Petroleum giant BP is currently embroiled in a huge crisis in the Gulf of Mexcio where one its wells sprung a leak and is currently releasing significant amounts of crude oil into the ocean. The protest against this calamity are well documented through the aggregation of images, web apps, Google Map mash-ups, and parody Twitter feeds springing up while social media and communications pundits are happy to play armchair quarterback to “advise” BP on how to deal with the crisis.
It’s important to remember two things while discussing this issue:
1. No matter what people say, this is not a “Public Relations Disaster (TM)”; it is an operational issue – not communications; and
2. Noone feels worse or is working harder to fix the issue than the folks at BP
So, getting past the fact that this is an operational issue, I am very impressed by the online communications efforts BP is undertaking to keep the public and its stakeholders informed.
Take a look at this appended screen shot of the BP.com home page and see for yourself the efforts the organization is going to:
- The BP.com home has been turned into a dynamic online news room
- Multimedia plays a large role including: live streaming from the ocean floor, updates and in depth technical briefings which run to great depth (no pun intended)
- Collaboration plays a large scale role – to the extent that BP explicitly asks for suggestions “Do you have ideas to help us?”
- Social media outposts are called out
- External links are prominent – showing BP knows it is part of a larger effort to fix this issue
You can also download this as a PDF.
On another note, I found the technical briefing videos incredibly refreshing and interesting, in a geeky sort of way. It gave me tremendous confidence that the company knows what it is doing and has its best experts on the case. You can view the latest briefing online.
This is a terrible issue for all people involved. It will have long lasting effects on the environment, the local residents and on the organization. But contrary to what you may read in the sensationalist corners of the blogosphere, within BP, people are doing their jobs and doing them well under extreme pressure and trying circumstances. Jumping on and criticising people just distracts them from the work at hand. I’m happy to give kudos to the BP communications and web team.
Of course, this also goes back to the almost paramount importance of understand what a Dark Site is and then building one. You can never know what you’ll need it for but this underscores the fact that you need the framework built and the process to populate it.
EDIT: BP_America (Tweeting since Aug 2008 with c10k followers and now, cleverly a “Verified Account”) has a static tally of the efforts the company is going to on its Twitter background and BP’s CEO Tony Hayward has started to post multiple updates. BP’s YouTube channel has started to upload and aggregate interviews with its CEO.
UPDATE 2: H&K’s insightful Chris Gidez on BP’s PR response: What does BP Need? — The Manhattan Project of Reputation Programs, via @DoctorJones.
One cannot fault BP on its commitment to communication. No company has ever invested as much in terms of people resources, money and tools in order to connect with its many stakeholders.
And frankly its latest ads — “We will get it done. We will make this right.” – are bold, impactful and show heart. People will now wait to see if BP delivers on the promise.
Indeed. Per the ire of many commenters below, making the promise is easy, delivering on that promise is the hard part. We should all hope that the organization can.
UPDATE 3: Clint Hocking (@ClickNothing – noted with irony!) reports that BP is also purchasing search terms across Google and Yahoo! in an effort to ensure people searching for information are shown their side of the story. Aside from the sensationalist headline (“BP buys Google, Yahoo search words to keep people away from real news on Gulf oil spill disaster”), this is an excellent tactic which I have also used in other online issues management scenarios.
UPDATE 4: Harvard Business Review quite sensibly says we should be supporting the BP employees trying to fix this situation, not castigating them for the sins of their fathers.