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June 03, 2010

If you screw up, they will trash you. There is no PR fix.

by Josh Bernoff

Street-giant-BP-cares-white-thumb A Twitter account called @BPGlobalPR has been trashing and mocking BP for a while now. The new development is that he's blogging about what he's doing and why.

What should BP do about this?

Nothing.

BP's first job is to fix the spill. Any other activity now is pointless and won't help.

The PR department at BP's job is describe, accurately, what they are doing. Any attempts to spin are pointless and will backfire.

BP could sue and get the Twitter account closed, maybe. The publicity about this suit would hurt more than help. If they were successful, the tweeter would just pick another handle. Hence: do nothing.

BP is twittering and there is a very nice Facebook page for Deepwater Horizon Response. Better to have them and connect through them than not, but every drop of oil that spills or lands on beaches does more damage than any amount of social outreach. This problem cannot be solved by social technology.

Social can't solve problems that come from customer (or environmental) abuse. Your company has problems, too, although it can't possibly be worse than BP's problem. If lots of your customers are upset, for every dollar you spend on fixing your image or social outreach, spend ten or a hundred dollars on fixing your customer problem.


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Comments

Nigel Sarbutts

Josh, with respect I think you're wrong on this one.
Sure it would be counter-productive to sue or try to get the Twitter account closed, but irrespective of the author's motives or expertise, he has tapped into a large seam of public sentiment. This is valuable insight to BP in terms of understanding one part of the spectrum of public opinion (note: only one part). BP's PR job is to communicate its position and the known facts tirelessly and consistently to everyone it can.
There is a 'long tail' issue about how you triage the responses according to available resources but this guy has elbowed his way into the picture so respect that and engage him. Others will be encouraged by this and sprout up but it's not an infite game of wack-a-mole, the public's thirst for knowledge is finite.

Deanna McNeil

I simply cannot agree any more with what you said. And the lessons are indeed universal truths: transparency with issues and the efforts to fix make the difference in ANY relationship.

Josh Bernoff

Nigel, I think time spent "engaging" with @BPGlobalPR will only backfire. What would you say to the guy?

This is not a broken guitar or a slow cable modem. They can't assuage the guy or solve his problem.

Just how I see it.

Nigel Sarbutts

Josh, what I'd say to this guy is wnat I'd say to any bona fide news outlet: here's what we're doing, here's a status update, here's what what happens next etc.. If this person wants to throw rocks at that, fine. But the point is that 100,000 and more followers will be exposed to another side of the argument and will make their own mind up.

BP or any organisation under fire does not have the luxury to pick and choose which stakeholders or commentators get the VIP treatment, they simply have to keep on telling their story until the whole thing is talked out. Exhausting but the only right way to begin the long process of re-building reputation.

I agree that this guy will never say "Oh now I get it, I'll close the Twitter account" but that's his weakness, he is a one-trick trick pony of hating everything BP does. That's quite a boring message for his followers.

I should add that I have no connection to any company involved in the Deepwater Horizon incident or any energy company.

Stefan Martens

Very interesting discussion about a really hot topic.

I reckon BP will just have to live with that satirical Twitter account.

Filing a lawsuit would most definitely backfire as the blogosphere and the press would take it up as one of these David against Goliath battles. And the public tends to stick with David, of course.

However, I'm wondering what the worst case scenario would be.

BP might damage its already dented image, but will people actually boycott BP gas stations or will BP's partners stop cooperating?

I don't think so.

I also think that the power of Twitter is kind of overestimated in this case. 100 000 followers might be a lot, but does the account actually influence the public opinion? Isn't it just some kind of gallows humor that you can find in lots of late night comedy shows nowadays?

"what I'd say to this guy is wnat I'd say to any bona fide news outlet: here's what we're doing, here's a status update, here's what what happens next etc.. If this person wants to throw rocks at that, fine. But the point is that 100,000 and more followers will be exposed to another side of the argument and will make their own mind up."

100% agree on that.

If BP starts confronting @BPGlobalPR with good news, e.g. by public reply, they might be able to take the wind out of @BPGlobalPR's sails.

As long as there's no good news and actions from BP's side, they'll have to live with that zynical guy.

I think that

Andrew Davies

Thanks Josh,

I think you hit the nail on the head. In any crisis like this, the first question to ask is, "how can I fix it?".

It doesn't even really matter if you are wrong or not. If it's your customers, and they're upset, you should see what you can do to address the underlying problem.

If you see the situation as a, "PR problem" then you're fooling yourself into thinking that all you need is some wiz bang (and expensive) PR people.

That said, BP is in a tough place. Offshore drilling is the underlying problem for them, and they've already said they want to focus their business back on oil drilling.

It's much easier for a company like Nestle (ie. the Kit Kat uproar). They didn't have to challenge their business model to address the outrage – only change some production policies.

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