On YouTube today I noticed that BP has purchased premium access on the front page of the site to promote its flight of videos in response to the mounting Deepwater Horizon Gulf oil spill crisis. The videos are well-produced, but the effort is a complete failure because BP is attempting to cram the square peg of the traditional mass media into the round hole of social media.
Even though BP has paid for premium access and set the controls for their site to their specifications, their efforts to cap the gushing negative public sentiment is about as effective as their efforts to cap the gushing flow of oil have been:
- Ratings: Comments are disabled, but Youtube users are still able to rate the videos – all of which have dismal ratings that hover around one star as well as “dislike” ratings that vastly overwhelm the “like” ratings.
- Response Videos: The recommended or related videos that appear on the right menu next to BP’s videos are overwhelmingly dominated by negative content about BP.
- Website: BP doesn’t even have full control over its own web presence; Google Sidewiki (currently underutilized, fortunately for BP) allows the discussion about the oil spill to take place on BP’s site unabated (to say nothing of the myraid other venues people have for connecting and sharing opinions).
The bottom line is that social media is a democratic meritocracy in which we have only the illusion of control. Trying to crowd out public opinion by buying up search terms or premium placement is ultimately ineffective because as John Gilmore once said “The Net interprets censorship as damage and routes around it.”
The question PR pros should be posing to their clients is: “If it ALL were to come out – what would you do differently?” – that’s the new reality. It’s mind-boggling to think that BP’s leadership actually thought they could conceal the repeated violations, the damning internal reports, and the scientific data showing other leaks and massive underwater plumes of oil – all of which are made far worse for BP’s having attempted to conceal them in the first place.
BP is literally facing the spectre of dissolving as a corporation – what’s the harm in allowing the public to have its say? Could things possibly get worse than they are now?