Social media … detrimental to PR practitioners? ( BP case study)

Press Conference on Day 100 of BP Oil Spill, 7/28/10

Press Conference on Day 100 of BP Oil Spill, 7/28/10

Social media as mentioned in the earlier posts helps organisation in creating a closer and stronger relationship with their public. However, it could also have adverse impacts on an organisation and on its reputation. Indeed, as mentioned in previous posts, social media is a dynamic platform whereby information flows very quickly and easily. If PR practitioners underestimate the impact of social media, they could end up having to deal with major crises. The example below looks at the case study of British Petroleum (BP) after the oil spill in 2010.

One of the most famous PR disasters in recent years is how BP handled the oil spill case in April 2010 along the Gulf of Mexico. Not only did BP have to deal with the crisis from the biggest offshore oil spill in US history, but they also had to face backlash from the ineffective and inefficient PR crisis management. Indeed their first reaction to this crisis was to filter and spin the information provided to the media as well as trying to cover up the extent of the damages. This strategy was proven to be unsuccessful and prejudicial to BP because only hours after the oil spill, the hash-tag #oilspill on twitter showing the actual extend of damages. Several parody videos of the event also went viral on social media as shown in the video below. Indeed the cover up was quickly unveiled by social media users hence amplifying the crisis. All throughout the peak of the crisis, they did not acknowledge the importance of social media and of actually communicating true information to their public. BP did not have a social media team per se before the crisis hence resulting in an even more severe crisis.

However, once BP realised the importance of social media in controlling and de-escalating the situation, they set up Facebook and Twitter pages which allowed the public to express their frustration and anger about the situation as a way of dealing with the crisis. This helped them in dealing with the crisis. Besides they also set up a YouTube channel with regular updates about the situation in the Gulf of Mexico and the consequent measures take to prevent the occurrence of such an event in the future. Despite measures taken to deal with the situation even 5 years after the crisis, BP has to deal with a tarnished reputation and it might take a long time to re-establish the public’s confidence and trust in the organisation.


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