About Eiler Communications &Business and Economy &Corporate Communications &Environment &Rescue &Social Media &Wildlife 25 Jun 2010 12:24 pm

The BP Oil Spill & Social Media

As oil spills into the Gulf of Mexico, destroying land, ecosystems and livelihoods, social media is in the forefront. Whether it is the general public demanding a resolution, government officials seeking containment and public support or BP trying to restore its image, social media has spread the latest oil spill news faster than ever before.

Within hours of the British Petroleum and Transocean rig explosion, media personnel and the general public used Facebook and Twitter accounts to pass word of the explosion with friends and followers. Many of these social media users wondered who was to blame, what would happen to the fish and sea creatures calling the ocean their home and what affect the spill would have on those who fished for a living. Outrage and concern has continued to resonate throughout these social media sites following the explosion on April 20, 2010.

Thousands of BP critics have launched social media attacks for BP’s failure to prevent the disaster and its inability to stop the flow of oil. Hundreds of Facebook pages exist asking the public to boycott BP, while a fake BP Twitter account making fun of the company has reached a popularity well beyond that of the company’s actual Twitter account.

At the same time, the public has been posting and tweeting ways for others to help relief efforts in the Gulf. Posts telling people where and how to make donations have circulated the Internet.

The crisis communication carried out by the company is something that should be carefully observed. BP’s president, Tony Hayward, made several statements that have caused public outrage. Hayward belittled the scope of the situation in May and suggested that the environmental impact of the spill would be minimal. The company has yet to admit to doing something wrong but claims they are taking responsibility for clean-up efforts. In public relations, the best thing a company can do is to be completely honest about screwing up. BP was not.

The lack of interest and concern BP has shown is evident. The oil spill was a fantastic opportunity for BP to use social media as a communication tool right from the beginning. The company has made some effort to be active through social media- it has a Facebook page, Twitter feed and a channel on YouTube, which cost $250,000 to brand, according to Taylor Buley of Forbes.com . However, the problem is not what outlets of social media BP is using, but exactly how they are utilizing them.

BP should be using their Twitter feed and Facebook page as a forum for discussion as well as a way to answer questions and concerns from the general public. Instead of providing customer service and giving feedback, BP merely gives updates to what’s new in the Gulf. Courtesy of BP, there are plenty of informational videos about cleanup efforts and claims made against the company, but there is no channel of communication in which the public is asked for suggestions about the oil spill.

The company’s social media outlets have become a place for bashing the corporation instead of a forum for people to voice their opinions about a possible solution.

BP’s lack of care for the public’s input is apparent in their social media campaign, and it is a taking a toll on their reputation. If social media is going to be used during a crisis, in order to be successful, it needs to be facilitated so it is clear that the company is listening to its customers.

Jaclyn Klein and Rachel Krasnow

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