Tech & society

Twitter Account Spoofs BP PR Efforts

Updated 25 May
The advice is so old that it is trite: to conduct an effective crisis communications campaign, communicators have to be present and conversant in the channels/communities/media where they need to talk to people before disaster hits.

And a second piece of advice is also so tired that it seems trite: secure your company’s brand name whenever there’s a new technology. With web sites, I was advising folks in the mid-90s to secure the .com, .org and .net associated with their names … as well as logical “spoof” names. And that was when it cost bucks to secure names!

But it seems no one at BP had taken either adage to heart before last month’s explosion in the Gulf of Mexico.

In researching Business Week’s top 100 brands, I learned last year that BP had lost @bp, legitimately, to Brian Pendelton. The company has owned @BP_America since 12 August 2008, but didn’t really use the account until this month. This week someone began making hay with @BPGlobalPR (established 19 May 2010). In fact, although the account is less than a week old, it has three times as many followers as @BP_America.

Comparison Follower Counts
Comparison Of @BPGlobalPR, @BP_America, @oil_spill_2010 Using Twitter Counter (addendum)

@BP_America : BP America
Until the explosion in the Gulf of Mexico last month, @BP_America averaged about three tweets per month. That’s not quite one a week. The tweets were all one-way, perfunctory, allowing someone in corporate communications to be able to say: “we’re on Twitter.” This month, in the wake of the Gulf of Mexico disaster, @BP_America is averaging about nine tweets per day.

TweetStats for BP_America
TweetStats for @BP_America

Although BP has been trying to “talk” with people Twitter for more than a year, has anyone been listening? Prior to the 20 March 2010 explosion, the answer was “not too many” which isn’t surprising given how little BP was using the service. However, data from TwitterCounter shows a marked rise in followers since 5 May (2,306), when it began tracking the account. As of this writing, there are 4,623 followers, and the account is on 313 lists.

BP_America Twitter Followers
@BP_America Twitter Followers

The tweets are overwhelmingly one-way announcements with only a few @replies (less than 1% of the total, that is, only two). Perhaps not surprisingly, the account retweets @oil_spill_2010 (what’s with the underscores?).

@oil_spill_2010 : DeepwaterHorizon JIC

TweetStats For @Oil_Spill_2010
TweetStats For @Oil_Spill_2010

The account bio reads: “Updates from the Deepwater Horizon Incident Joint Information Center (JIC) on Unified Command response efforts to the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico.” It links to the “response” website and was created on 29 April 2010. As of this writing there are 5,421 followers, and the account is on 375 lists. There have been 680 tweets, an average of 25 per day, almost three times as many as the @BP_America account.

So there are more people following this account and it’s more active. Moreover, unlike over at the @BP_America account, whomever is running @oil_spill_2010 is trying to engage with others on Twitter: about 1-in-10 tweets is an @reply. That’s not very high, but that’s better than 1-in-100.

The dark horse in this race for followers is @BPGlobalPR, a spoof account. In less than a week, the account has grown to 15,222 followers: more than three times that of @BP_America and almost three times that of @oil_spill_2010. And it’s on more lists: 394.

More importantly, from a PR perspective, people are talking about it and retweeting one of its 59 tweets. As of this writing, there are 12,774 tweets that mention the keyword bpglobalpr.

What do these tweets look like? Here’s a sampling:

@BPGlobalPR Tweet Sample
@BPGlobalPR Tweet Sample

Whomever is tweeting on the account has created the hashtag #bpcares (a play on @comcastcares?). Currently that hashtag appears on 1,875 tweets: that’s about 30 for each tweet that @BPGlobalPR has made.

Not The Only Spoof Account
The @BPGlobalPR account is not the only spoof or opposition account created in response to the disaster, although it has the most traction with followers. Related accounts include:

  • @AngryOilyBird (established 1 May 2010 by Save The Pelican) – 57 tweets, 360 followers
  • @boycottbp (established 1 May 2010) – 489 tweets, 1,032 followers
  • @BP_Fail (established 16 May 2010) – 34 tweets, 21 followers
  • @bpglobal (established 9 November 2009 by Tricia Blocker) – 0 tweets, 1 follower
  • @BPGulfLeak (established 21 May 2010) – 295 tweets, 115 followers
  • @BPOilSpill (established 30 April 2010 by R. Haggerty) – 8,149 tweets, 337 followers
  • @DrilledByBP (established 22 May 2010 by Jon Brett and Brandon Shuler) – 7 tweets, 48 followers
  • @HealthyGulf (established 18 August 2008) – 167 tweets, 366 followers
  • @IBRRC (established 16 May 2009 by International Bird Rescue) – 1,010 tweets, 670 followers
  • @makebppay (established 7 May 2010 by Keith Haggert) – 1,716 tweets, 86 followers
  • @oil_leaks (established 17 September 2009) – 2,476 tweets, 1,787 followers
  • @ProtectTheOcean (established 7 May 2010) – 101 tweets, 347 followers
  • @SaveOurGulf (established 2 May 2010 by the Waterkeeper Alliance) – 53 tweets, 170 followers
  • @SpillBabySpill (established 30 April 2010) – 383 tweets, 140 followers
  • @SpillBPSpill (established 9 May 2010) – 277 tweets, 32 followers

The disaster in the Gulf of Mexico cannot be mitigated by effective communication: actions do speak louder than words. And Twitter is certainly not the make-or-break space for BP’s public image. However, as the service goes more mainstream, it serves as a mirror for attitudes that extend beyond the techno-elite, attitudes that are held by influencers of all stripes.

Ignore it at your own peril.


Update 1:
@BPGlobalPR is promoting t-shirt sales with the proceeds going to @HealthyGulf.

There are several good analyses of this “brandjacking” that folks have kindly pointed me to subsequent to this post going live. Here are a few:

Update 2:
Added Twitter Counter comparison chart after service added @BPGlobalPR to its database.

:: wiredpen permalink
:: Cross-posted at UWTwitterBook, FlipTheMedia and TheModerateVoice
:: Related: Oil Explosion InfoGraphic
:: Follow me on Twitter!

By Kathy E. Gill

Digital evangelist, speaker, writer, educator. Transplanted Southerner; teach newbies to ride motorcycles! @kegill

4 replies on “Twitter Account Spoofs BP PR Efforts”

Paul, I’d be happy if those head honcho PR folks were simply acknowledging the importance of digital communication technologies. Someone should send everyone in BP corporate communication a copy of The Cluetrain Manifesto.

Nice. So along with How many ecosystems have to be destroyed before we invest in clean energy? we have How many PR disasters have to happen before people learn to invest in social media?

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