At 500 million and rising, Facebook currently holds the third largest population in the world. The US falls behind at only 300 million. In a national survey of reporters and editors, 89 percent use blogs as part of their research and 65 percent turn to social media sites. Youtube, now the second largest search engine, holds over 100 million videos. No question about it, social media has become a key form of communication across the globe as a primary networking tool and one of the top news resources.
In response to the rising number of social media users, many companies have created a blog to communicate with consumers on a more personal level. Matt Gobush, Corporate Communications Manager at Exxon Mobil, saw this trend in consumer participation through blogging and began to push the need for a blog in the communication strategy. The push had impeccable timing. Just as Exxon Mobil prepared for the rollout of it’s blog, the Deepwater Horizon Spill occurred. Instead of stepping back and staying out of the spotlight in this disaster, Exxon Mobil took this as an opportunity to communicate with their consumers about the precautions and safety measures it had taken to avoid such a disaster.
Blogs are not commonly used in the oil business. Most companies don’t find it a necessary tool for the nature of business. Gobush, however, believes that it is important for a company in any industry to be involved. “You get so much credit for engaging in the dialogue,” Gobush said. Being engaged in the dialogue brings a sense of transparency to the consumer that wouldn’t otherwise be there with a traditional communication strategy.
Communication, or lack thereof, was one of BP’s largest set backs during the Deepwater Horizon Spill. It took BP an entire week before they mentioned anything about the spill online, with virtually no video response on YouTube. “If you’re not quick, you’re not relevant. They needed to be where the conversations were happening. Twitter, blogs, etc,” said Heather Whaling, owner of Geben Communication. Through it’s communication disaster, BP showed the importance of implementing a new crisis communication strategy to include a digital response.
The lesson learned from the BP oil spill according to Gobush, was first and foremost that the spill was an engineering problem, not a communication problem. In order to properly communicate, BP needed to first solve the engineering problem. It’s second step should have been to inform the public in a consistent and timely manner about what was happening. Gobush believes BP took too long to figure out how to communicate to the public. “They chose the wrong spokesperson and didn’t get the information out fast enough.”
Exxon Mobil is not a stranger to a disaster like the Deepwater Horizon Spill. It experienced a similar crisis of it’s own in 1989 with the Valdez Oil Spill. Since the company had not built a reputation for themselves through communication prior to the spill, it spent much of it’s communication efforts in response attempting to build it’s reputation with the public. Exxon Mobil has been quite successful in it’s attempt with an informative blog and a user-friendly website. BP has a long way to go in rebuilding it’s reputation, but taking the lessons learned, it will be able to move forward and make use of the digital world consumers prefer today as part of it’s communication strategy.