In an interview with a US news website Politico, US President Barack Obama drew an anology between the BP oil spill and 9/11, declaring; “…In the same way that our view of our vulnerabilities and our foreign policy was shaped profoundly by 9/11…I think this disaster is going to shape how we think about the environment and energy for many years to come.”
The comparison is an interesting one, yet whilst the full effects of this unprecedented financial, legal, regulatory and environmental crisis are not yet known, there are a few certainties:
1) Almost £60bn has now been wiped off the company’s market value, since the Deepwater Horizon rig sank killing 11 men and triggering the disastrous leak on April 20, and
2) BP’s reputation and corporate structure hangs in the balance, whilst the company’s board, PR reps, crisis managers and engineers scramble to fix the mess.
To this second point, although we have heard the occasional “positive” whisper in the media about increased levels of oil being recovered, sadly for BP, its shareholders, the Gulf State residents and businesses and unforgettably, the region’s marine life, most of the news is negative.
Over the past three weeks, my attention has been drawn to a spoof Twitter news-feed, from the twitter account “@BPGlobalPR”. This is not actually official “BP speak”. The sarcastic news feed has been set up by an individual or group passing themselves off as the BP publicity machine. It is effectively “by the people, for the people”.
“@BPGlobalPR” has been mocking the company with feeds such as; “Just got 100k followers and our oil is headed to Florida. You know what this means… WE’RE GOING TO DISNEYWORLD!” and “Yes, our ‘spill’ is a ‘trickle’ and ‘hurricanes’ are ‘drizzles’. Hope it doesn’t ‘drizzle’ on our ‘trickle’. That’d be a ‘pickle’.”
These are not exactly the messages a company wants to be associated with as it continues to work on containing the oil spill and for good reason, BP hasn’t seen the funny side and has decided to take action by going directly to Twitter. It scored a minor victory, of sorts, as now BPGlobalPR must state on its feed that it is “not associated with Beyond Petroleum”. The official BP account is “@BP_America”.
It appears however, that the damage has been done; BP_America has a mere 13,000 followers, whilst the spoof Twitter stream has over 164,000!
Satirical Twitter accounts are nothing new. Twitter has proven itself to be such a great platform for satire and has developed a very clear policy for parody, commentary, and fan accounts. “Tweeters” can’t use the exact same name as the subject they’re parodying and their bio must explicitly state that the account is not associated with the real person, company, or organization.
What this episode tells us is that (a) we are too reliant on oil! and (b) that businesses and high profile individual who are in the public eye and are therefore public targets, need to be aware of what the public are writing and broadcasting about them as much as possible. We advise a proactive approach, coupled with a robust response at the earliest possible opportunity.
Reputation Management is about both managing reputational risk and knowing how to deal quickly and effectively with a problem as soon as it arises. Remember the words of Theodore Roosevelt: “In any moment of decision the best thing you can do is the right thing, the next best thing is the wrong thing, and the worst thing you can do is nothing.”