BP’s woes deepened by social media

Amidst all the negative headlines surrounding BP’s oil spill crisis in the Gulf of Mexico, the oil giant seems to be having more problems controlling its reputation online.

Despite the oil giant buying up search terms to lead people to its dedicated microsite, and making every effort to demonstrate it has embraced its corporate responsibilities with full vigour, the freedom that social media offers appears to have hindered their progress.

One twitter feed in particular, #BPGlobalPR, has really caught the attention of bloggers. Not only has it managed to acquire a user name that the oil giant should have taken up, but its humorous take on the crisis seems to be saying the things that most people are thinking, but BP does not want to admit.

Throughout the crisis, the brand has been engulfed with PR disasters, and every step along the way, social media has been there to throw light on the gaffes.

Yet BP does not seem to have noticed the damage that this is causing to its brand. Its Twitter feeds are miniscule compared to the unofficial rants, and the impact is just as bad on Facebook. BP America has 27,000 followers providing both positive and negative responses to its containment effort updates, but on the other side of the spectrum over 700,000 are in groups boycotting the oil giant.

Havas Worldwide has also noticed these troubles. Last week, they published a new report called Who Cares Wins: The Rise of the Caring Corporation.

It found that consumers want ’caring corporations’ and are using social media as a game changer to create major tremors across the corporate landscape. Yet major corporations were not taking this seriously.

The study found that those in major corporate crises like Toyota and BP were unprepared for changing consumer trends and still believe social media currently has marginal or no impact on a business – either now or in five years time.

David Jones, global chief executive of Havas Worldwide and co-founder of One Young World, told me this is a big mistake: “The caring corporation is the business model of the future and it’s one where doing well and doing good are one and the same. People want to feel good about the brands they work with and buy from, and in a digital society it is the young who are emerging as the change makers. They are looking for corporations that have social responsibility etched into their DNA.

“Business leaders need to wake up to the growing power of social media as a game changer and the emerging demand from consumers for ethically responsible brands.”

It seems that treating social media like a “blind spot” is not acceptable in the modern age. BP has definitely not taken this as seriously as they should have done, investing more in television advertising, which went on to be blasted by US President Barack Obama.

Perhaps what brands really need to remember is that digital sources offer a more reliable place for there to be a dialogue of some kind to give people more insight into what’s happening and what they’re doing.

It’s no good waiting too long, and then playing catch-up and trying to get a message out there. After all, your brand reputation is the most important thing to get right at all times.

The BP oil crisis and its aftermath – from a brand that had tried to reposition itself as sustainable – has raised the question whether rebrands can ever really work:

  • To read the cover story relating to this: ’Actions speak louder than logos’click here
  • To read Mark Ritson’s response to the cover story click here.
  • To view the Top 10 mistakes marketers make when rebranding – and how to avoid them table, click here.
  • To read Mark Choueke’s opinion on BP’s woes, click here.
  • For three business viewpoints click here.

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