BP’s nightmare

It’s hard to think of any business organization in recent years that is being so publicly vilified on a global basis as is oil giant BP.

Watching the live video images of oil gushing from the broken well a mile beneath the surface of the sea in the Gulf of Mexico is a terrible sight, knowing the environmental damage that is being caused by the millions of gallons of crude oil that pollute the sea and coastal shorelines since the Deepwater Horizon offshore drilling rig exploded and sank in late April and which started all this.

There’s talk by the US government of criminal investigations that could result in the British oil company being banned from the US. Its share price on the London Stock Exchange has plummeted. There’s even speculation on the wider damage to pension funds and other investments that this crisis could produce.

Unquestionably, BP’s brand and reputation are under assault never mind suffering simply a crisis. Apart from the big-picture situation I’ve outlined, think about the day-to-day level, like where you go to fill the tank in your car. Or, not go as will be the case for at least some of the 273,000 people who are fans of the Boycott BP Facebook page.

It’s at the grassroots level where I think BP has the toughest going. For instance, how do you address a situation where every mention of your corporate name online is blanked out in dripping oil?

bpblank520

I can well understand the dramatic effect of this – note it only works in the Firefox browser if you install the nifty Oil Spill plugin – although it’s hard to see its value beyond that drama.

So if you need to find information about BP online and display the company name, here’s what that same page looks like without the plugin, this time in the Google Chrome browser.

bpnotblank520

Relatively minor things, perhaps, yet that’s part of what BP is up against in the perception battle (which translates to your own reality) in which they are a leading contestant.

Then there’s Twitter in the form of @BPGlobalPR, a spoof unofficial Twitter handle that tweets some biting satire. Note the follower count – 102,812 when I grabbed this screenshot just now. That dwarfs by some considerable magnitude the 9,103 following BP’s official Twitter presence, @BP_America.

bpglobalpr520

Set aside Here Comes Everybody for the moment, and look at what effect grassroots opinion can have when a well-organized framework is developed to channel that opinion, such as Greenpeace’s ‘rebrand BP’ logo contest.

In the overall scheme of things, though, stopping that oil leak is paramount. Which makes me ask – where are all the other oil companies if this truly is the catastrophe it seems to be?  Everyone says that so where are ExxonMobil, Texaco, Shell, Chevron, or any of the myriad petroleum companies around the world? Isn’t this an industry issue rather than one affecting just one of you?

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Neville Hobson

Social Strategist, Communicator, Writer, and Podcaster with a curiosity for tech and how people use it. Believer in an Internet for everyone. Early adopter (and leaver) and experimenter with social media. Occasional test pilot of shiny new objects. Avid tea drinker.

  1. stephenwaddington

    This isn't a PR crisis. Its a fundamental crisis in BP's business and an environmental disaster. PR can't help. Attempts to engage with critics are futile – as we've seen. Until the leak is fixed BP has no chance of rebuilding its reputation and the onslaught of flack will continue. All of BP's effort must focus first and foremost on the oil leak.

    I've also been wondering why this issue hasn't prompted eco-campaigners, media and NGOs to use the BP disaster as a platform for discussion about why we remain so reliant on oil and why we're aren't pursuing alternatives.

  2. neville

    Stephen, I agree with you that it's a business crisis for BP first and foremost. I think it's also a PR crisis and a fundamental one at that.

    Are engagement attempts really futile? Sure, the critics are many, highly motivated and very vocal. BP can't get a word in edgeways. And when they try, it seems they put both feet in it too often. Then there's @BPGlobalPR, tweeting in ways that capture moods and imaginations (not BP's though) and now speaking lots of social media PR sense.

    Does all of this mean BP should simply shut up and keep quiet as they work at fixing the oil leak? I don't think so. Isn't this precisely the time to engage, but in a more effective manner? Courage and a clear plan are needed.

  3. thesecrettruths

    Unfortunately I think we are only being fed half the story and the conspiracy community have got a very good case.
    Goldman Sachs sells 44% of their shares, CEO sells 1/3 of his shares, both weeks before the well blew.
    Haliburton buys a clean up company 2 weeks before and is involved on site.
    The list goes on.
    This is far worse than we are being told, but you can get the truth if you investigate further.

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