When Social Media Becomes a Battleground: 3 Rules #bp


Three major players have enlisted social media in the communications battle covering the BP Gulf of Mexico oil spill:   BP, grass-roots opponents to BP, and the U.S. government.  Each is demonstrating, in its own way, the power and importance of social media in a crisis.

The U.S. Government is taking a staid, but open social media approach to the crisis

The video that appears above is one of many being created and shared by the U.S. federal government on a YouTube channel, DeepwaterHorizonJIC.

As to the purpose of the channel, a statement explains: 

A United Command has been established to manage response operations to the April 20, 2010 Deepwater Horizon incident. A Unified Command links the organizations responding to an incident and provides a forum for those organizations to make consensus decisions. This site is maintained by the Unified Commands Joint Information Center (JIC), which provides the public with reliable, timely information about the response.

Addressing the site's comment/posting moderation policy, the site states:

We will not accept comments that contain personal attacks of any kind; contain offensive terms that target specific ethnic or racial groups; or contain vulgar language. We will also not post comments that are spam, are clearly off topic, or that promote services or products.

A comment posted by the site's moderator, included an invitation to visitors with suggestions to follow a link where suggestions should be posted:

I've actually seen some pretty good ideas on here, but I'm only a layperson. If you have an idea on how to solve this problem, please visit the following page and follow instructions to submit your idea. Thanks!  http://www.deepwaterhorizonresponse.com/go/doc/2931/546759/

YouTube is just one social media network being being used by the U.S. government to address the crisis.  It has also enlisted:  Facebook, Flickr, and Twitter.  Clearly there is an effort to show a government hard at work.

Explicitly, at least, for the U.S. government, its social media engagment aims at providing:

1.  the public with "reliable, timely information about the response"
2.  organizations tasked with the clean-up a forum "to make consensus decisions"

From the comment moderation, visitors are also being encouraged to share their ideas on how best to respond to the spill.

It's not surprising that an Administration ushered into office, in part, because of its social media savvy, in part, through its social media savvy, would understand both the importance and rules of proactively engaging social networks in times of crisis.

BP has brought its resources to bear in the social media front, but it doesn't quite seem to understand the rules of engagement

You will find BP on Facebook, Twitter, Flickr, and YouTube.

1.  In a crisis, social media requires that key players share the latest information, good and bad; social media pages must be updated as major news develops: it is essential for credibility, authenticity, and transparency

Even after the much-anticipated and touted "top kill" response was deemed a failure, BP's YouTube page continued to feature a cheery message from the BP CEO announcing that he had "just left the control room....The operation is proceeding as we planned it."  Huh?!



Another video on BP's YouTube channel shows a BP crew of workers and volunteers arriving at a beach clean-up site, with a voice over noting that BP has described its clean-up operation as a "military-style operation."  On this day, BP sent its troops to one of the locations not feature in most of the news clips, as its deployment was to an area with only small "patches" of contamination "widely spread out."  While the video is plainly professionally produced, its content, which unmistakably attempts to minimize the magnitude of the disaster, only widens BP's credibilty gap as it is so completely at odds with the images of environmental disaster streaming across all other media.  It helps explain why the channel has only mustered twenty subscribers.



2.  Social media participants must share a real picture of what is taking place during a crisis; their failure to do so on one front calls into question everything else that they do decide to share

Looking at the collection of photos uploaded at the bpAmerica Flickr stream, one might think that BP's work crews had been sent to the wrong beaches and waters, as the ones shown in their photographs have shining white sand and clear waters.  Certainly one would expect BP to include in its Flickr stream shots showing its clean-up efforts, but in the world of social media, especially during a crisis, viewers expect to be given a candid picture of the crisis at hand, not simply a glossy best look.  Not so with the the BP Flickr stream.

Nicely-polished productions and squeeky-clean images are precisely the sort of content that makes board members smile - and the rest of the public go elsewhere for their information.

3.  When a key player in a crisis disregards the rules of transparency and timeliness, other players will dominate the field

A search of "BP" on Facebook does not bring one to the "official" BP Facebook page first, but, instead to BOYCOTTbp

Claiming to be a "grass roots" response to BP spill, the BOYCOTTbp Facebook page has a simple call to action:  "Boycott BP stations until the spill is cleaned up!..."

While the BOYCOTTbp Facebook page includes only a handful of images posted by the site administrator, they, too, are powerful in their simplicity.  Fans have posted over 1,000 images.

While the office BP Facebook page has 3,283 fans, the opposing page,  BOYCOTTbp has 214,685.

A similar story is told on Twitter, where the "official" BP Twitter account has 8,331 followers, while one BP "spoof" account has attracted 90,050 followers.

The Twitter spoof account, complete with its own leaking version of the bp logo, has been masterful in its flow of scathing commentary. 

Among its most recent tweets:

Feeling down? Why not take a long drive and blow off some steam? #bpcares

We are very upset that Operation: Top Kill has failed. We are running out of cool names for these things.

More than an expression of anger is at work in the disparity of the number of fans or followers separating the opposing social media camps:  it reflects a gap in credibility.
 
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Photo Credits:
First three are from the DeepWaterHorizon Flickr photo stream:  http://www.flickr.com/photos/49889869@N07/
Second two are from the BPAmerica Flickr photo stream
The photo of the dolphin is from the BOYCOTTbp Facebook page.
*Recognizing the dynamic nature of social media, numbers of followers or fans, ect., cited in this post, were accurate as of the writing of the post but can be expected to change with time.
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