1. June 2010
The Sting in the Long Tail
An analysis of BP’s growing social media crisis
SOCIAL MEDIA INFLUENCE
For big brands in hot water, there is a tried and true Facebook alone, each organised by different individuals
method of handling a nasty PR crisis. It starts with across the United States and in Europe too. A month
quickly and comprehensively crafting your response old, the movement now draws on the strength of more
and then identifying who you want to reach with your than 325,000 committed members, thousands of whom
message. If it's a nationwide product recall, you better are advocating email- and letter-writing campaigns to
get on the phone with the national newspapers and TV company officials and members of Congress, or worse,
news outlets. If it's a local chemical leak, regional they're organising flash protests.
newspapers and radio stations will do. If only it were so
easy to deal social media-inspired consumer outcry. If you are BP, how do you respond to such a vast
uprising? Whether BP succeeds or not in defusing the
Online activists use social networks like Facebook, uproar, it's a crisis that will no doubt be studied in
Twitter and blogs on a nearly daily basis to mobilise the business schools for years to come.
public in protests, boycotts and pressure campaigns
directed at major corporations. Most of these efforts go
nowhere. But every once in a while a cause catches the
interest of the networked public and, like a wild fire, it
spreads from a local issue to a globe-spanning
reputation-wrecker. Case in point is the massive
Boycott BP movement which now has 356 offshoots on
By The Numbers
Oil Spill barrels per day: 19,000 | New Facebook anti-fans per day: 27,000
BP PR (fake) Twitter followers: 119,000 | BP_America (real) Twitter followers: 10,100
Redesigned BP logos on Flickr: 600+ | BP share price: 33% drop
2. Anatomy of a Crisis
Tracking the social media blowup
Before we can look forward to its potential impact on BP's brand reputation, not to mention
on its bottom line and share price, it's important to see how this movement originated.
Here's a timeline that we've compiled by crunching the numbers of over 1,500 blogs and
SOCIAL MEDIA INFLUENCE
news stories posted between May 1 and May 31 that specifically discussed boycotting BP:
April 20 - The Deepwater Horizon gas rig May 21 - The first reports of oil washing ashore
explodes in the Gulf of Mexico and the first on barrier islands in the Gulf are reported and
gush of oil rushes out from below the sea floor. the overall chatter about the spill hits overdrive
Within a few days the first disparate, individual on Twitter, Facebook and the blogs. The
tweets, blog posts and Facebook updates, clamour on blogs doubles almost overnight).
mainly from the more eco-minded members of
the public appear, imploring the rest of us to May 26, CNN reports the existence of the
penalize BP for the environmental catastrophe primary "Boycott BP Facebook" group. Blog
that is unfolding and stop giving them our chatter climbs four-fold, tipping off still more
business. bloggers and more news outlets who write
about the phenomenon. CNN tells us there are
May 1- 5 - The initial response is tepid. A few 118,000 members at the time it files its story.
re-Tweets and blog posts continue daily
through the first week of early May. Meanwhile, May 28 - the number of members swells to
membership on the various BP boycott groups 172,000. The movement has gone mainstream.
on Facebook steadily climbs, adding, at first, a
few hundred recruits each day, then more, and May 31 - Still more bad news is to befall BP. Its
more. To a crisis PR expert though the online big hope, the "Top Kill" capping effort, fails over
activity of the pressure groups is still Memorial Day weekend. The "Boycott BP"
considered fringe. In any case, the agitators blogstorm rebounds yet again, as the chart
are ignored as it is believed their online above indicates.
campaign remain too small to pose a threat.
June 2 - a full week after the CNN report,
membership of the Boycott BP Facebook group
has more than doubled to 277,461.
3. SOCIAL MEDIA INFLUENCE June 2010
1, The Classic Long Tail PR Crisis
The Changing Curve of a Corporate Crisis
Before the age of blogs, Twitter and Facebook, the big light. This initial outside surge of interest is the tipping
sting for companies happened at the outset of the point, capturing the attention of a whole new group of
incident and what followed was a long tail of diminishing people, which brings it to the attention now of the
interest from the press and the public alike. Such a mainstream media. After their initial stories, the
scenario was much easier to manage as it was movement experiences a third life and a fourth. It's the
predictable. It stayed a threat only as long as it stayed tail that contains the sting now and it creates a whole
in the public eye. Once a new, fresher, bigger story new set of headaches for specialists in crisis PR and
occurred somewhere else, the news media and public reputation management.
attention would shift away. It would have looked
something like chart 1 (above), ending with a fizzle. This is just the beginning. The half-life of these PR
crises extends for weeks, months, even years more and
The modern age of communications makes this has the capability to reignite yet again.
phenomenon nearly obsolete as chart 2 shows.
Instead, a brewing protest movement can come from The oil giant this week says it has a new plan to cap the
anywhere. Often it gathers kindred followers online and oil gusher, one that has a greater chance than "Top Kill"
grows slowly at first. It might attract attention from niche of containing the leak. The question is: does it have a
blogs, local news outfits, anybody with some level of better solution to contain the PR problem on land too?
influence and following. This added attention is just
enough to push the movement into a new more visible
4. June 2010
Social Media Influence
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