You can learn a lot about how to use social media for your company by studying a company’s use of social media during a crisis.
The current PR crisis that BP is experiencing is a great example of both how to use social media and how not to use it. While there are numerous blog articles on the PR gaffes of BP and their clumsy use of social media, few drill into the details of what you need to do to avoid becoming another BP.
If you go beyond the surface and examine how BP uses Twitter, the current focus of BP’s Twitter account is old school corporate PR damage control. It’s not about proactively building a dialog with their customers as Whole Foods does with its 1.7 million followers or Jet Blue with 1.5 million followers.
The BP approach to Twitter is to use social media like a bullhorn to get their message out. They are following the classic PR strategy: an approach primarily concerned with communicating with the companies and individuals that can directly influence the company’s future and bottom line. This approach is the antithesis of what social media is all about today.
Social media is about transparency and indirect influence -- a concept that is easy to understand on the surface but very difficult to execute quickly in a crisis. In fact, BP’s approach has spawned a parody website called twitter.com/bpglobalpr. This site has become the BP PR team’s bane of existence. It continues to show up #1 in Google search results and has 188,912 followers compared to BP America with 18,531 followers. So let’s get into the gory details of how BP uses Twitter.
Currently BP America has only 170 friends (a.k.a. "tweeps") on Twitter. They use Hootsuite as their primary Twitter interface, however there are also quite a few posts using the Twitter web UI. If you examine the composition of the BP friends you will notice that BP’s inner ring of bidirectional connections are comprised of state and federal government agencies. BP_America’s inner ring of social network nodes:
As you move outward from the inner ring nodes, you will notice news media organizations and several politicians that are actively involved in the BP crisis. For example, BP follows Wolf Blitzer of CNN, Bertha Coombs on CNBC, the NBC Nightly News, ABC News and the PBS News Hour. Curiously, Fox News is absent from the follower list. If I were on the BP PR team I’d put Fox News on the list immediately.
BP also follows several politicians that are involved and or impacted by the spill in the gulf. In addition, BP follows several environment organizations and gulf coast tourism promotion boards. When you look at BP's Twitter timeline you’ll see that they posted 275 tweets in May and peaked in July with 894 tweets (http://tweetstats.com).
On average BP posted 20 to 30 times per day (twitteranalyzer.com). In contrast, social media Guru Brian Solis Tweets about 6x per day. Tweet volume is not related to influence.
Most recently BP's Influence in social media appears to be waning (twitalyzer.com):
Key takeaways from the BP PR crisis: