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.


Social media + Public Relation = Thriving Relationship

pr and social media 2

Since the advent of social media, organisations have had to devise new strategy to create awareness and to keep their stakeholders informed and engaged. For example, for Dove’s most recent campaign; ‘Dove choose beautiful’ campaign, random women were asked to go through either an average or a beautiful door. Their choice was filmed and consequently used as a part of their “Global self-esteem” campaign. This campaign was very successful, gauging from the public adherence to it through the views on YouTube or the likes and retweets on Facebook and Twitter.

Dove was also able to get its public to defend and promote the campaign. In fact, there was a BuzzFeed article stating that this campaign only focusses on the physical appearance of women rather than their intellectual abilities.This article got so many negative feedback from readers that BuzzFeed “pulled this post because it is not consistent with the tone of BuzzFeed Life” but was later restored stating that ‘ The deletion was in violation of our editorial standards’ . This is a clear example of how successful Dove’s social media campaign has been.

Another successful social media campaign is the “Best job in the World” campaign by Tourist Queensland in 2009. This campaign generated around $200 million revenue from publicity and several International awards for its originality. In terms of audience adherence, Tourism Australia received over 34,000 applications from across the world achieved through an intensive use of social media platform as well as traditional media including newspapers.

Non-profit organisations also effectively used social media as part of their public relation campaign. For example, Greenpeace’s ‘KitKat campaign’ aimed at denouncing Nestlé’s involvement in the killing of orang-utans through the use of palm oil from unsustainable sources which are involved in deforestation. The campaign receive a lot of coverage on social media platforms including Facebook and Twitter, where Greenpeace supporters posted on Nestlé’s Facebook page in protest of the killings.

This campaign has been mainly carried out using social media tools including Greenpeace’s YouTube page (see their video below) and Facebook’s and Twitter’s pages. As a result of this intensive campaign, Nestle was committed to using palm oil from sustainable sources. 

These examples clearly demonstrate the vast potential of social media in reaching a greater public and receiving feedback from them. Social media has also strengthen the relationship between PR practitioners and their stakeholders resulting in more engaging and active publics.


The advent of social media has completely revolutionized the way in which PR practitioners do their job. Indeed, over the last decade or so, much changes occurred in the field as a result of the increase popularity of social media. We moved away from the former, one-way communication stream, which the more traditional media tools allowed for, into a two-way communication stream with our publics and stakeholders. In fact nowadays, communication is much more fluid and interactive. With traditional media tools, PR practitioners could not receive instantaneous feedback from their targeted audience on a particular PR campaign. However, constant feedback can now be brought to the attention of PR practitioners via social networking sites. This therefore gives them an opportunity to improve their PR strategy.

Moreover, social media has also result in a closer relationship between PR practitioners and their publics and stakeholders. PR practitioners can now get their messages across to the target audience directly; without the need for intermediaries including journalists. Furthermore social media is also a fast way of communicating to the audience. It has enabled a rapid flow of information but has also lead to the need for PR practitioners to be more proactive rather than reactive in the ways they communicate to their audience. This is only a brief summary of some of the influences of social media on the role of PR practitioners. Future posts will focus on how to use social media as an effective communication tool. The following video gives an insight on how to use social media in PR.