BP’s Crisis Communications

There are many discussions online and, I am sure, in offices all over the world, about what BP is doing regarding its crisis communications.  It has been a very hot topic in the AHA office as well.

One of the key points in our discussions is how much the world has changed because of social media. Technology and the online conversations happening all over the world mean that, as communicators, we have to evolve how we deal with an issue or a crisis.

There are many articles and blog posts out there about the crisis and people are weighing in with their opinions. Check Twitter and search BP or @BP or #oilspill and you can see how much information is out there, how many opinions are given and just what people are thinking.

An article in Ad Age discusses whether the firm doing BP’s crisis communications is doing it well. I think there have been a lot of mistakes made, not necessarily by the agency – but overall. Let me clearly say that unless you are behind those closed doors and a part of the strategy discussions, it’s hard to know why a strategy was developed or why certain decisions were made.

Time Magazine has a great piece on the crisis and it goes into why there is now a lack of trust between almost any stakeholder (which is really anyone who cares about the environment, the ocean, the fish and animals who live on the Gulf Coast) and BP. Once you lose that credibility, it is almost impossible to get it back. And, whether it is all accurate or not, BP is getting slammed in traditional media and online (and I would bet at water coolers, in pubs and coffee shops around the world) for almost everything that they do. The thing is, right now, it doesn’t matter whether the information is accurate or not, it’s out there and perception is everything.

The Onion also has a good, in-your-face piece entitled Massive Flow of Bullsh*t Continues to Gush From BP Headquarters.

This is a huge environmental crisis and one that people care deeply about. I have searched to find answers – and I can’t find them anywhere – for the most basic questions that everyone wants to know. Without answers to these basic questions, how do they expect to maintain any credibility?

  • How could this have happened?
  • Why wasn’t there an operational plan in place – one that they KNEW would work – to fix an oil leak if there was one?

As for the credibility and trust crisis facing BP, their reputation is severely damaged. Rumours that they are using Search Engine Optimization so that when you type in oil spill, you also get their side of the story haven’t been substantiated yet, but it’s something I would recommend to a client. The thing is, no matter how you get your information out, you have to have a credible story that shows your stakeholders that the crisis is important to you and that you are doing everything possible.

I don’t think that any tools or tactics, whether they’re traditional or social media-based, can do anything for an organization that isn’t ready to be transparent, admit their mistakes and do whatever it takes to make it right. Social media has changed everything because we can now share information globally in a matter of seconds. If the worst-case scenario happens, like it has in the Gulf oil disaster, it is only a matter of minutes before your organization will begin to lose credibility. Without the trust and support of your stakeholders, what do you have?

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