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May 31, 2010
Update on 'Fake BP'–Sure We're Confused, Who Isn't?

Are we confused? We think so.

The way things in the gulf are going (or not) it looks as though the  "fake BP" Twitter feed will have a long, needling life, continuing to demonstrate the hazards (if you're the villain) that social media can pose for crisis communication. 

As far as we can tell, the writer of @BPGlobalPR -- the fictional "Terry" -- hasn't yet been identified, though "he" (as referred to in Los Angeles Times report) may have engaged in several e-mail conversations with media folks, but no matter. "His" Twitter page, created only a couple of weeks ago, has more than 42,000 followers, making BP itself a measly Twitter presence by comparison. 

All this has our head spinning. We're having difficulty with reality, as if the BP spill isn't real enough. @BPGlobalPR may have (or not) contributed an OP-ed, or whatever it is, to The Guardian outlining fake, though real actually?, steps  for conducting PR in a crisis. (The Guardian may have concocted the piece -- it doesn't have a byline, actually.)  Whatever their origin, they're in print and worth being mindful of, real or not. There are accompanying satiric tweets for each:

1. "Acknowledge the problem without acknowledging specifics."

2. "Be open about one piece of bad news and no more. You want to appear human, but you  don't want to appear like a bunch of idiots. There's another word I'd use there, but I don't think I can. It rhymes with mickleticks."

3. "Threaten legal action if anyone crosses a line. You're in PR, but you need to make sure you flex your muscle and establish some ground rules."

4. "Choose the language for your campaign and you change the dialogue. For instance, people have called this oil spill an unmitigated disaster, an oilpocalypse and a catastrophe. So I spun it here... (@PBGlobalPR: Catastrophe is a strong word, let's all agree to call it a whoopsie daisy ...")

5. "People love it when you refer to vague spiritual/Christian ideals. It always helps. So try and incorporate that into your message. (Jesus walked on water and soon you can too!)"

6. "Be willing to laugh at yourself? After I spilled a salad on my lap, I immediately tweeted about it."

7. "Any hard feelings or problems that come up can almost always be solved with a 'free' T-shirt. Offer them to people who are upset and you will win them over almost instantly. We've sold $10,000 worth of free "BP cares" T-shirts to benefit the Gulf Restoration Network."

Where are we? It's hard to tell, though BP's early decision to let the prankster go unchallenged (whether any other course would have been possible is, of course, debatable) likely has spawned a new, unmanageable element for future crises, ensuring, let's hope, that there won't be any. (Nobody in the public eye -- and in a crisis that would be anybody -- could risk the "fake BP" treatment.) Right on, whomever you are!




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Doug Bedell has a background in journalism and PR and is the owner of Resource Relations LLC in Central PA, focusing on organizational and crisis communication. He’s the community manager of SimplyFair.net, a social network on fairness. On the Web, Doug’s at www.ResourceRelations.com. On Twitter, he’s @DougBeetle.
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