Why BP Should Embrace the Fake BP Twitter Account

May 26, 2010
By Lisa Barone in Reputation Management

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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