“A great day for oiled pelicans:” BP, Twitter, and the Deepwater Horizon crisis response

Walton, Laura Richardson, Cooley, Skye C., & Nicholson, John H. (2012). “A great day for oiled pelicans:” BP, Twitter, and the Deepwater Horizon crisis response. Public Relations Journal6(4), 1-30.

Summary
On April 20, 2010, British Petroleum (BP) experienced one of the most tragic industrial accidents in history when 11 employees were killed and dozens more injured as the result of an explosion that tore through an offshore drilling rig in the Gulf of Mexico. In the months that followed, BP grappled with the cleanup efforts as millions of gallons of oil spewed into the Gulf of Mexico on the eve of the region’s peak tourism season. BP also faced immense reputational damage and needed effective crisis communication to restore this damage with its stakeholders. With the proliferation of social media in our society, effective and efficient organizational responses during crises are certain to become more and more dependent on social networking platforms. This study takes an important first step in testing the SCCT model within the framework of social media sites.

Method
A total of 1,142 tweets were coded from April 29, 2010, to September 10, 2010, from the account @Oil_Spill_2010. The name of the account later changed to @Restore_TheGulf and came under the control of the U.S. government.

Key Findings

1)    BP’s dominant message strategies included ingratiation, concern, minimization, and justification during the Deepwater Horizon oil spill.

2)    BP’s initial tweets indicate its early Twitter strategy was largely reactive, and even haphazard, as the organization tried various communication channels to distribute information quickly to its key stakeholders.

3)    After BP launched a new blog one month after the spill, BP significantly dropped their two-way communication on Twitter, and encouraged users to use the blog.

Implications for Practice
With the proliferation of social media in our society, organizational responses during crises are certain to become more and more dependent on social networking platforms. Organizations must proactively communicate and engage in two-way communication with stakeholders to help effectively manage crises.

Article Location
The full article is available for free at: http://www.prsa.org/Intelligence/PRJournal/Documents/2012WaltonCooleyNicholson.pdf

 

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