BP Uses Social PR Long After Oil Spill, But to What Effect?

BP America’s Facebook and Twitter accounts have become goodwill promotional centers for the Gulf Coast tourism and seafood businesses. But whether those industries appreciate the effort is another matter. The brand – beleaguered by the 2010 oil spill in that region – has posted more than 90 Facebook and Twitter messages in the past week.

An example from BP America’s Facebook Page:


BP’s social media efforts have sparked frustration in some corners. Shelley Yates is a marketing rep for The Fish House, a Pensacola Bay seafood restaurant located in northwestern Florida. The Fish House was featured in a video created by Ogilvy PR, handling BP’s social media for the oil spill, that was posted to the petroleum brand’s Facebook and YouTube pages.

“When they [shot] it, they said it wouldn’t have anything to do with BP,” Yates said. “But then it was put up on BP’s Facebook Page and YouTube channel. And I don’t think it was received well to be honest. I just think it looks too… The whole thing seems pretty contrived.”

Beneath the 1-minute, 20-second video featuring her boss, Collier Merrill, on YouTube, Yate’s point becomes illustrated by the following user comment: “What a bunch of lies. Wonder how much he got paid for doing this ad.”

BP America, the U.S. arm of the British oil giant, declined an interview request but sent the following statement: “Since the Deepwater Horizon incident, BP promised to keep the public informed and, as a result, we’re using a number of channels including social media. The purpose is to keep Gulf Coast residents and other stakeholders informed about BP’s efforts to live up to its commitments.”

ClickZ also reached out to Betsy Lowther, senior digital strategist for Ogilvy PR, who Yates said handled the taping of her restaurant’s video. Lowther didn’t return phone calls or respond to an emailed request to discuss the brand’s social media strategy.


Of BP’s 90-odd Facebook posts in the last week, 32 centered on promoting positive reports on Gulf Coast beaches and other tourism destinations, while 30 heralded news and events about fishing and regional seafood eateries. Twenty-four of the messages pertained to general issues about the oil spill, and only seven were authored about other subjects. In each case, whether BP was speaking to its 61,000 Facebook “likers” or its 28,000 Twitter followers, the content was essentially the same.    


Yates from The Fish House said her company appreciates that BP wants to clear up some misconceptions about the state of Gulf Coast fish and beaches, but she also wondered if the brand’s name hurts as much as it helps. She remarked that the media last year didn’t improve matters by not truly fleshing out the story as the situations in Florida, Alabama, and Louisiana evolved.

“I think the perception of the oil coming on shore vs. the actual reality is what really hurt our season last year,” Yates said. “They shared the same footage, that it was doom and gloom, all of the time. For the most part, it was beautiful. We had a few spots of oil wash up. But it wasn’t the same as what the media portrayed, which I think scared a lot of people away.”

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