The embattled oil giant BP, which has in recent history repackaged itself as an environmental visionary by calling itself “Beyond Petroleum,” is now facing a future with an unwelcome legacy: forefather of the worst oil spill in American history. From the onset of the Deepwater Horizon blowout, BP’s communicators fought an uphill battle against an unrelenting backdrop of an ever-present live TV image of the untamed well head — while its infuriatingly vague plans prompted media outlets to pile on.
Worse yet, BP’s public relations team had to ease a riled media landscape early in the crisis after BP CEO Tony Hayward said he “wanted his life back.” And if BP didn’t have enough headaches, the company was brandjacked when a new satirical Twitter handle (@BPGlobalPR) surfaced posing as BP’s official PR machine, both deriding and frustrating its communications efforts. In fact, the fake site attracted tens of thousands of followers, far and away outnumbering followers on BP’s real Twitter stream.
According to crisis communications professionals (Slate.com,5 May), BP’s traditional PR push strategy, including press releases, morning-show interviews and official statements, produced mixed results; however, the energy company’s social media pull efforts provided copious amounts of information and engaged onlookers who may have been convinced BP was intent on doing right by those victimized by the spill.
All in all, BP won plaudits from communications experts for the way in which it leveraged the Web and social media to quell the crisis. For instance, BP seized Facebook as a news distribution hub, where it updated twice-daily real-time results of the amount of oil collected. BP also posted a video to discuss the health dangers posed to oil cleanup crews and another of congressional hearings on the spill. And on Twitter, BP tweeted a hotline for people to call if they see oiled wildlife.
But at the same time, companies in BP’s position need to be accessible and transparent to other media that support extended narratives and more complex explanations such as traditional print and Web sources. Without a doubt, the vast majority of Twitter accounts will post links to stories published by traditional outlets, but, in crisis PR mode, companies under siege will also need channels like microblogs to respond faster with updates and new developments.
PR Week (19 August 2010; subscription required) indicated that a new survey from Gartner Communications found 84.8% of companies worldwide have a general crises plans in place, but only 20.7% have social media crisis plans set. As social media becomes an even more critical tool in the corporate crisis playbook, crisis communicators and PR pros will need adequate tools to measure and monitor the blogosphere’s response to a calamity like the Gulf of Mexico oil spill in order to deliver a clear, comprehensive and relevant message – with the hope of reframing the story.
And while BP’s share price has seen a mini recovery, it remains under pressure, making its long-term communications strategy even more critical – with an engaged social media dialog likely figuring into a key part of the mix. BP doesn’t deserve a victory lap just yet, but it should be commended for its work in conjunction with its public relations agency for executing an impressive on-the-fly pull strategy.
Brian Panton is a quality assurance specialist and report writer in Washington, DC.Read Full Post | Make a Comment ( None so far )
Facebook is in the news a lot lately regarding privacy, but it’s not new: A Factiva search reveals that for the roughly five month period from July 1 – December 8 2009, there were 3, 482 mentions of ‘Facebook and privacy.’ But this time it’s different: in the roughly five months since, there were just under 70,000. And, the tone of the discourse is overwhelmingly negative. What happened?
The press release alone didn’t cause any noticeable buzz: A Factiva search of “Facebook and privacy” for 1-8 December found an average of 35 mentions per day, while a search for the same terms from 9-31 December found 33 per day. And the chart of average daily mentions below reconfirms the chart above that January was pretty quiet regarding privacy as well.
The dramatic, continuous groundswell of mentions began on February 17 when Facebook announced a second major change to its privacy settings. This time Facebook used a blog post from a software engineer, and it appears that the change in medium helped bring different results, but the messaging also had a lot to do with it.
The company’s December release touted that the changes would help people connect and share and explained that they’d taken privacy into consideration when they engineered the new default settings and fine-grained controls. Facebook was telling users to trust them to continue their stewardship of users’ privacy. The blog explained that Facebook would now extend the December changes to third party content and again assured users that Facebook would protect them and improve their experience.
As the chart shows, there was plenty of discussion about Facebook and privacy, but more was in store. In April, days after Facebook’s spokesman explained to The Washington Post that Facebook would provide a universal opt-out, an IT security firm released a survey which found that 95% of respondents thought Facebook’s privacy changes were “a bad thing.” They also lamented that most Facebook users are unaware of safe privacy settings and the confusing nature of Facebook’s privacy controls.
While Facebook must have seen the groundswell forming, better media analysis would have allowed them to understand the nuances of the negative tone shaping their coverage. A deeper understanding of the specific conversations people were having and how they were evolving could have allowed them to properly calibrate their messages and PR strategy.
By mid-May, several major influencers spoke out against Facebook, and in the last week there have been extensive negative articles in major outlets. Predictably, this week Mr. Zuckerberg announced – in a letter to a tech blogger – that Facebook would add simpler privacy controls.
Damien DuPont is a report writer and quality assurance specialist in the Dow Jones Media Lab and is based in New York.
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Tethering and Tribal Differences
Let’s imagine the potential customer as a tree comprised of three rings radiating outward 1) their core; close friends, family and the activities and brands they identify themselves with and are strongly tethered to, 2) extended networks of acquaintances and their interests, such as exist on Facebook or LinkedIn, which provide on occasion some interesting new item or experience, 3) strangers, brands and activities that exist on the periphery; things they may have seen or heard of in passing but paid no attention to.
If we can understand these areas, we can make it to our advantage rather than disadvantage that the inner circle is hardest to access and the outer circle is least trusted but a source of personal expansion. Then we can turn to understanding credibility.
A popular and useful way to look at the situation is to think of people as using the web to join and establish groups analogous to traditional tribes. According to RAND theorist David Ronfeldt, these initial groups created and legitimized identity and fostered a sense of belonging, and did not admit of hierarchical leadership. This maps very well onto what we’ve just sketched and will help understand the issue of credibility.
For the average consumer, establishing their internet presence and locating their core friends, family, activities and brands is very simple. It does not take long to find blogs, message boards, media outlets and even beloved brands on the web.
Core-building was the original attraction behind Facebook, what put it over MySpace; on Facebook you could establish and solidify your core, and simultaneously connect to and have some distance from your extended network. MySpace was simply too open, exposing your core tribes to the world of strangers, a world you almost always want nothing to do with, with a very low payoff.
Facebook is now working to put a person’s core tribe and their extended network of tribes as close as possible, and pull the world of strangers into this structure as well. It remains to be seen if this will work, but I sincerely doubt it. It’s simply more likely that it will turn into a much better done MySpace, which will turn off many users, than it is that it will get 300 million profitable consumers to bare their souls to the world.
Come back on Thursday for Part III: The Contradiction.
Damien DuPont is a report writer and quality assurance specialist in the Dow Jones Media Lab and is based in New York.Read Full Post | Make a Comment ( None so far )
Trust Tethers Your Message
Edelman’s annual ‘Trust Barometer’ came out recently, revealing trust in business has risen around the world since 2009, and is up 18 points in the U.S. In addition, Edelman also reports that nearly the same share of respondents around the world (41%) think conversations with employees are credible sources of information about a company as think that of conversations with “persons like yourself” (44%). Just 19% of respondents said social networking sites were reliable sources. When you add that 83% of respondents indicated that the two most important factors to corporate reputation were having “transparent and honest business practices” and being “a company they can trust” (25 points higher than being a company who “prices fairly”) a picture of what all this means begins to form.
The Greek philosopher Plato observed that though having “true opinions” is useful, because true opinions tend to float out of your mind quickly, they’re not especially valuable until you tether them with chains of “reasons why.” And “tethering” reasons why are exactly what the data strongly suggests the vast majority of Facebook “friends” and semi-celebrity tweeters are incapable of giving the average consumer. These sources can only give quick “true opinions,” impressions that don’t tether a brand’s true value message to a potential client.
But because potential customers make little distinction between the ability of a peer to provide “reasons why” a brand is good and the ability of a knowledgeable company employee to do the same, the first lesson here is the great value of getting a credible and knowledgeable brand rep near a client. Of course this still leaves the fundamental problems of “where?” and “how?” so the next installment will provide framework for answering this. The final two installments will explain how to unravel the problem.
Come back on Monday to read more.
Damien DuPont is a report writer and quality assurance specialist in the Dow Jones Media Lab and is based in New York.Read Full Post | Make a Comment ( 2 so far )
It is easy to lose sight of the important fact that disparate groups compose a brand’s social media landscape.
Social media users put important parts of their identity on display. And when one’s identity has a stake in something, emotions will be involved. A Facebook user might join a fan page of a product simply because it’s cool, and a Twitter user motivated by a sole bad experience might suddenly complain about it. But the sort of complaints one might see on a forum dedicated to a community with strong preexisting beliefs about how a product or service ought to be will be of a whole different intensity.
For instance, popular novelist Dan Brown can count 97,000 fans on his official Facebook fan page and hundreds of related user-created pages, and it is not likely that many will be critical of him. On the other hand, forums or blogs dedicated to writing will likely be hotbeds of harsh criticism of his work.
Part of the established social media landscape around your brand may have engrained beliefs about your product tied to the community’s identity and perhaps even be the reason for a particular group’s existence. In this part of the blogosphere it’s more likely that a criticism will be tied into how the critics perceive their group, and so it may often be the case that the group is emotionally invested in advocating against your brand in a way that a disappointed customer might not.
These criticisms are likely not based on anything you could or wish to change but rather based on their beliefs about how things ought to be done. Nor is the group likely to be visible or influential to your target customers. As such it may be better to watch the group to see why their criticisms matter to them, or for ideas that may improve your products or services, rather than engage these critics.
As you identify groups that matter, you’ll likely find that existing social media channels such as MySpace and Facebook give you the mechanisms to grow the positively disposed but disparate communities where you can steer potential clients while further isolating the echo chambers of your harshest critics.