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Just How Bad Can Negative Online PR Be?

There is no Brand immune to a negative event... it happens, that's life and most companies plan for this to happen by developing action plans and the like. However, it is possible to think BP forgot to let their PR team into this idea.... they are getting beaten up in a very visible and very public backlash that is occurring online.

It was not too long ago we had the case of Dell catching all the negative press when the Sony batteries in its laptops overheated and caught fire. And more recently, the Toyota brake issues...

But in terms of bad online sentiment, it doesn't get much worse than BP's continuing disaster in the Gulf of Mexico. It started with an explosion that killed 11 employees, getting worse with the company's complacency regarding the possibility of a spill, now reaching new lows with harsh criticism of the company's response -- and about to head even lower with a huge environmental disaster that is predicted to devastate prime commercial fisheries.  So with this backdrop unfolding around us... just how bad can this negative PR be?

First and foremost,  BP's must stop the torrent of oil coming from the ocean floor a mile down in the; the second priority (pursued simultaneously) is containing the damage from the spreading slick on the surface.

But what is the company's own PR teams and 3rd party Agencies doing to help stem the hostility online? It may seem in the heat of this disaster the focus should be on resolving the problem but as marketers and PR folks we can see this will live way beyond the plugging of the pipe and the mopping up of a dreadful oil spill.  The BP brand maybe irrevocably damaged and aligned to connotations of poor quality, environmental complicity and at even a brand that just does not care.

Reuters said the company is already holding the bag for $14 billion covering the cost of cleanup, overtime wages of public emergency workers, and damages for environmental impacts, plus compensation for the families of workers who lost their lives. I think time to kick some of those funds towards a good PR campaign, not to shift blame (although I am sure that may think about drawing in Halliburton, Cameron International and  Congress into the responsible category) but to highlight the efforts of many and the desires of the company to effectively deal with this problem.

Without prompt action, we can expect the online communities to pick up hostilities and this will become an offline issue. I have already seen T-Shirts being sold online to bolster the pressure on BP and reinforce the negative aspects of this disaster.



If you enter "BP" in Google/Baidu, the first page will show results about the "BP oil spill," and "Gulf" is a top trending search term on Twitter and on Google Trends. A search for "BP oil spill" on YouTube returns over 500 videos about the disaster.  BP seems to have a poor micro-blogging strategy and each twit is drowned by a deluge of hostile Tweets. This is partly just a question of quantity, which could be balanced if BP had a larger presence on these sites and more followers to begin with; but since it's too late to do anything about that, the company might benefit by at least putting a more human (and humane) face on its social media communications. Lets see the CEO make some personal twits - a symbolic gesture which might help temper the maelstrom of negative PR currently engulfing the company.

The point of this post?

1. Have a social media strategy that starts building community's and discussions before events happen

2. Have a listening tool to understand the online discussions and general sentiment

3. Have a social media risk management plan

4. Educate the internal company on the use of social media and their role/responcibilities

5. Make social media a core aspect of your PR communications and wider community engagements

Any other ideas? Suggestions? Just post a comment below.


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