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BP has a lot of cleaning up to do. The company behind the worst oil disaster in history not only has the daunting task of stopping and cleaning up the 200,000 gallons of oil that is spilling into the Gulf of Mexico every day, but it also has the task of cleaning up ALL damages. This includes the damages that have been done to the company’s reputation. As this oil spill  is looking to be one of the worst environmental disasters in history, BP has a lot of PR clean up to do.

A recent post by Todd Defren on  the blog PR Squared discussed BP and its public relations disaster.  Defren points out the mess BP has created for itself (no pun intended), citing two storylines that show BP’s lack of preparedness in its exploration plans regarding  a disaster like this, and claims that the company is offering cash payments to coastal residents in order to avoid lawsuits.

While there may be a lot of things that BP is doing wrong, I did find something that BP has finally gotten right.  And that is addressing the crisis via social media. Yet the company did not address its social media issues until they received heavy criticism for their lack of. Since then, BP has made some major changes with the hope of stopping their downward sprial.

When you click on the BP company site, you are automatically directed to its “Gulf of Mexico Response” page on the site.  The page includes:

  • Photos and videos of the response efforts
  • Maps that track the clean up
  • Current news, including company press releases and updates from the BBC
  • Technical briefing video with the CEO
  • Links to all contact information, including contact info within the company and different external hotlines
  • A claims center feature, including updates and a contact number
  • Other “useful links,” which links visitors to the company’s environmental-friendly policies, programs and other information

BP’s Twitter page is now constantly updated with information regarding the disaster.  They tweeted hot lines for people to call to report an oil spill on land, and also the telephone number for the claims center.  Even more beneficial, you can now follow along with the immediate response efforts. The company tweets out the different steps it takes in regards to stopping the spill.  Not only that, but Twitter is very effective for companyies to respond quickly to new developments, and it appears that BP is finally using the tool effectively.

Deepwater Horizon Response, a coalition between BP and other organizations to respond the oil spill, also has a Facebook page that is constantly updated with posts and different multimedia. The page also links to the Deepwater Horizon Response’s Flickr page and YouTube channel, that is also constantly updated.

Social media for BP is crucial because it enhances transparency and provides a quick and effective means of communication. During disaster relief, it seems that new information comes out every day and it is important for BP to address this with the public as quickly as possible.

Yet, the question is BPs social media strategy too late? Instead of ignoring social media in the beginning (except to divert blame elsewhere), BP should have immediately developed a social media response like the one they have now. Social media is not superman and cannot save you from disaster, yet if executed immediately and openly it could have prevented BP from the hole it has sunk into. 

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Is social media a requirement for a PR professional? What an interesting question.  The fact is, as a PR student, I have never even thought about it.  I have been so focused on learning the ins and outs of Twitter and keeping my LinkedIn profile up-to-date.  I spend my free time scouring blogs (especially ones with social media tips), searching for  cool widgets, checking my favorite RSS feeds and creating my own Delicious page. Everywhere I turn, it’s drilled in my head that I must be a social media guru in order to be a PR professional and compete in the job market.  But is it an actual requirement? Well, maybe it is not a requirement, but why wouldn’t you?

I recently read a blog debate on Social Media Today where two PR professionals spoke their sides on whether every PR professional should be on Twitter, LinkedIn and other social media outlets.  One of the bloggers said no, he did not think it was a requirement.  He claimed that social media does not work for everyone, and nothing can replace real relationships.  He also claims that you shouldn’t be apart of social media just to “be apart of it.” The other blogger claimed that yes, social media is a requirement because in order to understand how it works you need to actively use it yourself.  Also, she says it  is the newest and most most effective tool in the field of communications.

If you want to be technical, I might agree with the first blogger that “you are not doomed if you do not use social media.”  There are plenty of examples of PR professionals and organizations who do not use it.  Yet I do think if you are not actively apart of social media, such as blogs and Twitter, you are miles behind.  Part of being a PR professional is to be aware of new trends and tools that can be effective, not only for the organization you work for, but for your personal use as well.  That is what being a PR professional is all about–staying ahead of the game.

Secondly, why would you not choose to use such incredibly effective communication tools?  As a student, I realize in order to be a value to any organization I need to be aware and fully competent of every possible communication tool out there.  Being an avid seeker of PR jobs and internships, almost all listing include social media background as requirements.

I think the main question is not asking if social media is a requirement, but asking why not take advantage of it? It helps the PR field in the most valuable and core areas:

  • Increasing transparency
  • Ensuring the flow of communication
  • Networking
  • Keeping up on news and trends of the industry

Sure, some may be able to get by without it.  However, by not actively using one of the newest and most effective communication tools out there, what does that say about you as a PR professional?