Posted by: hepowers | June 4, 2010

British Petroleum’s Public Relations Response

from A bird is mired in oil on the beach at East Grand Terre Island along the Louisiana coast on Thursday, June 3, 2010.

Watching the Gulf of Mexico disaster, at times I have purposely avoided the coverage because the scope of damage is overwhelming. But I’m curious about the crisis communications process so today I explored their corporate website, Twitter account and Facebook page to see what information was being posted and by who.

There is some confusion on Facebook. There are 2 sites, one official, one not. The unofficial BP Facebook page is just a-hopping. The stream of new comments is so fast it’s hard to read them. One that caught my eye was: ‘BP should now stand for Big Problem’.  And apparently BP representative Randy Prescott recently made the mistake of saying, ‘Louisiana isn’t the only place that has shrimp’ to which lots of people are replying, BP isn’t the only place to buy gas.

The official BP America Facebook page doesn’t hop at all. There have been regular postings with feedback ranging from about 40 people to over 300 per post. I followed the comments on five posts and saw just once where BP commented back and it was to remind people of the need for respectful language. But honestly, a lot of the feedback is not constructive and seems to be attracting people looking to rant about anything at all. Actively engaging this  type of personality would not likely accomplish much. I was surprised to see how many people are ‘liking’ BP’s posts which is perhaps explained by the comments stating how many Americans are employed by BP.

BP America’s Twitter page has more than 10,000 followers, almost 400 tweets and has been listed 575 times. The tweets range from video postings to technical explanations and official statements, given at least every few hours. There is a permanent display of statistics about the clean up process, including the fact that 30,000 claims have already been made and 15,000 have been settled. Doing a search of #BPAmerica reveals a lot of angry people calling for boycotts and threatening personal harm to BP executives.

Apparently there is also a fake BP Twitter account with outlandish posts. Patrick Barbanes, of Social Media Today, created a blog post where praising Toby Odone, a BP spokesman, for his response, as told to Ad Age: “I’m not aware of whether BP has made any calls to have it taken down or addressed. People are entitled to their views on what we’re doing and we have to live with those. We are doing the best we can to deal with the current situation and to try to stop the oil from flowing and to then clean it up.”…”People are frustrated at what’s happening, as are we, and that’s just their way of expressing it.”’

After finding disturbing pictures of oil-laden birds through Facebook, I explored the images available on BP America’s corporate site in their press section.  There are three pages of spill-related images but they all look pretty clean really. It’s a bit disjointed to go from spill pictures on page three to stock executive biography pics on page four with big smiles that seem unsuitable in this context. Maybe the spill photos should have been displayed on their own page?

There are frequent press releases here providing technical updates and news of compensation funds and projects that are committed to by BP for the long-term clean-up plans.  I was hoping to find a response about a May 5th article from the Washington Post discussing BP’s past avoidance of environmental requirements and their ‘vigorous’ government lobbying to expand their exemptions in future operations. I think it would be good to address this directly although it isn’t a response you would want to prepare too quickly given its seriousness.

Also on the fake Facebook page, I discovered that BP president, Tony Hayward, made a gaffe last weekend by stating he wanted his life back. Public response was swift and angry to which he offered a well-worded apology. BP’s corporate site also includes a video with Hayward speaking about the disaster, the response and their commitment. It’s well done, with all the right words and phrases and he does seem believable. I’ll admit to being a bit skeptical at the mention of the thousands of employees who ‘feel the impact’ and wonder if this is a way to remind people of their economic clout.

But for me, one question needs to be answered before BP’s goal of restoring public trust can truly be met. It will involve more than BP as they are not the only company who drills in deep ocean water. I would like to see the industry demonstrate responsibility by creating the technology required to fix big problems – before you begin the operations that create them.

From a public relations perspective, this kind of crisis cannot be fixed with only words – it needs appropriate actions to prevent this from happening again.



  1. Yeah, it’s good, very useful, thanks 🙂

    • Hi – Good to hear you found the information useful, thanks for visiting.

  2. Hi Helen, Thanks for the post – it is a fascinating study in crisis management (among other things) – I’m sure BP will be used as an example of what not to do for years to come.

  3. Hi Lesley – 2009 and 2010 have supplied lots of crises for future PR text books that’s for sure. Thanks for visiting!

  4. Dear hepowers,
    I was researching the web for a university assignment I am currently working on that I found your post. I am writing on BP’s current public relations policy, analysing it and the aim is to offer alternative policy that could have possibly been better suited the situation.
    Your thoughts are most interesting; I was wondering if you do have a PR background?
    Since there is not much about BP’s PR policies on the web, I was wondering if I could get some insight from you as where to refer and where I can find some more information for this work I am doing.
    I will be most grateful.

  5. […] June, I wrote a blog post about the public relations activity of British Petroleum. I included a photo of a bird grotesquely […]

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