BP and Social Media; Don’t Join the Conversation – Fix Your Problem
Many people have taken to social media to vent their frustration and anger over the oil spill. There are myriad blog posts, great ongoing conversation at the OilDrum, and the Twitter hashtags (#oilspill and #oilpocalypse) are a steady stream of regular people discussing the disaster.
BP’s response? Its war-room legions of crisis managers have bought keywords in order to direct search queries to its own story (“learn more about how BP is helping”), it has tried to shut down the fake Twitter account and it has produced pricey television ads (links to aforementioned are intentionally absent). In both cases the predictable result has been more bad press and ill will.
I have seen many back channel emails. tweets and posts from the social media cognoscenti on the subject of how BP should be using social media. In one sense the entire question seems misplaced – after all, who cares how BP uses social media during a crisis of biblical proportion? Isn’t the more potent question how society can benefit from social media rather than the offending corporation? The answer to why so much time is spent on what BP can do resides in no small part I believe to the fact that social media consultants earn their bread from corporations. Fair enough.
But my original and still current opinion is that BP should be doing nothing with social media. They should be doing nothing other than trying to fix their apocalyptic problem. Any other actions appear to detract from the task at hand and BP has proven itself incapable of wielding social tools (more on that later). Beyond my sage words of wisdom for BP, I have a bigger issue with the nature of the advice being given by my colleagues.
A few days ago one of leading proponents of social business, The Dachis Group, posted Would Being More Social Help BP? The article suggests many ways in which BP could utilize social technologies to address the oil spill – and implicitly (as the title suggests) improve their reputation.
In the technical, jargon-heavy language that typifies the Dachis Group’s approach to social business the post states:
BP can leverage the power of social tools to help their current situation – but only if all current business processes are aligned and calibrated for social activation.
Huh? The post puts forward a series of one-line ideas for BP – some ideas are as interesting as they are unlikely; “an app to let people report affected areas and wildlife” for example seems a bit far-fetched when you consider that BP is actively trying to minimize assessments of damage in order to maintain their prime directive, shareholder value (each barrel may cost BP up to $40K). Some ideas are slightly appalling, “a private market research community made up of carefully selected consumers to begin to test public messaging” — do we really need message testing on this one?
This leads me to the heart of my issue with this specific post – and by extension all posts of its ilk that speculate about what BP could do without trying to come to terms with who BP are as an institution. BP is a profit-engine. BP is not a social business. And “helping BP” has nothing to do with technology, tools, apps or “social calibration.” Being social as a business is a way of treading lightly because you recognize your interconnection with the world around you. BP is not structured to be social – it is structured to be profitable at all costs… and structure drives behavior. The Gulf Coast is currently bearing the brunt of their corporate behavior. What’s more, the moment to help itself has long passed…
To be clear, I believe that social technologies put selection pressures on businesses over the long run – and will make it harder and harder for corporate profiteers to thrive. This to me is the promise of social business — over time, businesses that abide by a social contract (respect, authenticity, reciprocity, earned trust etc.) will outperform those that abide by a strictly corporate (or legal) contract.
BP has consistently shown a tin ear to the outrage, hurt and devastation that they are causing. That again emanates from a business culture – and no amount of technology will be a balm to that malady.
I understand that BP is a stand-in for “corporate crisis” and social media pundits (I am not exempt) are using it to speculate on just how they might utilize these tools in a crisis setting. I am also not trying to single out this single post. But for me it is exemplary of how much and how often the social media conversation misses the entire point. The post ends:
Of course, for these efforts to be successful, they would have to be planned, heavily moderated, highly coordinated, and integrated with current data and information systems – then communicated to consumers, franchise owners, the media, and government officials. In other words, all social business systems would have needed to be in place before disaster struck.
Best of luck with that. BP’s entire culture appears to have been one in denial about this being possible in the first place (for more on that see Cheney‘s energy task force statement on the riskless nature of deep water drilling)…
The nature of public outrage is not something that BP can (or should) try to game for their own benefit. The more BP tries to enter a conversation, the more they will be torn apart. Like the angry mobs that drove Emperor Justinian from the Hippodrome to barricade himself in his palace… this mob doesn’t want conversation… they want blood.
I don’t want BP to “join the conversation.” I want them to fix the problem.