The Silent Killers of Social Media

The BP oil spill is, and will continue to be, a social media horror for the British multinational. There have been a lot of incidents of BP corporate image assault on the social Web. It’s impossible to chronicle all of these what I call “silent social media killings.” But I can, at least, take a quick look at one unique social media assault on the reputation of this hapless energy giant.

Prompted by the BP rig explosion and the ensuing spill, Greenpeace, the global environmental non-governmental organization (NGO), initiated a “Rebrand the BP Logo” contest. Via the Internet, Greenpeace asked its supporters to submit their own versions of the BP logo, telling them:

“ . . . create a logo for BP which shows that the company is not 'beyond petroleum'—they're up to their necks in tar sands and deepwater drilling.”

And what did the NGO say they would do with the winning redesign? (Which is known in other parlance as a “culture jam.”)

“The winning logo will be used by us in innovative and exciting ways as part of our international campaign against the oil company.” (Both quotes per Greenpeace Web site, at http://www.greenpeace.org/usa/news/gulf-oil-spill/bp-logo.)

When viewed by the casual observer, such an action might seem clever, cute, even perhaps tongue-in-cheek. Certainly because of these characteristics, the Greenpeace campaign would attract attention. But, when viewed from the perspective of a businessperson, it’s plain to see that this campaign will also further damage the BP corporate image. Be that as it may, let’s not be shortsighted and forget the BP of the future.

That damage will be of an extended nature, one of a “silent killer” that will continue to injure the corporate image long after the last gallon of oil is scooped up, long after the last pelican is cleaned and released, and long after all compensation is awarded, no matter how much more “green” that energy company tries to become. That injury to the future BP corporate image will endure because of the way Greenpeace collected the contest entries.

Greenpeace asked the contestants to submit their entries to a photo group on Flickr.com, the social photo and image-sharing site. (Such sites in social media are sometimes known as “plogs,” short for “photo blog.”) When the contest ended on June 28, 2010, there were about 2,500 entries in the two Flickr.com photo groups, named “Behind the Logo 1” and “Behind the Logo 2,” that Greenpeace had set up for their purpose.

Also at that time, there had been about 600,000 views of the logo rebrands entered, views racked up in just a few weeks. In terms of number of future views, what do you think that number implies if these images remain on Flickr.com? And remain there they will because it doesn’t seem likely that Greenpeace would remove all these rebrand entries once the contest is complete. Why would they?

So, for as long as Greenpeace keeps its Flickr.com account active, these images will live “forever” on Flickr.com, and they will be available for people to digitally share and pass around as they like, ad infinitum, and ad nauseum for BP. Even if Greenpeace did remove these logo rebrand entries from Flickr.com, they will continue to live indefinitely on the larger social Web. That’s because these images will have been exchanged online, digitally migrating away from Flickr.com, moving from one site to the next.

Given this one silent social media killer example, and because of all the other countless social media “murders” of the BP brand that exist out there on the social Web, I believe it will be very difficult for BP to survive the perpetual corporate image impact. But what does this mean to you, the CRM professional?

It means that you need to move your CRM efforts aggressively out into the world of the social Web. Work now to short-circuit any impact from a future public relations nightmare at your company. This will be an impact borne from an easy-to-use tool, accessible to almost everyone in the developed world, that didn’t exist a half dozen years ago and one that will likely become more pervasive over time.

Making social media friends now, so that, for example, they will be less likely to pass around those “culturally jammed,” rebranded logos that might be designed on some woeful future day, will go a long way to protecting not only your company’s reputation but also its revenue stream—and maybe even your own job.

About the Author

Richard Telofski is principal consultant at The Kahuna Institute, a competitive strategy consultancy. He was also the founder and head of The Becker Research Co., one of the world's first competitive intelligence consultancies, where he worked with Fortune 100 clients. Telofski is the author of four books, including Insidious Competition and Dangerous Competition. He can be reached at Richard@InsidiousCompetition.com.

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For the rest of the October 2010 issue of CRM magazine, please click here.

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