After the Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico in 2010, oil giant BP experienced a backlash via social media, becoming a victim of “brandhacking”. A source unaffiliated with the multinational company created the Twitter handle @BPGlobalPR, gathering more than 137,000 followers while sending out satirical tweets about the multi-billion-dollar disaster, such as “Catastrophe is a strong word, let’s all agree to call it a whoopsie daisy.” The account is still in existence and has almost double the followers of the actual corporate BP account.
Even the world’s savviest corporate executives can be caught off-guard by the power regular consumers wield when it comes to expressing their thoughts on social media, said Paul Armstrong, founder of UK-based Digital Orange Consulting, who has worked with giants like Google and Mindshare. “Many brands are simply not prepared for the worst-case scenarios,” he added. Only 12% of the 2,100 global companies interviewed in a 2010 Harvard Business Review survey said they were using it effectively, but two-thirds of those companies say their social media use will grow.
Social media is still in its infancy, which is something acknowledged by social media executives and the companies that employ them. In fact, employees on the social media front are the most powerful–and therefore vulnerable–asset a company has when it comes to brand perception. The people charged with maintaining a company’s persona need as much support as those companies can give, both in training and resources.
Crafting a roadmap
To avoid gaffes such as BP’s social media debacle, marketing directors are getting smarter about using tools like Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn to their advantage – even if they cannot always control the message. Social media strategies can be even more effective once they move outside of the marketing department and start quantifying results, said Steve Nicholls, UK-based author of Social Media in Business. “Companies need to think about how to use social media to gain competitive advantage,” explained Nicholls, whose clients include British Telecom and Ciena Corporation.
Communications professionals should focus on a few social media platforms, rather than tackling them all. “What works for one company won’t work for another,” said Nicholls. For example, encouraging public Facebook comments for a company such as a financial institution “where customers hate their guts” can magnify complaints, he added. Many of those companies are better off growing their presence on LinkedIn or Google+ where comments are less prevalent. Continue reading “Your company and social media.”