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How Social Media exasperated BP’s image after the Gulf spill.

Posted by Stacy Richter on May 10 at 3:15 PM  In February, guest blogger Gina Miller from @DMDInsight provided us with a detailed snap shot of social media in oil and gas.  The snap shot included analysis comparing share of voice, share of media type and social media breakdown between Exxon and BP.

Lots has happened since February (read: Gulf Coast Oil Spill) and the social media sphere has been going crazy with content.  Our follow up analysis demonstrates how quickly and drastically the discussion changes with world events.  The Gulf oil spill is a terrible disaster indeed.  Never before has the news traveled the world as quickly as it has since the proliferation of social media.

Share of Voice

Share of Voice - February                                                               

The share of voice in the social media sphere includes blogs, forums, twitter and other social networking sites.

In February, we observed that Exxon dominated BP with 70.6% of the share of voice (left) over the two week period.  We also noted that this was not a result of Exxon’s strategy.  The share of talk was not guided by strategy as it was community driven.

Over the past few weeks we noticed some drastic shifts in share of voice.  BP is now dominating Exxon with 66.4% of the total share (right).  Clearly, the shift can be attributed to the news of the Gulf oil spill. 

One interesting characteristic remains the same; the share of voice is NOT the result of a proactive strategy implemented by Big Oil.  As we mentioned before, BP does have a social media presence but is limited and infrequent.  The share of voice is still community driven and was previously unaddressed by BP. 

Share of Media Type


 We have observed some interesting changes over the types of media discussing BP over the past few weeks compared to the same back in February (pictured on the left).  The most significant changes occurred in a shift from blogs to micro media (includes twitter).  

The share of media in February was made up primarily of blogs at 59.4% and micro media at 17.0%.  Keep in mind that these figures were community driven and remained largely unaddressed by BP.  Since the news of the Gulf oil spill broke, the share of media type shifted from blogs (34.8%) to micro media (35.1%).  The significance of the shift reminds us of how quickly news goes viral in the social media space.  Citizen journalism dominates the news as people want to be heard and become more active around major events.  

 Two-week Content Review:


 One thing remains constant; conversation spikes around newsworthy events.  We noticed in February that the number of posts about BP hovered around 500 per day until they announced their quarterly earnings when posts peaked at about 1900. 

Our recent review demonstrates that the number of posts ‘explodes’ (pardon the pun) since the announcement of the oil rig failure.  One other finding that is consistent with our last review; the news broke on social media before being announced on mainstream media.

So what?

Social media is stretching far beyond the citizen journalist.  The New York Times reported that the EPA’s administrator, Lisa Jackson, tweeted “Someone said BP must not be let off the hook. I agree,”.  Justmeans reported how a non-profit uses social media to track the oil spill fallout.

What is BP doing?

Since the leak erupted, @BP_America has  been tweeting feverishly (sarcasm) every few hours.  A Facebook page called Deepwater Horizon Response has been started by the Unified Command for the Gulf Coast Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill and features several social media tools like YouTube and Flikr to distribute content.  The page is even accepting public suggestions to contain and clean up the spill. 

What can I learn from BP?

You tell me.  How do you think BP has handled the communications post Gulf Oil Spill?  Do you think that any of the fallout could have been mitigated through a proactive social media strategy and participation pre-Gulf Oil Spill?

Let me know what you think. 

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8 Comments so far...

"Social media is stretching far beyond the citizen journalist. "

Great quote. If it is true (I think it is), does it mean corporations need to completely rethink comms strategies? Crisis communications are definitely a good place for corporations to start. Unfortunately, it may take disasters like this to make companies more proactive... as more and more of the public adopt Social Media, corporations will have no choice but to respond.

Posted by Tony on May 11 at 10:42 AM

Thanks for your comments Tony and I agree. It usually takes a 'disaster', business or otherwise, for large companies (not just Big Oil) to accept that these mediums are legit.

The sad part is that only a few will commit to a learned strategy that will move them into pro-action. Most will just continue on with a few minor and insignificant changes.

I believe that there is a significant opportunity for corporations to engage and that we are on the verge of a 'paradigm shift' (sorry for the business cliche's) in how corporations behave as citizens.

Posted by Stacy Richter on May 11 at 11:26 AM

Excellent post. And comments. Hard numbers are always hard to ignore.

While I think that BP could be more active with their social media response (frequent YouTube updates via senior officials comes to mind), I have been somewhat impressed by what I suspect is a makeshift social media crisis response. Even though BP's first crisis related tweet occurred seven days after the initial blowout, I'll give credit where it's due. They've been fairly active on Twitter and Facebook - often posting informative updates. That being said, I feel like their could me more engagement via these channels (don't think I've read much dialogue on Twitter or FB).

It'll be interesting to see what the energy industry takes from this. It's looking more and more like social media needs to be an integral part of any company's crisis communications plan. The speed at which information and messaging now travel makes social media an extremely effective tool when timing is of the essence.

Given that crisis communication is so important to the oil and gas industry, top communicators for these companies would be wise to study the BP - Horizon case.

Posted by Jeremy Dietz on May 12 at 1:22 AM

Thanks for your post Jeremy. After some thought, I would agree that some progress towards engaging communications is better then no movement.

We certainly can't expect that Big Oil jump right into social media and engaging in discussion immediately. If all they do is use these tools for crisis communications to start.... well at least that's a start.

Anyone else have some thoughts?

Posted by Stacy Richter on May 12 at 1:38 PM

We've been having a good discussion over on CAPP's facebook page as well (http://tinyurl.com/3a96erb).

Here it is verbatim;

Stacy Richter

Thanks Jeremy, this is shaking out to be a big topic; watched the President of BP, Haliburton and Transocean get a lashing from the Senate; do you think social media would help in this case?

Jeremy Dietz

Not directly, but I think that social media would help these companies create a sense that they are being as proactive as possible by relaying critical information to the public. Senate hearings are likely unavoidable, but public opinion is somewhat malleable. That's where social media comes in.

I see social media as a tool to enhance their crisis...

Stacy Richter

Interesting points... malleable public opinion, I like it. Especially since it's public opinion (or at least market opinion) that drives share price.

Posted by Stacy Richter on May 12 at 7:58 PM

Great point about market opinion and the impact on share price. Interesting lesson for those companies invested in the oilsands. Can a progressive and more transparent media strategy positively affect share price before something of a disaster strikes?

Not to kick them when their down, but would BP still vote against transparency in the oilsands based on their experiences in the gulf? http://www.greenbiz.com/news/2010/04/16/BP-Shareholders-Vote-No-on-Oil-Sands-Transparency

Posted by Jason Warnock on May 12 at 11:57 PM

Earlier this week I attended the Sabre Awards -- a top PR industry prize -- and sat next to a gentleman who won an award for crises communications. I don't recall any part of his particular client's issues playing out in social media in any significant way. Interesting how a winner for this award was still based on handling a crises in traditional media.

As social media continues to play a significant, and growing, part of corporate communications, I can't help but see a whole new crop of "SM Crises Management" experts. Interesting to see when this phrase starts to appear on agency 'capabilities' lists.

Posted by Gina on May 13 at 8:49 AM

Jason, here's my take on BP's transparency and how their image is now amplified by Social Media;

Public: 'That's fine if you do not want to be transparent. Privacy is almost as much right of the corporation as it is the individual. But if you keep all matters private, you BETTER NOT mess up. EVER. If you do, we'll be there in full force and call into question every decision you ever made or will make going forward'

What's that worth to a company?

Posted by Stacy Richter on May 13 at 12:02 PM
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