In my last blog entry, I argued the PR crisis BP finds itself in following its precedent-setting offshore oil spill is due in part to having virtually no profile in or contribution to the online conversations taking place about the greatest environmental disaster of the century.

In dna13’s latest white paper, we make the claim that given the power and potential of today’s tools and apps, there’s no reason not to win even the most complex PR battles.

Continuous Measurement and Analysis

Granted, the multi-channel universe we live in makes it tougher than ever to know where the biggest threat to your reputation may come from. The front page of the dailies? YouTube? Twitter? But the flip-side is that smart organizations are using the same channels to monitor what’s being said about them, establish relationships with key influencers and followers, and adjust strategies along the way to stay on the winning side of their PR battles.

Basic principles of communication don’t change, notwithstanding phenomena like social media. Truly competitive enterprises always know who their audiences are and what they say and think. And they always find creative ways to tap into those conversations, take part in them, and protect and build their brand awareness and value.  Social media is just the latest in the ever-evolving selection of channels.

BP may have the market cornered these days on PR disasters, but they’re not the first. Think about Nortel’s woes in the past decade. Our latest white paper describes how former Nortel employee April Dunford combined strategic thinking and social media tactics to regain some of the shine on her company’s tarnished brand. How? Through simple and cost-effective and effective steps – careful monitoring of audiences, sharp analysis of data, and positioning her company as a thought leader even in a sea of setbacks and failures.

Monitoring and participating in social media is no longer an option – it’s a requirement.

Social search’s entrée into the online domain was destined to be a juggernaut for brands in crisis right from the start. For BP, whose ongoing disaster is shaping up to be the crisis of the century, social search has been a primary contributor to the company’s lack of control over its messaging, and its virtual absence in online conversations.

Case in point (as noted by TechCrunch): When you Google “BP PR” or “BP public relations,” the top search result is @BPGlobalPR, the highly publicized, widely followed “mock BP” Twitter account.  As for BP’s own PR efforts in social media, it’s a lost cause: The “I’m sorry” video featuring CEO Tony Hayward was unanimously criticized as disingenuous and forced, and BP’s official Twitter account has a mere 15,000 followers (a fraction of the mock account’s 181,000).

The company’s misguided “everything but the kitchen sink” approach to social media (it’s also using Flickr and YouTube to spread its messages) isn’t doing anything in the way of bolstering its presence in search results. As we recently noted, the only thing they have been able to do in the way of search visibility is pay for it, with some reports estimating their investment to be in the neighborhood of $50 million.

While we acknowledged the strategic thinking behind the paid search approach, this whole situation is making us wonder how much longer paid search will even exist as social media conversations increasingly drive results. It’s definitely a point worth considering—especially if you’re thinking of sinking $50 million into paid search anytime soon.

A few weeks ago, the privacy controversy surrounding Facebook prompted us to ask whether the brand’s threshold for widespread criticism was disproportionately high simply because of its global ubiquity. In other words, could the brand commit what would usually be fatal errors and still feel no ill effects on its reputation among consumers?

Well, Apple has us asking the same question today, albeit in a different context. Following the long-awaited release of the iPhone 4 yesterday, a swell of media coverage and user reviews picked apart the newest features and functionality. Though generally very well-received, one complaint emerged as particularly troubling: service failures that reportedly occur when users grip the phone with their left hand. The reason for the quirk was immediately revealed to be the new antenna structure, in which both the Bluetooth-WiFi-GPS antenna and the GSM-UMTS antenna are wrapped around the external edges of the phone.

Turns out, this structure has one major flaw: lefties cradle the phone in such a way that interferes with how both antennas come together in the bottom left corner, thus resulting in the service dips and dropped calls.

That’s bad in its own right, but what raised questions for us was the company’s utter dismissal of the issue, first in an email from CEO Steve Jobs to a customer (see image below, courtesy of Engadget), and then in an official statement.

The basic gist of both responses: Stop holding it wrong.

The long-held belief that the customer is always right has been observed with near-religious fervor since social media’s emergence empowered this stakeholder group to assert their “right-ness” so loudly and publicly. Apple’s approach to handling an issue flies in the face of everything we’re taught in terms of customer service and communications, yet we’re willing to bet it won’t put a dent in iPhone 4 sales, let alone the company’s profit margin.

Is this new reality-that brands can disregard customer service doctrine if they are entrenched enough among their target audience-going to become the rule rather than the exception?

According to a new report from brand measurement firm General Sentiment, BP’s brand value has taken an estimated $1-billion hit as a result of the Deepwater Horizon explosion on April 21st, and the subsequent oil spill that continues to wreak havoc in the Gulf of Mexico-this based on a sentiment analysis of relevant conversations taking place in online channels since April (see image, courtesy of TechCrunch).

With the world watching in horror as the crisis continues to unfold, no one should be surprised that the estimated decrease in BP’s brand value is so staggering (it’s congruent with the massive plummet in the company’s stock, after all). Most interesting to us, though, is the report’s calculation that, since June 1st, the average loss surpasses $32 million a day.

Then again, this isn’t surprising either when you consider the events that have transpired since June 1st-namely, BP’s obvious reluctance to provide straightforward answers to the public. In the congressional hearings last week on Capitol Hill, BP CEO Tony Hayward sidestepped questions surrounding the cause of the spill and who was to blame. “I had no prior knowledge of the drilling of this well, none whatsoever,” he said during the hearing, as reported by New York Times.

This air of vagueness that borders on apathy, coupled with his recent weekend of yachting and a comment that he “would like [his] life back,” certainly isn’t helping the company’s efforts to triage its devastated reputation. Then again, neither are the PR and advertising campaigns, which continue to pump out faceless corporate messaging that smacks of ambiguity.

In an era of instant information online and consumer-created content, the public equates brand quality with corporate transparency and personal responsibility. Given BP’s do either, the colossal hits to its brand and bottom line are simply the cost of doing business badly.

For a brand known primarily for its above-the-line marketing campaigns, Gatorade’s new mission control center suggests a major move by the company to amplify its online engagement efforts.

The Gatorade Mission Control Center-a room that literally sits at the center of the marketing department in the company’s Chicago headquarters-is a hub for all things social media monitoring, from data visualization and sentiment analysis, to real-time conversation tracking (see video clip below for a snapshot of Mission Control in action).

According to a report from Mashable, the goal of creating this custom monitoring solution is to “take the largest sports brand in the world and turn it into largest participatory brand in the world”-this from Gatorade’s Senior Marketing Director, Consumer & Shopper Engagement, Carla Hassan. To this end, the brand is fully leveraging insights from Mission Control to inform brand marketing strategies as they roll out, often times tweaking programs mid-campaign based on their findings. Consider the following example, courtesy of Mashable’s report:

• Following the launch of its G Series in early 2010, the Pepsi-owned company rolled out its “Gatorade has evolved” campaign to promote the product line’s newest variant, G Series Pro

• As part of the marketing program, the brand aired TV commercials featuring snippets of a song by rapper David Banner

• Almost immediately, Mission Control data showed the commercial was being heavily discussed in social media channels, with conversations pointing to a high level of interest

• In response to the volume and sentiment of conversations, the Gatorade team put together a full-length version of the song and distributed it via Facebook and Twitter, all within 24 hours

As for Mission Control’s day-to-day application, Hassan says the marketing department uses it to optimize landing pages to ensure users are driven to place that immediately captures their attention. And it appears to be working, with the marketing team reporting up to 250% increases in engagement and 15+% decreases in exit rates for specific pages’ content.

The bottom line: This is one of the best examples we’ve seen of a company using insights from proactive, real-time conversation monitoring to inform online, offline and above-the-line marketing strategies. Kudos to Gatorade for being the one to do it!

A new report from Nielsen finds that social media and blogs account for 22% of all time spent online, which translates into one in every four and a half minutes.

This rapid increase in time spent on social networks is another indication of how critical it is for communicators to have a holistic measurement program that considers social media and other online media in an integrated fashion. As audiences move seamlessly between the traditional and social web, as well as share content between the two, it is becoming more and more problematic to measure brand mentions separately in these mediums.

Additionally, Neilsen found that for the first time ever, social network or blog sites are visited by three quarters of global consumers who go online, after the numbers of people visiting these sites increased by 24% over last year. The average visitor spends 66% more time on these sites than a year ago, almost 6 hours in April 2010 versus 3 hours, 31 minutes last year. Brazil and India report that social media sites reach as high as 86% and 78% of their populations, respectively.

For communications professionals managing global brands, this highlights the need for a globally coordinated traditional and social media communications strategy to make sure that consistent and relevant messages are being managed and delivered company-wide, since social media communications are visible globally.

A good example of this is the interplay between the British and American audiences reacting to the BP oil leak crisis. Although these audiences have very different concerns that BP needs to address, BP’s communications within one region need to keep the reaction in the other region in mind, since all communications will be seen and reacted to in both geographies. A tightly coordinated effort is necessary to make sure that communications appropriate for one audience don’t create a negative reaction from another audience, as we have seen in this case.

The metaphysical principle of Occam’s razor tells us that the simplest solution is usually the best solution, but it fails to acknowledge one key point: all too often, the simplest solution is also the easiest one to overlook.

This is what came to mind when we heard BP’s latest crisis communications tactic: buying the top search results for “oil spill” on Google and Yahoo, and then linking to its “Gulf of Mexico response” Web page.

Obviously this approach isn’t going to do anything in the way of resurrecting its damned brand and reputation, nor does it intend to. What it does achieve, however, is getting BP’s own messages (as misinformed or hopeless as they may be) to appear alongside the unbranded information currently ranking in the top search results-a tactic that’s so obvious, it’s a wonder that more brands-in-crisis don’t do it.

Granted, managing crisis communications is a moot point when the crisis in question is of this magnitude (as Mr. Stick-aka @BPGlobalPR-so wisely suggested, just focus on fixing the problem, because energy spent on anything else is just wasted). But we think it’s a smart, simple tactic that should be part of every brand’s crisis management toolkit, as it’s the best-and often the only-way to have your message heard when “it” hits the proverbial fan. (Of course, the best crisis plan is actually an issues management/risk mitigation plan, which serves to proactively identify and triage issues before they escalate to full-blown crises.)

What about you? Do you have any examples of companies buying search terms to help manage their messaging in the midst of a crisis? We’d love to hear them!

The recent pseudo-unveiling of the man behind @BPGlobalPR has the PR industry all a-Twitter with the “who/what/where/when/why and how” of the situation at hand and, more importantly, its implications on brand/reputation management during times of crisis.

The owner of the Twitter handle in question, who used the alias “Leroy Stick” to pen blog post on Street Giant last week, launched his satirical tweetstream in the weeks following the oil rig explosion that prompted the worst oil spill in U.S. history. As his profile gained followers (as of this writing, the audience is in excess of 134,000), the media took notice-after all, his highly critical, sardonic tone all but guaranteed the source of the tweets was not an official BP spokesperson (see image below).

With last week’s blog post, Mr. Stick shed some light on his motive for becoming a sharp-tongued brand imposter:

“I started @BPGlobalPR, because the oil spill had been going on for almost a month and all BP had to offer were bullshit PR statements. No solutions, no urgency, no sincerity, no nothing. That’s why I decided to relate to the public for them. I started off just making jokes at their expense with a few friends, but now it has turned into something of a movement.”

He then shifted his vitriol from BP to PR professionals at large, writing:

“I’ve read a bunch of articles and blogs about this whole situation by publicists and marketing folk wondering what BP should do to save their brand from @BPGlobalPR. First of all, who cares? Second of all, what kind of business are you in? I’m trashing a company that is literally trashing the ocean, and these idiots are trying to figure out how to protect that company? One pickledick actually suggested that BP approach me and try to incorporate me into their actual PR outreach. That has got to be the dumbest, most head-up-the-ass solution anyone could possibly offer.”

His sophomoric language aside, he actually raises some interesting questions about the role PR plays in the modern communications environment. If brands’ identities are actually owned and defined by individuals’ own interpretations of them (and Mr. Stick suggests they are), then is there really anything PR/communications can do during a crisis like BP’s? If you agree with Stick, the answer is “no.” So, what do you think? Here’s a final thought from Mr. @BPGlobalPR to consider while you decide:

“The point is, FORGET YOUR BRAND. You don’t own it because it is literally nothing. You can spend all sorts of time and money trying to manufacture public opinion, but ultimately, that’s up to the public, now isn’t it?”

Last week, we considered whether or not the privacy controversy plaguing Facebook was actually having any measurable effect on its reputation (according to this top-line analyses, the answer was “no”), and suggested that Quit Facebook Day, scheduled for May 31, would be a telling indicator of users’ actual feelings on the subject.

Well, May 31 came and went, and the results are in: The movement wasn’t enough to cause even a blip on Facebook’s radar. According to, a grand total of 36,035 people-that’s .009% of the overall user base-pledged to remove themselves from the platform. While it’s unclear exactly how many of those people actually quit, it’s safe to say that the initiative didn’t have quite the impact it had hoped. In fact, according to Forrester Research, Facebook added approximately 10 million users in the weeks following the controversial privacy changes unveiled at the f8 conference. That said, All Facebook uncovered one statistic that may or may not be telling: Web traffic monitoring platform Alexa showed a 3.19% decrease in page views for the month of May.

Regardless of which statistics you take as meaningful indicators of Facebook’s current reputation standing, the aforementioned Forrester blog post did highlight a few potential long-term impacts that could be game changers in Facebook’s quest for world domination:

  • “Consumers tightening their privacy settings, resulting in less marketing opportunities and value for Facebook.
  • Consumers opting out of sharing with future instant personalization partners (which now include just Yelp, Pandora, and Microsoft’s
  • Consumers rejecting future Facebook programs, such as their promised geolocation check-in features.
  • Actions by lawmakers and regulators (not just in the United States but elsewhere) to respond to privacy concerns of citizens.
  • Encouragement for the development of open source competitors, such as Diaspora, which could someday pose an appealing alternative to consumers.
  • And perhaps most importantly, the potential loss of trust and interest among large brands.”

As of right now, we think these forecasts from Forrester are among the most compelling we’ve seen so far. Is there anything you’d add to the list?

With the news that its latest attempt to stop the Gulf of Mexico oil leak failed, BP’s stock took another massive tumble in markets around the world-down 11% in the U.S. and 14% on the London Stock Exchange-bringing the overall decline in value to nearly 40% since the April 20th explosion. As a result, an estimated 19,000 barrels continue to pour into the Gulf every day-enough for the current crisis to officially bypass the 1989 Exxon Valdez spill and become the worst in U.S. history.

But interestingly enough, for as maligned as Exxon was in the years-if not decades-following its infamous “oil letting,” the market reaction was notably slower and less severe than that currently felt by BP. As noted in Wall Street Journal reports, the first two weeks after the 1989 crash, Exxon shares lost 3.9%, but the losses were recouped after four weeks. One possible reason for the disparity, according to Pavel Molchanov, energy analyst with Raymond James: “the fact that there is simply more day-to-day ‘headline risk’ than 20 years ago, a function of the dramatically accelerated flow of information in the market.”

The comment is striking given the challenges companies face in managing their reputations-not to mention any crises that befall them-in the age of 24/7/365, news courtesy of online media’s ubiquity. But that’s not the only difference between now and then: Transparency is now known to be critical, both as a mechanism for crisis management and as a preventative measure. Molchanov actually defended BP’s transparency in the aforementioned Wall Street Journal report, underscoring the monumental challenge at hand:

“‘They’re in many ways a model for how a company needs to act in a crisis management mode – as opposed to Exxon after Valdez,’ said Molchanov. Still, transparency alone isn’t going to turn BP’s stock price around. “It’s hard to fight the tape when the tape is that bad.’”

Do you agree that BP’s behavior has been commendably transparent, all things considered?