The One Thing BP Is Doing Right In Social Media

a Joker card from deck of cards about social media and personal branding

photo by ieshraq

British Petroleum (BP) is at the center of an environmental catastrophe, the oil spilling into the Gulf of Mexico.

And while BP has made mis-step after mis-step on almost every front, there is one thing that I believe they are doing right, and it’s in social media.

It has to do with a parody Twitter account, @BPGlobalPR, that was created in reaction to the oil leak.

As Olivier Blanchard notes in his in-depth analysis, Living in the past = working in the past: How not to get “brandjacked” like BP Global PR:

Since May 19th, someone on Twitter has been publishing updates under the @BPglobalPR handle complete with a crisp BP logo and a profile identifying them as “BP Global PR”.

The “fake” parody account has been tweeting messages that swing between sophomoric and bitingly, sometimes heart-breakingly satirical:

The ocean looks just a bit slimmer today. Dressing it in black really did the trick! #bpcaresless than a minute ago via web

Of course, bp cares about the fishing industry as well. Now, all tuna from the gulf coast comes pre-packaged in oil. #you‘rewelcome #yumless than a minute ago via web

Someone just suggested canceling our Memorial Day BBQ in light of recent events. That person, of course, was swiftly fired. #bpcaresless than a minute ago via web

While it may not be time to be having fun with a still-ongoing environmental catastrophe, satire does have it’s place. (Just ask Sarah Palin, who believes that even joking about “retards” is OK as long as it’s “satirical.” But I digress…)

As of this writing, BPGlobalPR has over 80,000 Followers on Twitter, fueled by both organic growth and plenty of press – more than BP’s own “official” Twitter accounts.

Blanchard expresses surprise at that last bit, though I don’t know why.

Perhaps BP should consider hiring the guy behind the fake BP account. By all accounts, he seems to have accomplished more with a free twitter account, a healthy dose of wit and a few burritos than BP’s entire PR machine could manage in spite of its enormous budget, resources, and access to top PR, communications and digital talent from around the globe. The lesson here may be this: If corporate juggernauts like Nestle and BP can be made fools of this easily – in the era of the participatory web (which is no longer an emerging shift) – then perhaps it’s time for the corporate communications world to retool.

OK, first, who in his right mind would really want to follow an official BP Twitter account – even during a crisis that involves them?! That would be like watching “BPTV,” some official media outlet of the company. No thanks – I’ll take my reporting from other sources, please.

Actually, I think this story shows one of the weaknesses not of BP or any corporate tooling, but a weakness of Twitter. Twitter is NOT good for extended narratives, which IS what BP should be providing. Rather than tweeting about the situation – dear god, how many tweet updates would I have to read from BP in order to stay apprised of the “Top Kill” situation? – BP needs to be accessible and transparent to other media that support extended narratives and complex situations. Sure, Twitter can be useful to them, and yes, BP can employ Twitter to spread little droplets of news or even engage in conversation, but for the most part BP’s information focus should be elsewhere. Taking the position that BP has failed at social media or Twitter simply because a witty parody account sprang up and garnered press is a bit of an overstatement.

And second, it’s only natural that comedy and satire – with the controversial brandjacking attached – would attract press attention. Social Media is still news – and new ways of using it are news. The BPGlobalPR account is fodder for endless stories from so many angles that almost any news outlet could find one. So it’s really only natural that it would a) attract attention, b) gain followers. It’s a case study in viralicity.

I’m sure Blanchard is being tongue-in-cheek when he says perhaps BP should consider hiring the guy behind the fake BP account.

What’s BP’s reaction to the whole thing?

Toby Odone, a spokesman at BP, told Ad Age: “I’m not aware of whether BP has made any calls to have it taken down or addressed. People are entitled to their views on what we’re doing and we have to live with those. We are doing the best we can to deal with the current situation and to try to stop the oil from flowing and to then clean it up.”…”People are frustrated at what’s happening, as are we, and that’s just their way of expressing it.”
Source: Why BP Isn’t Fretting Over Its Twitter Impostor

That is about one of the HEALTHIEST and most enlightened responses I’ve ever read from a corporate spokesperson about a parody of their company. Contrast that with what Nestle did when Greenpeace did something similar.

Satire and parody are valuable tools for expressing outrage. Trying to quash it usually only makes it worse or causes a backlash.

But other people have gone further than Blanchard’s “hire him” suggestion.

Lisa Barone @lisabarone wrote a post, Why BP Should Embrace the Fake BP Twitter Account

Considering that there have been some voices wondering why and how BP has not tried to have the “fake” Twitter account removed or deleted (for what, defamation of character? brandjacking?), Lisa writes:

I don’t think they should have the account removed. In fact, I think they should embrace it.

Embrace it?! Here’s the outline of the embrace-it strategy:

BP needs to take control of the account: BP needs to get in contact with the owners of the @BPGlobalPR account and give them an ‘option’ – either they hand over the account to BP so they can creatively use it together OR BP will contact Twitter to have the account taken away. I’m pretty sure they’re going to go with option one.

Make it clear the account is a parody: The most dangerous facet of the account right now is that some people think it’s real. This needs to be immediately addressed. The logo has been altered, which is a good step, but it needs to be stated in the bio and on the Twitter background that this account is a parody account, created by an organization other than BP. The account should also encourage users to follow the official BP America and Oil Spill twitter accounts for real-time disaster updates.

Highlight the real accounts: The official BP and oil spill accounts should be heavily plugged on the BP home page and on their Gulf response page to make it easy for people to stay up-to-date with real news.

Mix in real information on the satire account: The fake BP Twitter account has nearly 40,000 followers. That’s four time as many as the two official accounts have, giving them a much larger reach to disseminate information. Use that to get your message across.

Create a national BP Cares campaign: Now that the satire account is being used to raise money for the Gulf disaster, it can only help BP to become loudly involved. BP should create a national campaign to using the BP Cares slogan to raise money for the Gulf situation and attach some good news for spokespeople to talk about. The campaign will leverage the Gulf of Mexico Response section BP already has on its site to keep people abreast of what they’re doing and encourage them to purchase a shirt to donate money to the relief efforts.

This is ghastly. Encouraging a corporation to take over a rogue parody account – even recommending that they threaten them – is the absolute wrong signal to send on so many levels.

Mixing in “real” messages with the satirical ones? It’s hard to imagine how this would be perceived. I know how *I* would perceive it: as a sad corporate attempt to “use” social media. And it would be the quickest way I know of to cause a sharp drop in the number of Followers of the account. The satire, the truth-behind-the-humor is the whole point of the account: rake BP over the coals for their arrogance and indifference.

The last sentence in Barone’s post really gets me.

Just because a joke was started at your expense, doesn’t mean you can’t get in and leverage the heck out of it.

I almost don’t know what to say here. There is absolutely no way BP should be “leveraging the heck” out of any joke about what’s going on in the Gulf. There is value in satire, but the value cannot and should not be co-opted by the company being satirized.

First, I strongly object to leveraging the heck out of a joke about a catastrophe like this when the leverage is intended to HELP the corporation that is cause of the catastrophe. It’s hard for me to imagine why anyone with any ethics or morals at all would want to do that. It would be insulting. Let’s leverage the joke alright…at the butt of the joke, at BP. Don’t suggest that they adopt it and use it in order to put a better face on their PR. What, so BP are the only ones who come out clean after this thing?

Second, as a corporate PR strategy, embracing the BP_GlobalPR account would be corporate suicide. As if BP hasn’t already been shown to be cold and calculating and UNsympathetic to what’s going on, all they would need is to be seen as mocking the Gulf spill, as well.


The ONE thing BP is doing right in social media is IGNORING it.

Posted in Events, Opinion, Personal Branding, Social Media, Twitter
7 comments on “The One Thing BP Is Doing Right In Social Media
  1. Jacques says:

    I’m no marketing-buff, but I figure working at BP these days is corporate hell times two – especially in the pr department: what is there left to fix? Or to spin? With a company that willingly takes risks (they used the cheaper method for drilling), and a CEO that claims ‘it’s not as bad’. Also, why did they only use ‘top kill’ after 5 weeks? Perhaps you could use Twitter for links to explanations? The only possible face-saving would be to admit fault, apologise (meaning it!) and to show a sincere effort assisting the cleaning up – by opening up your coffers. Plus firing your lying CEO, giving his severance to non-govs.

    And, the OutspokenMedia post I take as satire in itself – sophomore talk: taking over a popular Twitter account – by force, if needed?!?! I wonder if Twitter would be wise to ‘assist’ with that: not only would it mean your account not being safe for corporate ‘pressure’, but it would result in dozens of new ‘fake’ BP accounts within hours – it then becomes a witchhunt – with even more publicity. Also, see LB’s comment: someone suggests the complete opposite (of her ‘strategy’) and she responds” “you might be right…” – meaning she doesn’t even hold her ground.

    But then, social media is so new, that by only blogging about it you can proclaim yourself to be an expert. And BP shows it doesn’t have hired any ‘experts’ yet… times a changing.

  2. pbarbanes says:

    Jacques – I think your solution – the only possible face-saving – is right on the mark. Thanks for your Comment.

  3. Loki says:

    I’m working up a post of my own on this subject and will certainly be linking back here. Once more I am horrified by a so called “expert.” I’m no social media “expert,” I actually have paying clients instead. Most of them are incredibly wary until they contact my prior clients. Why? Because of people that give out advice like Ms. Barrone did.

    Very glad to have run across your comment on her post, which led me here. It is vital as transparency becomes more and more impossible to avoid, that the keenest ethics be maintained. BP failed at this.

    I’m in regular contact with people back home in New Orleans, including several engineers. A little digging unearths the fact that BP has almost had it’s business here in the USA, and not that long ago. And that, sir, is only the beginning.

    Great to find another in the field who understands ethics. Too many buy into the amoral marketeer stereotype.

    • pbarbanes says:

      Thanks for your comment. We’ll have to connect. My wife and her large family (everyone’s a “cousin,” as I’m sure you know!) are from New Orleans East. Most still live there, not too long out of the temporary trailers, really, after their houses were destroyed by the flood from Katrina.

      The Barone post was just one of many wondering how BP might use social media to “repair” or support a positive brand perception.

      There’s a kind of knee-jerk reaction of some social media specialists to want to rush in and “save” any corporation (can you say Nestle?) that is stumbling in social media. But the company is stumbling in social media not because they’re bad at social media but because they’ve actually done something bad. Stumble on! I’m not going to try to help make you look better while you’re contributing to deforestation or ducking and weaving your way through an oil tragedy.

      But, I suppose, as Bob Dylan wrote, “You’re gonna have to serve somebody.”

      Thanks for stopping by, thanks for your kind words about my post. I’m looking forward to yours. Stay in touch. I have a feeling we’ll connect more.

      • Loki says:

        Indeed! My wife’s stepmother had just bought property in the East, they were in Gentilly. As I’m sure you’re aware both got soundly spanked in the flooding.

        You should come to NOLA in August for Rising Tide, I’ll buy the first round!

        • Aurora says:

          Normally I don’t read article on blogs, but I wish to say that this write-up very forced me to check out and do it! Your writing style has been surprised me. Thank you, very nice post.

  4. Loki says:

    Sorry, tired and I must confess a angered by the OutspokenMedia post. That sentence in my above comment shoud have read “…unearths the fact that BP has almost had it’s business privileges here in the USA yanked.”

    Too much blood in my caffeine system, sorry.

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