The Deepwater Horizon oil spill has the potential to become the worst man-made disaster in history. With some 100,000 barrels worth of oil spewing forth daily from the Gulf of Mexico wreck (including a second, smaller outpouring), the leak threatens the coasts of Louisiana, Missisippi, Alabama, Texas, and Florida, and promises unforeseen environmental impact. While there’s no shortage of blame to go around, the public relations nightmare falls squarely on the shoulders of British Petroleum. So you’d think BP would be running a pretty good publicity game to combat the negativity swirling around their name. Not so much.
At this point, BP is currently offering a Gulf of Mexico “response” page, which amounts to little more than a stream of press releases and feel-good educational blurbs meant to reassure and quell rage. While frequent video updates may help BP’s case, there’s little in the way of interaction and two-way conversation with fuming citizens. Their efforts feel forced, not to mention biased and opaque. They’re lecturing when they should be conversing, and as we’ve seen, this approach can have disastrous PR consequences.
In response to BP’s slimy behavior, countless parody videos and mock ads have been created. “BP – Bringing People Together” skewers the company’s failure in what appears, at first, to be a series of glowing endorsements. Well-timed, professional-looking, and infinitely sharable, valuable anti-branding examples like this take popular activism to new heights.
Going a step further, this one plants quite the proverbial oil slick: a mock BP tweeter masquerading under the username @BPGlobalPR has distributed gems such as these to its 60,000+ followers (up more than 20K from two days ago):
The hijinks don’t stop there. According to Fox News, BP’s official account was briefly hacked this morning and issued a predictably inappropriate message referencing Terry. (It has since been deleted. No word on if @BPGlobalPR is responsible or not.)
This perfect storm may be one of the better recent examples of why brands can’t afford not to have a well-formed social media presence. From the looks of it, it doesn’t seem like BP entertains, or even acknowledges the negative chatter. They would do well to take a lesson from Toyota, who faced a similarly bleak crisis and took to new media broadcast channels using Toyota Conversations to converse and spread earnest and transparent messaging about their ongoing efforts.
While BP can’t be blamed for everything that’s happened—squabbling has taken place between multiple parties over responsibility—the ongoing PR blunder is a mess all their own. By all means its own catastrophe, this outpouring of dissent must be attended to if the brand hopes to clean up its act.