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Social Media Crisis Management: The BP Oil Spill

Social Media Crisis Management: The BP Oil Spill

Crisis Management is one of the most important aspects all organizations should practice. A well-handled crisis creates opportunities for the company – if not, they face detrimental consequences that can be ugly for the corporation’s image.  For example, the post by Yijing called LinkedIn PR Crisis Roundup paints a portrait of how a crisis can strike a company when they least expect it. Let’s take a step closer and analyze the lesson learned by another big organization that has been caught in a crisis– the BP Gulf Oil Crisis.

BP Gulf Oil Crisis

In April 2010, there was an explosion of oilrigs that coated the Gulf of Mexico with at least 50,000 barrels a day or in total over 780,000 meters cubed, polluting and killing more than a thousand marine wildlife animals.

Source: GraphJam.Com

It was obvious BP didn’t have a plan for a crisis on this scale; it is noticeable in the way they fumbled their respond with the media- they were not prepared at all. The top three mistakes BP made during the crisis includes:

1) Not owning up

Under intense scrutiny from the public and the media on the leakage of the oil, BP did not admit guilt immediately. Instead, they blamed their contractors for the pipe, they blamed the engineers for not informing them about the pipe faulty; they pointed fingers to everyone but themselves. In a crisis, it is important to take up the blame instead of denying it. To the public, BP was very irresponsible for not taking the blame immediately and former CEO, Tony Hayward, did not step up within 24 hours to explain to the media about the incident although they were intensely scrutinized. This was one big mistake they made.

2) Contradicting the truth

When the media asked BP about updates on the leakage of the oil, they reported 1,000 barrels of oil per day leaked to the ocean but the latter was 5,000 barrels of oil instead. This angered the public and trust was broken. A company should always make sure they get the media to report the truth instead of spinning the truth from the public because the latter can be worse if the stakeholders found out the truth.

3) All talk, no action

Lehane, a crisis PR expert commented, “BP had a series of strategies to tackle the problem, however they did not implement the plan time after time.” This worsens the issue and slowly their words will not be credible. BP should ensure they execute the strategies they mentioned to the public, and also provide a follow-up to the media stating the progress of the action being executed by the management.

The BP Oil Crisis became the most discussed crisis communication examples – for many big organizations and especially in the education field of PR – after failing to answer the top 3 key strategies of crisis management. The 3 key strategies include responding to crisis immediately, taking responsibility and solving the crisis. There are a few tips that we, as PR Practitioners, could learn from BP’s attempt to recover from the crisis. – One thing they did right was their using of social media as their main platform of interaction with the stakeholders, including the public and journalists. They uploaded pictures of the cleaning process and outcome of the leakage, and also created a live feed video for stakeholders on what BP is doing to rectify the pipes of the oilrigs that burst.

Lehane commented further, “Being accessible is the type of thing the public does look for from a corporate entity in this type of situation.”

It was definitely a good call by BP to interact with the public via social media network to recover from a crisis. Although until today, BP is still struggling to recover from the crisis but they have indeed learned their lesson well and are taking actions to restore back their reputation.

One important thing to take note about crisis management is: one can never plan a crisis to strike but it is important to always be prepared.

So what do you think about the strategy using social media to handle a crisis? To find out more on how to handle a crisis via social media from EASTWEST Public Relations, click here.

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