Why BP Should Embrace the Fake BP Twitter Account

With 5,000 barrels of oil being leaked into the Gulf of Mexico every day, we have a disaster on our hands. We’re watching our waters being contaminated, our coastline destroyed and BP has the daunting responsibility of finding a way to cap it and clean it up. They, quite certainly, have their hands full. And in the midst of their capping efforts emerged a satirical Twitter account that attempts to misrepresent the brand, poke fun at the situation, and do a whole lot of brand damage. The account was designed to make BP look like a company that doesn’t take the Gulf disaster seriously or care about those affected.

It gets worse.

In the past week, the fake account has amassed more than 38,000 followers, received mainstream media attention, and is now making the rounds as fodder for late night TV. And BP has done absolutely nothing to do stop it.

Here’s a question: Should they? Or should they leave it?

I don’t think they should have the account removed. In fact, I think they should embrace it.

On May 19, the fake @BPGlobalPR account sent out its first tweet. It was a somber statement that something had happened in the Gulf and that more would be reported. The account used the real BP logo (as of Monday, it’s now a black and white version) and didn’t give off any indication that this was not, in fact, a legitimate account. And people who followed were privy to some real gems.

“The good news: Mermaids are real. The bad news: They are now extinct.”

“If we had a dollar for every complaint about this oil spill, it wouldn’t compare to our current fortune. Oil is a lucrative industry!”

“Please do NOT take or clean any oil you find on the beach. That is the property of British Petroleum and we WILL sue you”

“Oh man, this whole time we’ve been trying to stop SEAWATER from gushing into our OIL. Stupid Terry was holding the diagram upside down”

“The ocean looks just a bit slimmer today. Dressing it in black really did the trick!”

But not everyone got the joke. Plenty of people assumed it was really BP sending out these messages and, as you can imagine, they were horrified that the company would poke fun at a serious situation. Those that did get the joke, however, found it sardonic and followed the account en masse. As I mentioned, the account now has more than 38,000 followers (in a week, mind you), while the official @BP_America account and the account dedicated to the disaster, @Oil_Spill_2010, have 5,000 followers each.

As coverage began to amass yesterday, I was pretty horrified by the situation. I couldn’t believe BP was watching this account grow and not doing anything. It was Crisis Management 101. They were watching their brand go up and smoke. They were letting people not affiliated with their company not only speak for them, but make fun of a national tragedy. Someone needed to get in there fast and do something before BP needed some heavy online reputation management services.

But then I read an article on AdAge that included a quote from BP spokesman Toby Odone. It changed my opinion.

Mr. Odone stated [emphasis mine]:

“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.”

That last line got me. They are frustrated. And this account is giving them a way to work out their frustrations. If we’re worried about brand image, getting the account removed for trademark violation isn’t going to help that. It’s going to make BP look like a bully who can’t take a joke. What BP should be doing is making the negative press and attack work for them. They should be using it.

We know now that the fake Twitter account was created by the folks at Street Giant who are now selling T-shirts with the saying ‘BP Cares’ and donating all proceeds to healthygulf.org. BP needs to use the fake Twitter account and join their effort.

Here’s a bit of what needs to happen: [BP can contact Outspoken if they’d like our full strategy.]

  • BP needs to take control of the account: BP needs to get in contact with the owners of the @BPGlobalPR account and give them an ‘option’ – either they hand over the account to BP so they can creatively use it together OR BP will contact Twitter to have the account taken away. I’m pretty sure they’re going to go with option one.
  • Make it clear the account is a parody: The most dangerous facet of the account right now is that some people think it’s real. This needs to be immediately addressed. The logo has been altered, which is a good step, but it needs to be stated in the bio and on the Twitter background that this account is a parody account, created by an organization other than BP. The account should also encourage users to follow the official BP America and Oil Spill twitter accounts for real-time disaster updates.
  • Highlight the real accounts: The official BP and oil spill accounts should be heavily plugged on the BP home page and on their Gulf response page to make it easy for people to stay up-to-date with real news.
  • Mix in real information on the satire account: The fake BP Twitter account has nearly 40,000 followers. That’s four time as many as the two official accounts have, giving them a much larger reach to disseminate information. Use that to get your message across.
  • Create a national BP Cares campaign: Now that the satire account is being used to raise money for the Gulf disaster, it can only help BP to become loudly involved. BP should create a national campaign to using the BP Cares slogan to raise money for the Gulf situation and attach some good news for spokespeople to talk about. The campaign will leverage the Gulf of Mexico Response section BP already has on its site to keep people abreast of what they’re doing and encourage them to purchase a shirt to donate money to the relief efforts.

By removing the account, BP may be able to prevent future damage but they can’t put the genie back in the bottle. By teaming up with Street Giant to leverage the fake account, they let people work out their own frustrations, earn some serious brand karma and, most importantly, they get their message out to a much larger, much more engaged audience. Just because a joke was started at your expense, doesn’t mean you can’t get in and leverage the heck out of it.

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About the Author

Lisa Barone

Lisa Barone co-founded Outspoken Media in 2009 and served as Chief Branding Officer until April 2012.

Get social with Lisa at Twitter

52 thoughts on “Why BP Should Embrace the Fake BP Twitter Account

  1. I appreciate this position, Lisa. There can be a lot gained by embracing this account and that would not be the traditional reaction by any means.

    But if I put myself in the shoes of Street Giant, it’s going to be a hard for BP to make the case for me to want to work WITH them (being all corporatey and whatnot).

    On the other hand, SG is certainly doing a good thing by selling these t-shirts and donating proceeds to charity. Furthermore, this is a very sad situation and sometimes we just need an outlet to laugh in order to not cry. So if BP threatens to shut it down, they run the risk of looking like a bully.

    • I don’t know. I think if BP reached out to Street Giant about working with them, I think they’d be so flattered that they’d openly jump on board. That kind of validation does wonders. It’s similar to when Coke brought in the guys who created their Facebook Fan page that took off:

      http://outspokenmedia.com/social-media/what-coke-knows-about-social-media-that-you-dont/

      Really, I think they have nothing to lose. The Twitter account needs to be in their control. So either they take it or they take it and let the people behind it still run it. I think they’d be open to it.

      • You’re right. They ought to try it because they have literally nothing left to lose, PR-wise.

        But I think the situation’s different than for Coke, because Coke was not at the time embroiled in the worst man-made environmental disaster ever, one that is threatening to destroy a whole hell of a lot of irreplaceable ecosystem and erase the economic futures of millions who live around the gulf. People are perceiving this as “We’re having a hard time with this recession already, thank you, without BP coming in and kicking us while we’re down.”

        The Coke situation had none of that. For one thing, the guys who started the Coke facebook page, they _liked_ Coke. They were the best kind of fans. They already wanted to help Coke succeed. There was an alignment of goals between Coke and those two guys that I don’t see between BP and Street Giant.

  2. > By removing the account, BP may be able to prevent future damage but they can’t put the genie back in the bottle.

    I don’t doubt that the strategy you’ve outlined in this post would work to BP’s advantage. I’m sure it would. Still, I can’t help but think that BP’s image problem is a couple of orders of magnitude larger than a snarky twitter account with 40k (or 400k) followers.

    BP’s image went to hell about a week after the rig blew up and killed 11 people, when it became clear that BP had no plan for stopping the leak, when it became clear that they were lying about the amount leaking, and when it came out that Halliburton (the corporation that just keeps on giving!) was an integral part of the mess.

    BP’s image problem is that suddenly people were exposed to the reality of BP’s drilling and business practices, in a way BP could no longer hide. BP’s real image problem is that they are, as it turns out, a bunch of cynical, irresponsible bastards driven solely by greed with no regard for the potential consequences of their actions.

    I’m not trying to get all soapboxy here about BP; the point, rather, is this: BP’s real image problem is that their public image is now coming into alignment with their actual practices. Their real problem is that they’re evil.

    Yeah, they might be able to turn a snarky twitter account to their advantage, but only if they couple that strategy with a deeper strategy of stopping being evil–and I mean stopping being evil for real.

    If they can’t do that, their public image ain’t gonna budge. And so far, it looks like they don’t know the first thing about not being evil.

    • Agreed. BP is facing a huge brand crisis right now and simply making use of a snarky Twitter account isn’t going to solve that on its own. But you have to start the rebuilding process from somewhere. Maybe letting people air their grievances and raising money to make right a situation you didn’t handle so well is a good start. But of course, they’re going to need to change the way they do business, as well. Without it, they may as well be the ones tweeting insulting messages directly at people.

  3. Lisa:
    You are wise and insightful. But I’m not sure that BP should either take control or partner. BP should allow this Twitter handle to continue. Anything they do will simply compromise its humor, intelligence and purpose. They would in fact, be better off mining the stream for reaction and interaction, learning from it, and then taking that content to heart as it works on a better and more honest PR strategy. Did you see the full page ad in the Times and USA Today? Way too corporate and not believable. Secondly, BP could respond to some of the tweets and humor with a more honest and thoughtful POV about the topic being tweeted, i.e. the extinct mermaid line is a chance to talk about what they will do to support WWF or other organizations who are helping to save injured birds and wildlife. Finally, if they do try to take it over we could see the Barbara Streisand effect whereby dozens of people start BP Twitter handles (Onion editors, are you listening?). Anyway, this is a chance for dialog and like Obama appearing on Letterman, a chance for a big, evil (?), troubled global brand to engage.

    • The problem with not taking control of the account is that you don’t know what it’s going to turn into. BP has to have a way to pull the plug if they needed to. What happened if the account stopped being snarky and started getting hateful or potentially libelous? As a large company, you really can’t allow someone to speak in your likeness. If they were able to get the owners to make it CLEAR that the account is a parody and is not affiliated with BP, than perhaps that’s another issue, but it’s still dangerous from a brand perspective.

      I do like your idea of the official account engaging with the fake one in an intelligent manner to support other organizations. That may show some goodwill, as well.

      • Guess I am starting with the perspective that it’s such a parody, you’d have to be crazy not to get it. I would imagine that people on Twitter would realize that. Perhaps if taken out of context and placed in other media people would be mortified. But it’s pretty Onion-esque. Anyway, great post and well constructed argument.

  4. I agree.

    Shutting down the account won’t improve the brand image.

    However, I don’t think BP could continue the humorous tweets. It’s one thing when joksters are doing it but entirely another once the tweets come from BP. So I think the humor would stop and people would no longer be interested.

    Why not create the charity campaign in exchange for the fake account sending some tweets on behalf of BP.

    Let them continue, build goodwill, and still accomplish the goals you stated without negating the interest in the fake account.

    Love your ideas.

    • I think BP needs to own the account just for their own security. It’s (arguably) harmless right now but who knows what it could turn into down the line. That said, just because they physically own the account, doesn’t mean the other folks would have to stop tweeting the way they are? Or does it? Honestly, I’m not sure. I’m not going to pretend to know. :)

  5. It would be impressive if BP did try to turn this to their benefit, but I can’t see it happening. I doubt many of BP’s board have more than a very vague understanding of what twitter is and their overwhelming reaction is going to be: ‘how do we make this go away without hurting ourselves further?’

    I imagine that BP’s lawyers have already been in contact with Street Giant, hence the change of logo, and will be quietly trying to negotiate the shutdown of the account, possibly with the offer of a donation to healthygulf.org.

    • it sounded from the AdAge article like they hadn’t been in contact with the owners of the account and as if they weren’t going to attempt to have it removed — which i was actually pretty impressed with. it’ll be interesting to see how it develops, though, for sure.

      • It might be my corporate trust issues talking, but the spokesman was careful when choosing his words – “I’m not aware of…” is quite different to “We haven’t/don’t intend to speak to anyone about it.”

  6. Although the idea of BP using this account in the manner you laid out sounds good, in practice I don’t think it would work out well. They do need to take over and use the account, but they would get massacred if they were to continue using it for satire. This is already such an incredibly sensitive subject and were BP to continue with the satire, people would think that they are taking this as a joke. They are already under fire for not doing enough, quickly enough and even mixing in good messages with the satire will come across the wrong way. I would hate to be the head of BP standing before congress on CNN with a senator reading satirical comments from my twitter feed for the world to see… Sorry for the poorly worded ideas, it makes sense in my head but there isn’t enough coffee in my veins to translate…

    • I see your point and you may be totally right. Maybe BP’s best bet is simply to use the attention to help with their effort to raise money to undo some of the damage they helped cause.

      • See, that’s part of the problem too.

        BP shouldn’t need anybody’s help to raise money to clean up the mess. They have fucking BILLIONS in the bank, and everybody knows it. Why do we hate them? In part because we know they can afford to write a big-ass check to cover ALL the cleanup costs, but no, their lawyers are out there arguing that they shouldn’t have to pay a dime more than the ridiculously paltry, outdated $75 million damage cap presently written into US law.

        If they were interested in not being evil, if they were interested in saving their brand, they’d issue a simple statement along the lines of:

        “We recognize that U.S. law only puts us on the hook for $75 million dollars, but this is our mess and we’re going to pay whatever it takes to clean it up. No questions asked. Oh, and Congress should strike that whole damage cap thing entirely.”

        But they’re not doing that, and from their perspective, why should they? At the end of the day, BP still produces a crapload of oil from their non-explodey wells, and oil is still a commodity in high demand. At the end of the day, their real customers (refineries and nation-states) are still going to buy what BP’s selling, and they’re still going to buy it at market prices. That’s not going to change, and they damn well know it. Their real customers don’t give a damn about BP’s image; their real customers care about buying a barrel of oil at whatever the market price is, and they don’t really care about who’s selling it to them.

        Yeah, BP comes across looking like the giant bunch of assholes they are, but why should they care? It’s not like this PR disaster/nightmare/crisis/clusterfuck is actually going to affect their bottom line.

  7. Insightful analysis as usual Lisa. When I first read about the fake BP account, I immediately assumed BP would work with Twitter to shut it down. I never expected them to react so diplomatically or, for that matter, logically. While it’s too late for them to “own the story” so to speak, joining forces to raise money for clean-up efforts seems like a great way for BP to at least influence the conversation.

    One quick thought, this is a very unique circumstance. In general, companies should aggressively protect themselves from brand hijacking. As you said, it’s Crisis Management 101. Can you think of another situation where not taking action against a brand imposter is a good idea?

    • I was very impressed with their handling of the situation, as well. I think joining forces to help with the clean up and take some of the blame will help them in the eyes of the world.

      Honestly, I can’t really think of another instance where no action is the best action. This is a weird one indeed, because of the virality the account and because we’re in the middle of a national disaster.

  8. They should totally hire you all.

    Also, the other oil companies should be moving on this as well, because whatever policies, regulations or procedures come out of this clusterf*ck, it’s going to affect them as well. They should all be on this like white on rice.

    • Other countries already have stricter regulations and procedures in place that these companies have to deal with all the time. They just slacked off in the Gulf because they could slack off in the Gulf.

      But, regardless, other companies should be paying attention to a lot of what BP is (not) doing right now, from procedures to clean up to PR.

  9. As a search marketer (no “expert opinion” claims here), this is a rare instance where I don’t think the firm in question (BP) has that much of a right to “protect their brand” or do any sort of premeditated damage control in the same way as other firms that only illicit only a vague sense of disapproval from the public. I know this position runs counter to any marketing professional’s best interests, but sometimes companies screw up–very badly–and deserve to take their lumps in the form of a public reputation crisis and loss of revenue.

    Additionally, I could see the embracing of the fake twitter account be interpreted as an endorsement or echo chamber for the “mock disregard” of BP’s critics. When we were children, (hopefully) we learned that the most inappropriate time to make/endorse jokes made about a bad situation is while we were answering for our own involvement in said bad situation. Anyone who’s ever been ticketed for speeding or running a red light, knows that making/endorsing jokes about the incident’s insignificance while the cop is actually writing you the ticket is not a good idea.

    Could just be my personal ethics creeping in, but I miss seeing professional firms or public figures apologize for their transgressions, actually mean it & legitimately strive to become better (more socially responsible) businesses in the aftermath of the crisis. To me, when a company screws up on a level akin to BP, this is actually the most genuine form of reputation management anyone could implement. Embrace the fake twitter account? No, they should strive to be the type of organization that would never compel someone to create a fake account in the first place.

    • I respect the personal ethics, but at the same time, screwing up doesn’t mean they can’t apologize, mean it and become a better company – WHILE doing what they can to also repair their brand.

      • Rae, I’m from New Orleans. There is not enough apologizing in the world for what has been done. My old neighbors are smelling fumes, watching the entire wetland ecosystem destroyed around them. Families who have fished for centuries are now without livelihoods and BP is doing their best to foil transparency at every opportunity.

        A company needs to have ethics, or play by the rules. Neither is the case with BP. I know I’m losing business (in a bad economy) by taking a public stance but that is not business I would want.

        I went through this after Katrina and the levee failure, the media games are nauseating and transparency is notable in it’s absence.

  10. From monitoring the “real” BP account, it’s clear they don’t understand social. There’s zero interaction. Taking over the “fake” BP account wouldn’t do them much good if they don’t know how to utilize it. Plus, I think a large majority of the followers would unfollow if BP took control. The best best – take over the account and shut it down.

  11. Lisa, I really like your thoughts. Making it clear the account is a parody and highlighting the real accounts are steps BP needs to take (and I’m very surprised that they haven’t yet). However, I don’t agree about taking control of the fake account. Linking with the fake account is like taking an “if you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em” approach.

    In this case, I think joining ‘em would be much more damaging than doing nothing. Controlling future tweets would not outweigh the damage of being associated with the existing extinct-mermaid-type tweets. I agree with Randy, that people would think they are taking it as a joke.

    BP needs to beat ‘em. Parody is only funny when it has elements of truth. As you and Jason both commented, these truths are the bigger problem. I think the only way to stop parodies is to change the truths and therefore make it not funny anymore. If BP is truly “performance driven, innovative, progressive and green”, as their core values state, they need to start acting like it: pour absurd amounts of money into stopping the leak and helping the cleanup, repeatedly apologize with genuine remorse, and innovate new solutions.

  12. Great post Lisa!

    Your argument for BP to work with Street Giant and “own” the account is an interesting one to say the least. I am just not sure BP is the right kind of company for this type of play.

    I agree that it would show a certain level of composure on behalf of the offending company, that they are willing to embrace the criticism. Too many corporate entities react to crisis in a bullish manner and try and squash the little guy if he gets too loud. This usually serves to rile the masses and cause even more negative PR.

    Saying “Go ahead – let us have it! – We deserve it and we can handle it” is bound to win back some of the hearts of the offended.

    That being said, I would like to second a point made above (Jason Black).

    Is BP really a company who cares about what the public has to say? Is this a company that is beholden to the tax payers and the masses of internet savvy folks on their sarcastic soap boxes?

    I don’t think it is. I think BP has a product that is so in demand that there is no possibility of financial failure. No citizen can do them harm and no government would dare.

    BP is like a group of Nazi Soldiers selling heroin on the street corner. Their prices are sky high and before you can buy some smack they have to shoot a baby of some sort. The terms of the sale are horrifying to be sure. The reality of the situation is much worse though.

    The people who need it will continue to line up around the block.

  13. Lisa Barone could not be more dense. But with a title like “Chief Branding Officer,” what would you expect?

    Lisa, you, like so many of the newly christened social media gurus, babble without a clue and nary a lick of context or awareness. Do you seriously think mixing real information with parody tweets is a good idea? People think the entire thing is a joke and read these tweets for entertainment, knowing full well it’s all parody. You want to mix in factual info with that? Who’s to separate real from fake? What a mess you are!

    This is just one of your boneheaded ideas. You’re like every cliched, bad presentation people suffer through at a PRSA meeting. A dilettante at best, a con artist at worst.

    News to you, Lisa: the American people hate BP. This is an outlet for that hatred. No ‘teaming up” will change this. They are environmental terrorists and your ‘branding” vision won’t help.

    Not to mention, how incredibly lame of you to discuss BP’s image at a time they’re literally causing the greatest environmental catastrophe our country has ever seen? Share your twisted ideas at happy hour, not online.

    Chief Branding Officer – drop the charade, please, Lisa. You’re a fraud.

    • Wow. Bitter much? It’s obvious from your comment you’ve never read anything by or had contact in regards to Lisa before today. I don’t think I’ve ever heard Lisa claim to be a social media guru, but thanks, it did give me a chuckle to see that’s how you took her straight “business side” presentation of the case in question.

      “News to you, Lisa: the American people hate BP.”

      No, but it’s obvious that you do and are unable to separate personal views from straight business strategy in this case.

      I’m American. I don’t hate BP. What happened sucks. But, accidents happen. I for one find it funny that we (as a nation) give more forgiveness to rapists, murderers, child abusers and animal abusers than we do to an oil company that screwed up.

      Either way… this post was about business strategy and PR and was asking people to think… can you at least attempt to turn a massive negative into a positive… not about social stances on oil spills.

      • @Rae: While entitled to your own opinion, it isn’t necessarily about the inability to divorce personal ethics from professional strategy. Surely, from a business professional’s standpoint, even you must know what its like to come across potential clients with too toxic (yes, the pun is intended) of a reputation to NOT be a detriment to your own professional reputation. I don’t think there’s any harm in letting some element of personal ethics, guide business decisions, especially with regards to marketing a company or product to a populace who rely on personal ethics when they choose brands and products to purchase, use or endorse.

        Furthermore, a lot of Americans aren’t forgiving rapists, murderers, child abusers, animal abusers any faster than they are BP…in fact, presuming there will be unintended long-term, potentially-terminal health issues for anyone or anything living & cleaning up that part of the country, I’d argue that many now see BP, murderers, animal abusers and any other eco-terrorist on near-equal footing.

        (Personally, I think its disingenuous at best, disrespectful at worst, to those who have to live in the midst of this disaster to call this situation only an “accident” that “sucks”, when reports are coming out that the company committed gross negligence during construction and now during clean-up as well. But that’s another debate, for another forum altogether.)

  14. Wow, so you’re advocating that BP becomes a bully…disappointed in that one.

    Let the dude/dudette keep the account and keep people laughing. Take the business out of it…for once.

  15. FYI Street Giant is not responsible for @bpglobalpr

    They are working together to raise money, but they are not responsible for the twitter account.

  16. So by ‘embrace’ you mean ‘forcefully occupy’.

    The course of action you recommend would be a PR disaster. Any approach like the one you proscribe and the account owners are going straight to the press – BP trying to take control of the account becomes a headline and a lot of people wonder why it’s busying itself with something so petty as a Twitter account when it has such an utterly horrific disaster in its own and the world’s intray.

  17. Sorry, but no. Brand management is for when you make minor mistakes. BP quite frankly cannot afford to act like the corporate prince come down from the castle to buy the silence of some uppity peasants. This is quite possibly the WORST time to be thinking about spin or image management because right now authenticity is king. If BP wants to be percieved in a positive light they need to start acting like they not only understand the gravity of the situation, they need to proactively go above and beyond the expectations of the public and the law. Paying fully for the damages is a start but not nearly enough. I appreciate what you are trying to do here but it frankly comes across as tonedeaf.

  18. To Lisa and all others….

    I live and work (as a Creative Director) in Louisiana for a Louisiana family owned company that depends greatly on the gulf of Mexico. I too totally understand “branding & PR”. But, this disaster is not about Branding or saving face for BP. Eleven people lost their lives and thousands of my family and friends WILL lose their livelihoods. It should be about the people and doing what’s right by them. BP has billions to hire firms like yours to “save their image”. Who is going to help my friend Alan who has a huge note on an amazing shrimp boat with his “branding and PR”? He and all of the good people from Louisiana who depend on the gulf to make a living would rather be working! None of them want a handout, they want to get on their boats and EARN a living. The way their ancestors have done for ages.

    BP CAN NOT “recreate” what they have destroyed, the wonderful fisheries, shrimping grounds and oyster beds. What they can do is help the families they have destroyed for the next 5, 7, 10 years by cleaning up (and paying for) the mess THEY created. No one has any idea how long it will take Mother Nature to reclaim what is rightfully hers, but the people who depend on her for a living won’t be able to wait that long.

    As for BP’s PR… instead of spending thousands or hundreds of thousands on companies like yours attempting to “Save Their Brand”… how about giving that money directly to the people they have taken so much from. Knowing so many of them, they wouldn’t accept a dime from BP.

    I will leave you with this analogy… Image yourself owning a small business (a building, employees, computers, files, etc.) which you still owe a great deal of money on. What would you do if one day, that business burned to the ground with all of your employees, computers, files, everything you owned in it? No insurance, No help, NOTHING! Now on top of that, someone tells you that you can’t practice (what ever you have been doing all of your childhood and adult life) for the next 10 years. Then, that someone tells you, “Sorry and good luck, but we need to go hire a firm to work on improving our image!” THAT is what BP has done to THOUSANDS of people in South Louisiana!

    Now ask yourself… would that be funny to you? Or, would you really give a crap about the image of that someone? Some things in this world just aren’t worth saving or help saving… i.e. BP’s reputation!

    • And as a fellow New Orleanian allow me to add this:

      This engineering failure comes just as things were starting to stabilize in the aftermath of Katrina and the Levee Failure. So this is the second time in five years for people and businesses to have the rug yanked out from under them.

      A fellow NOLA Blogger’s father was one of the dead in the initial failure of the rig. How do you think his family would react to “rebranding”?

  19. Todd,

    I live in the Florida Keys, in the middle of a national marine sanctuary. We are watching ‘all’ of this with keen eyes and broken hearts. Your post is also brilliant. Different contexts from both you and Lisa, and you’re both right.

    I feel for the people of Louisana and for all the living creatures affected by this tragedy. I know, too, as much as we like to malign corporate giants and their power brokers for their decisions, there are also many good people there who are trying to do the right things and who will also be adversely affected ty this tragedy – whether caused by greed, mistake, or human error. I know where I think the causes fall – if not in all three areas, certainly the first two appear to have come into play.

    I don’t think any of this should be solely about image, but about truly improving the underlying substance so you actually HAVE something good to say and can in good conscience try to save face while trying to undo a wrong and do the right things going forward.

    I do hope more and more people wake up to this and that market forces being what they are (all of us and our buying and other decision making power) start to exercise our vocal and writing skills in letting our leaders know that henceforth anything but doing the right things for the right reasons will simply not be tolerated. There needs to be a serious shift on this planet, and that starts with each and every one of us participating to make that happen, vote the bozos out, etc.

    Thanks for your good words.
    Cheers, Dolly

    • Very well stated Dolly. And on behalf of all the “little uncounted people”, Thank You!

      Todd

  20. BP can take a lesson from Toyota. While I also agree that the Twitter Account is misleading and BP has the right to defend itself against these “false” messages that are perceived to come from the companies PR dept. I too agree that the account needs to stay and BP can do a better job.

    I created an account that is a negative for a company that has yet to address the brand challenges. But hey, why should they if they KNOW DEEP DOWN they are failing to fix the problem. Showing good graces and fixing the problem would be the first step vs worrying about the bathroom wall of America.

    Crisis Management….. fix the crisis, then apologize like HELL! lol.

  21. I have a mixed reaction to this concept. I think this is kind of on the line of yourcompanysucks.com type of website. You really can’t take control of the site just because they are hazing you. I think BP should just ride it out. They aren’t going to improve their bad situation by taking over the fake Twitter account. A month from now, when they are testifying before Congress, then that may be the time to work on fixing their PR reputation. In fact, I think the negative humor kind of lightens up a bad situation, just like jokes made at funerals.

  22. I am not sure why you think BP cares or even should care about brand or identity management right now. Oil is such a basic commodity, like steel, corn, electricity, etc. Do you know where your oil comes from? Gas, yes, but oil? Did you know that pretty much all gasoline are from the same sources until it reaches the specific companies which put in “additives” to make them “unique.”? My point is, you are not going to stop buying gas/oil from BP despite all this. And if you wanted to, how would you go about it? It’d take a lot of research for you to figure out who each of your gas stations gets oil from and even if you did, I bet you’d find that they all probably get it from BP (plus other sources).

    When you are talking about a good that “magically” appears to the consumer, it’s very difficult to boycott. You are talking about a $236B company. You think they care what their brand image is? It’s not like they had a stellar reputation prior to this. Most people probably never even heard of the name BP before this disaster.

    I think you as a “Chief Branding Officer” you should choose who you try to brand. The local florist who had a public affair might be able to use your help and advice. He has a small store and a bad reputation could mean bad sales. BP on the other hand is untouchable.

  23. But if BP should embrace the fake twitter account.. does that mean the Queen should embrace all of hers too? <— look them up and you can see how ludicrous but insanely funny they are and you will then see the irony in my question.

  24. This post made me almost think BP already hires OM for their pr… hence their total publicity disaster. Rae, I have a lot of respect for you, but you should edit ‘articles’ like this before publishing them – watch your own brand-image as well – this airheadery certainly BP-ees it.

  25. Yeah…like others, I have to disagree with this. I followed GlobalPR because I enjoy their sometimes dickish black humor. If BP took them over/partnered with them, the humor would be heavily censored. The absolute last thing I want is actual news/updates from the account. That would be horrible. I’ll learn about those from actual news sources. And I enjoy the fact that some really STUPID people think they’re real, it adds to the humor. And, sadly, that’s what I and likely many who follow the account need right now. If I’m constantly thinking about how absolutely devasting the spill is…I’d go nuts. I firmly believe humor can get us through rough times. BP taking control of this account and trying to be serious half the time would ruin it.

    • Anyone who has bothered to monitor twitter on this issue will be well aware of the hue and cry when rumor of a BP takeover of the satirical account started circulating. That would actually have been a bigger brand fail if it had gotten yanked or assimilated.

      This is one of the things I really enjoy as a professional in the social media sphere, transparency is coming whether the businesses wish it to or not. Bad business policies, which a little Google research shows BP has in abundance, will come to light of day. Look at what cell phone cameras did for Guantanamo.

      This will slowly have the effect of weeding out the unethical business practices as they no longer remain sustainable.

  26. Lisa,

    I could hardly disagree more. I’ve written my own post about it, “The One Thing BP Is Doing Right In Social Media,” in which I use your post as a counterpoint, so I’ll just excerpt what I’ve written in part there:

    This is ghastly. Encouraging a corporation to take over a rogue parody account – even recommending that they threaten them – is the absolute wrong signal to send on so many levels.

    Mixing in “real” messages with the satirical ones? It’s hard to imagine how this would be perceived. I know how *I* would perceive it: as a sad corporate attempt to “use” social media. And it would be the quickest way I know of to cause a sharp drop in the number of Followers of the account. The satire, the truth-behind-the-humor is the whole point of the account: rake BP over the coals for their arrogance and indifference.

    The last sentence in Barone’s post really gets me.

    Just because a joke was started at your expense, doesn’t mean you can’t get in and leverage the heck out of it.

    I almost don’t know what to say here. There is absolutely no way BP should be “leveraging the heck” out of any joke about what’s going on in the Gulf. There is value in satire, but the value cannot and should not be co-opted by the company being satirized.

    First, I strongly object to leveraging the heck out of a joke about a catastrophe like this when the leverage is intended to HELP the corporation that is cause of the catastrophe. It’s hard for me to imagine why anyone with any ethics or morals at all would want to do that. It would be insulting. Let’s leverage the joke alright…at the butt of the joke, at BP. Don’t suggest that they adopt it and use it in order to put a better face on their PR. What, so BP are the only ones who come out clean after this thing?

    Second, as a corporate PR strategy, embracing the BP_GlobalPR account would be corporate suicide. As if BP hasn’t already been shown to be cold and calculating and UNsympathetic to what’s going on, all they would need is to be seen as mocking the Gulf spill, as well.

    EMBRACE it?

    The ONE thing BP is doing right in social media is IGNORING it.

    • “You know the best way to get the public to respect your brand? Have a respectable brand. ”

      Congratulations, b…I think you just won this debate….or maybe you and Leroy both did, rather.

  27. Do some research and gain some perspective…(pay close attention to item #2)

    These ten oil spills, all massively larger than the Exxon Valdez, were all smaller new stories, either because the ships were offshore, or dropped their toxic loads in less developed parts of the world. The Valdez spilled 10 million gallons off the coast of Alaska, the smallest spill in the top ten was four times larger.

    Kuwait – 1991 – 520 million gallons
    Iraqi forces opened the valves of several oil tankers in order to slow the invasion of American troops. The oil slick was four inches thick and covered 4000 square miles of ocean.
    Mexico – 1980 – 100 million gallons
    An accident in an oil well caused an explosion which then caused the well to collapse. The well remained open, spilling 30,000 gallons a day into the ocean for a full year.
    Trinidad and Tobago – 1979 – 90 million
    During a tropical storm off the coast of Trinidad and Tobago, a Greek oil tanker collided with another ship, and lost nearly its entire cargo.
    Russia – 1994 – 84 million gallons
    A broken pipeline in Russia leaked for eight months before it was noticed and repaired.
    Persian Gulf – 1983 – 80 million gallons
    A tanker collided with a drilling platform which, eventually, collapsed into the sea. The well continued to spill oil into the ocean for seven months before it was repaired.
    South Africa – 1983 – 79 million gallons
    A tanker cought fire and was abandoned before sinking 25 miles off the coast of Saldanha Bay.
    France – 1978 – 69 million gallons
    A tanker’s rudder was broken in a severe storm, despite several ships responding to its distress call, the ship ran aground and broke in two. It’s entire payload was dumped into the English Channel.
    Angola – 1991 – more than 51 million gallons
    The tanker expolded, exact quantity of spill unknown
    Italy – 1991 – 45 million gallons
    The tanker exploded and sank off the coast of Italy and continued leaking it’s oil into the ocean for 12 years.
    Odyssey Oil Spill – 1988 – 40 million gallons
    700 nautical miles off the cost of Nova Scotia.
    The Exxon Valdez oil spill was a disaster, but so were the 33 oil spills that were, in fact, worse.

    Gosh.. and the planet is still here… how can this be? :)

  28. The planet is not going anywhere. Life as we know it on this planet is, however, deteriorating rapidly. Shifting baselines being what they are in the natural world, most people don’t seem to notice until things change so drastically that they wonder just where all those beautiful forests and the diversity of life they harbored or the coral reefs and the food chain that supported so many humans have gone (past tense).

    It’s a way different world than the one I was born into. Yes, we have a lot of technology. But a tree or a coral reef made only of pixels or only available to see in a museum or aquarium just isn’t enough for me. That’s the direction we’ve been going and we’re getting closer and closer to it all the time. Each time the population doubles, those changes will be even more recognizable. Hopefully, humans are smart and caring enough to do something about the deterioration before there is not enough of the planet to support them anymore.

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