The current disaster in the Gulf states, with the BP oil spill (you know it’s bad when a disaster is named after your company) shows the importance of incorporating social media in your crisis communications plan, and the importance that social media plays in your communication strategy.
For the past month, millions of gallons of oil have been flooding into the Gulf as an oil drilling rig, owned by Transocean Ltd on behalf of bp plc, exploded, killed eleven crew members, and is now threatening the coasts of Louisiana, Mississipi, Alabama, Texas, and Florida.
Ultimately, while BP is in a horrible position, how they respond matters. And the appropriate response today is far different than what was accepted just a few years ago. Today, social media is part of the story – and you don’t control the message.
One of the core issues today is that people demand transparency and immediate news. Social and online media can provide it. According to Ellen Rossano, who used to be the Coast Guard’s public information officer during the Exxon Valdez oil spill:
“I advise my clients that they have to get the truth out as quickly as possible. One of my common-sense rules is you just can’t lie about what’s going on,” she told me. “You’re going to be found out. You can’t say ‘no comment’ anymore. It implies guilt. It implies you’re hiding something. You can always say to the media and the public, ‘Here’s what I can tell you.’”
She also notes:
“I’m thrilled beyond imagining at how the Joint Information Center has been transparent,” she says. “They’re posting situation reports everyday; there’s not much more they could be doing to be transparent, and I think that’s a phenomenal shift. The fact that anybody from the media and public can go to the sites and download video and audio … it’s just a huge improvement.”
Of course, you can’t always control the message. For example, Facebook recently introduced “community pages” which aggregates discussion about a specific topic. One of the important things for companies to be aware of, is that marketers do not control it. For example, bp’s community page has a lot of negative conversation about the bp oil spill.
bp plc’s Facebook presence is hard to find (I only found it by tweeting their account and asking for it), which means that they aren’t being heard or responding to the litany of complaints. Their Facebook page only has 741 fans. Hence, when someone goes on Facebook and looks for info on bp, instead of an official bp statement, they are more likely to find a group like this:
In fact, on Twitter, someone has created a fake account (@BPGlobalPR) with over 37,000 followers, compared to bp America’s real account (@BP_America) with under 6,000.