crisis. They are not the least bit innovative or responsive, and they sure are not “beyond petroleum”. Since BP clearly has no social media strategy and no clue how to use Twitter, we are collecting ideas for them at: http://bit.ly/benQw2


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