BP, P&G strive to tackle negative word of mouth

28 May 2010

NEW YORK: BP and Procter & Gamble have both been required to implement innovative strategies as they seek to counter negative word of mouth on the web.

BP has faced widespread censure after the recent oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, criticism which has been particularly vociferous on social media.

A Facebook group called "Boycott BP" has recruited 140,000 members and is encouraging consumers to avoid the company's petrol stations and its brands, like Castrol engine oil.

Elsewhere, a fake Twitter feed, BPGlobalPR, which contains disparaging and satirical "tweets" purporting to represent the energy giant's views, has signed up 50,000 followers.

Speaking about this unauthorised account, a BP spokesman argued: "It's a shame, but obviously people are entitled to their views."

BP has itself sought to leverage a range of Web 2.0 portals in a bid to keep the public informed regarding its varied initiatives to quell the oil leak.

This has included adding material to existing corporate profiles on Twitter, where BP America has 6,700 followers, and Facebook, where the firm's US arm has 785 fans.

Moreover, the Deepwater Horizon Response – an alliance of all the organisations, like BP, which are working to stop the spread of oil – now has 25,000 people tracking its posts on Facebook.

The Deepwater Horizon Response page on Twitter also has 5,700 followers, and has formed a key part of BP's efforts to ensure news about its latest activities are transparent and easily accessible.

"We want to ensure that we can get out information about the response to this incident and spill as rapidly and widely as possible," David Nicholas, a BP spokesman, said.

"Twitter is a clearly popular medium that can complement other, more traditional, communication efforts."

BP has even streamed live video footage of its attempt to "top kill" the leaking well to YouTube, and is running search ads on Google linked to the area of its website hosting the latest updates.

Procter & Gamble has also been exposed to a wave of negative online commentary about its new Pampers Dry Max nappies, which hit store shelves in the US in March.

As part of its launch programme, the company sent samples to influential "mommy bloggers" in the hope they would generate positive word of mouth.

However, some of their feedback alleged Dry Max did not perform as well as the Cruisers and Swaddlers it replaced and could even give children bad rashes.

One Facebook group asking P&G to bring back the old versions of Pampers now has 11,000 fans, while another claimed Dry Max causes "chemical burns, infections, and severe diaper rash".

Initially, P&G replied directly to individuals raising concerns, but it then released an official statement to counteract "growing, but completely false, rumours fuelled by social media".

"These rumours are being perpetuated by a small number of parents, some of whom are unhappy that we replaced our older Cruisers and Swaddlers products while others support competitive products and the use of cloth diapers," Jodi Allen, head of P&G's North American baby care division, said.

"Some have specifically sought to promote the myth that our product causes 'chemical burns'."

Last week, P&G invited four critical bloggers to its Cincinnati headquarters to talk over their concerns and to provide them with details about research showing Dry Max diapers are completely safe.

"We're walking the fine line of communicating that the diaper is not causing the rash and still being sympathetic to the fact that they're really having a rash, and our heart goes out to them," said Allen.

Data sourced from Financial Times, Wall Street Journal, Associated Press; additional content by Warc staff