BP’s PR Push to Implement a Pull Strategy

Posted on September 2, 2010. Filed under: disaster response, Social Media | Tags: , , , , |

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.

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When There’s Enough Blame to Go Around, It’s Rarely Spread Equally

Posted on May 14, 2010. Filed under: disaster response, Public Relations | Tags: , , , , , |

We’ve seen it before.

A negative event happens and the negative sentiment is attached almost exclusively to the most well-known brand involved, and not to the other brands who often should share the blame. Not too long ago we can remember the case of Dell catching all the negative press when the Sony batteries in its laptops overheated and caught fire. And does anyone know the name of Toyota’s brake supplier?

This month, the obvious example is the oil disaster in the Gulf of Mexico. BP is the name nearly exclusively associated with the event in the public’s consciousness. But BP Plc didn’t even own the rig which exploded on April 20; it had been leasing it from Switzerland’s Transocean Ltd.

However, the still evolving story seems to indicate BP does not deserve all the blame. And it fact while it is accepting responsibility for clean up, it is pointing fingers at Transocean, one of three other companies involved to some degree in the event. Those other companies have been much less mentioned in the press and social media.

Houston-based oil and gas equipment and services company Halliburton was the company who was engaged in the now notorious well-cementing operations around the time of the explosion. And Houston’s well-servicer Cameron International made the blowout preventer device, which failed to engage completely. Had that failsafe worked as designed, this story would be gone from the front page by now.

An analysis of these four companies on Twitter, on blogs and boards and in the mainstream press shows a consistent picture. Household name BP has gotten the lion’s share of the press, arguably more than the others combined.

In Twitter comments, Cameron is virtually absent, perhaps enjoying its anonymity outside the oil industry. Only the testimony that Halliburton and TrasnOcean have had to give to Congress this week has gotten them into the consciousness of the Twittersphere.

BP, Halliburton, Transocean in twitter

Mentions on Twitter of BP, Halliburton and Transocean in the days before and after the oil rig explosion in the Gulf. There were virtually no mentions of Cameron. Source: trendistic.com

In the mainstream press, BP still tops the others. Halliburton, well-known for its activity in the other “Gulf” as a contractor for the U.S. governement, has gotten less than 10% of the mentions of BP, running about 5000 per day for BP to 400 per day for Halliburton of the approximately 20,000 sources analyzed using Dow Jones Insight. Transocean, is continually more than Halliburton in the press, on several days last week about four times as much.

BP, Halliburton, Transocean in press

Mentions of BP, Halliburton, Transocean and Cameron in the mainstream media, before and after the event. Source: Dow Jones Insight.

But in Social Media the name Halliburton probably has struck that familiar bad-guy chord and bloggers are talking about it nearly twice as much as Transocean.

Gulf Spill companies blogs

Mentions of BP, Halliburton, Transocean and Cameron in social media before and after event.

How have these companies reacted to the event? BP has been looking straight at the microphones. Its CEO, Tony Hayward, has for example, been interviewed multiple times by NPR and others on exactly how his company is reacting. The company has created a web site and a feed on Twitter, focused on its response to the cleanup efforts. And it has created a crisis center in Houston, according to PR Week, “staffed by communications professionals flown in from BP’s offices around the world.”

The others companies seem a bit more camera shy. Halliburton hasn’t said much more than it did its job properly and completed it hours before the explosion.

I can’t find a Twitter feed for the other companies. Though I found one called TransoceanRumor, which clearly means Transocean isn’t driving the social media conversation, they are being driven.

Glenn Fannick is the director of product development for Dow Jones Insight, a media measurement tool. He is based in Princeton, N.J.

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Merging onto the Highway of Social Media

Posted on February 9, 2010. Filed under: Public Relations, Social Media | Tags: , , , , , , , , |

Last week, we had the pleasure of hosting Chicago area PR professionals for breakfast. We were also lucky enough to spend an hour interviewing Allan Schoenberg (@allanschoenberg on Twitter), director of communications at CME Group. Allan’s team has been using social media for several years, and he shared some tips and best practices.

Here are some of the highlights:

  • Allan’s objectives for his social media strategy are to create enthusiasm for the CME Group brand, distribute information, provide customer service and advocate for the brand.
  • The team’s primary channels are Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and social bookmarking tools like digg and delicious.
  • Allan compares starting in social media to merging onto a busy highway. He suggests joining existing conversations and engage in dicussions around current topics of interest. Eventually, you can incorporate your own messages and create conversations that positively affects your brand.  
  • On Twitter, he follows a 70/30 rule:  70% of postings are focused on market drivers and news, but only 30% is about news and events that are designed to drive people back to CME Group’s website.
  • He recommends that employees understand disclosure rules and best practices. His advice: “If you don’t want your CEO to read it, don’t post it.”

Allan also said Mashable.com was one of the best sources for keeping up on new social media trends and tools.

Diane Thieke is marketing director at Dow Jones.

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Looking for the E

Posted on January 21, 2010. Filed under: Public Relations, Social Media | Tags: , , , , |

You will probably agree when I say that PR is first and foremost about persons and relationship. If we take for example the typical MADE workflow process of a PR professional (Monitor – Analyse – Discover – Engage), the most compelling and interesting part is definitely the E (Engage).

I’m very grateful that our teams at Dow Jones are offering many opportunities to meet media professionals, both from the “traditional” as well as from the social media space. During the recent launch of the Dow Jones Media Relations Manager, several roundtables and webinars have been organised. Influential bloggers and journalists participated and mingled with collegues and clients and discussed the impact of the Social Media revolution. I joined a webinar hosted by our team in Asia. Among the participants were Peter Stein from the Wall Street Journal in Hong Kong and David Meerman Scott, named as one of the “Top Social Media Strategists to follow in 2010” by the Boston-based 451 Marketing.

My main take-aways from the event:

  • “Know your reporter and how to reach him” (Peter Stein) – PR people who want to engage with journalists should know exactly where they are sending their information to. Who are the reporters in charge? What are those reporters covering? What’s the best way to get in touch with them? Who are the backups?
  • Content is King – David Meerman Scott argues that 95% of the pitches he receives are spam. Like journalists, influential bloggers are also looking continuously for interesting stories and news. And if these are exclusives, even better. They will be picked up and go viral. Creating really good and valuable content has to be a key competency of the PR department.
  • All channels are possible – Traditional media are embracing social media. The Wall Street Journal is searching the web and Twitter for story ideas. Editors and journalists are also spreading news on Twitter. PR departments can’t ignore this.

I especially like the content argument. Traditional media releases are generally considered as dull and often of less value for journalists and bloggers. If the audience is considering them as spam, something is wrong and has to be changed. New forms of engagement will have to arise.

Georg Ackermann is the Barcelona Team Leader in the Dow Jones Media Lab.

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Fighting the urge to scratch your itch

Posted on October 28, 2009. Filed under: Public Relations, Social Media | Tags: , , , , |

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.

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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#social media: changing behaviors in both directions with the “hashtag”

Posted on October 7, 2009. Filed under: Public Relations, Social Media | Tags: , , , , |

Much attention has been paid to the impact of social media on marketing and PR. However, the power that citizens and consumers have to promote change within corporations and governments has also been affected by the changing relationships in the media marketplace.

Traditionally, information traveled in only one direction: corporate world → traditional media → consumers. Today, though, social media has revolutionized the flow of information between companies and their stakeholders.

Today’s consumer/citizen produces his or her own content on the Web quickly, at little or no cost and as part of his/her daily routine. This “non-media” content circulates freely and quickly from one corner of the globe to another.

With the rise of these online networks, the relationship between the citizen consumer and large organizations has become far more democratic and horizontal. The resulting lack of control over content and the growing number of people joining the online conversation can result in uncertainty for businesses and governments.

A few examples below illustrate the way in which the “social relationship” between large organizations and the citizen consumer has changed with the arrival of Web 2.0 and social networks.

For companies to successfully join the social media conversation, they need to understand the rules and conventions of the game. In the Twitter world, hashtags are a community-driven convention for adding additional context and data to one’s tweets, and they help users follow conversations on the site. In addition, a hashtag is a way of notifying users that they can join a tweet to a specific discussion or event.

  • After the Iranian protests broke out, the volume of tweets using the tag #IranElection increased, resulting in thousands of tweets about the protests. Twitter then played a significant role as proxy servers were used to circumvent the government’s efforts to block access to the Internet. Citizens both within and outside Iran used hashtags frequently to inform and update people about the events and to help organize the protests.
  • Habitat, a British furniture retailer, saw its reputation at stake when it used Twitter in a marketing campaign to sell products and add consumers to its marketing database. Habitat used hashtags to promote an offer to win a £1,000 (US$1,900) gift card, but it chose hashtags already in use for other purposes, such as #mousavi, which was also used to protest the Iranian elections. Twitter users accused Habitat of improperly capitalizing on a serious political issue, and its mistakes were heavily retweeted on the microblogging service. As a result, Habitat pulled all the messages and replaced them with standard marketing tweets. It also apologized for its promotional messages on Twitter.

These examples illustrate that new media, such as Twitter, can become hubs of real-time information, and any player in the media marketplace – corporation, government or consumer – can contribute ideas, opinion, news and observations.

But as Habitat’s experience has shown, the properties of Twitter can result in a disadvantage since it is instantaneous and accessible anytime, anywhere, by thousands of “followers,” making mistakes more immediately visible to potential target audiences. The Habitat story also demonstrates that consumers are reluctant to “buy” just any information released by corporations on social media sites. On the contrary, they scrutinize content according to the rules established by the online community.

Consumers and citizens can now produce media content and messages that drive change in the offline world, as much as they receive information that seeks to change their behaviors. We know that the hallmark of excellent public relations is two-way communication. Now that markets are conversations, consumers have as much opportunity to change organizational behaviors as organizations have to change the behaviors of their stakeholders.

Claudia Schoenbohm is a writer and consultant in the Dow Jones Media Lab. This post is an excerpt from her graduate research studies at the London School of Economics.

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