With an estimated 18 to 39 million gallons of oil already spilled into the Gulf of Mexico and at least an added 504,000 gallons a day, most people do not find the BP oil spill to be a laughing matter. But for one Twitter user under the alias of @BPGlobalPR, it has become just that. The fake account created on May 19th as a satire to poke fun at the BP disaster has bolstered over 69,000 followers at the time of this writing, with no signs of slowing down. It has become a PR nightmare for the BP company gaining both mainstream media attention and the attention of the internet marketing industry.
I first caught wind of the account on May 22 when online marketing strategist Samir Balwani posted ‘What Should BP Do About This Twitter Account?’. At the time the account had just over 1,000 followers and BP had not yet spoken out about the account. Samir’s advice at the time?
“I wouldn’t do anything. I wouldn’t try to get Twitter to close it, I’d let it be, and let it run it’s course. Right now, it’s just a joke – do something and it could be a lot worse.”
The post generated some interesting conversation in the comments. Social media expert and author of The New Community Rules: Marketing On The Social Web, Tamar Weinberg chimed in with an opposing view.
“I disagree that it shouldn’t be closed. Frankly, it’s completely misleading; it uses the BP logo and thus the likeness, and some moron (read: idiot) would probably think that some disgruntled BP employee is really trash talking his employer. Bottom line: it can create confusion. If the guy was using a different logo and username, it would be fine, but once you’re using the company’s likeness, you’re stepping on shaky ground.”
Tamar admitted however that in this case she was speaking as someone with a background in trademark research and copyright and not as a social media strategist.
In a follow up comment Tamar chimed in saying, “I like being the devil’s advocate. To be honest, you’re right – what do they have to lose?”, but she continued to stress the impact the account had on negative PR and the potential legal problems behind it.
A few days later Lisa Barone did a post titled, ‘Why BP Should Embrace the Fake BP Twitter Account’ on the Outspoken Media blog where she states, “I don’t think they should have the account removed. In fact, I think they should embrace it.” Lisa gave a handful of ideas on how BP could improve the situation. In one instance she described how BP could leverage the fake account for good by partnering with the account holder to raise awareness and support fundraising initiatives.
“Now that the satire account is being used to raise money for the Gulf disaster, it can only help BP to become loudly involved. BP should create a national campaign to using the BP Cares slogan to raise money for the Gulf situation and attach some good news for spokespeople to talk about.”
In the end Lisa mentioned closing the account as well, but said that ultimately the damage is already done.
The comments of this post also share a wealth of insight with back and forth between readers and Lisa as well as Rae Hoffman and provide additional points on how the account could both hurt and help the oil giant.
Overall I don’t think there is a wrong or right way for BP to handle this situation, but I think this handful of social media experts have given some great ideas that apply not only to BP, but any organization that is hit with a PR nightmare of this nature. The fact of the matter is BP can’t undo the damage that has already been done. Their best bet is to either embrace it and use it to their advantage or cut it off at the source and hope there is no serious media backlash. What are your thoughts on the fake BP account? I’d be even more curious to get your thoughts on what you feel this account is doing right in regards to social media.