BP Breaks Ground in Crisis Management on the Web

BP oil spillBP's (BP) oil spill debacle is extending beyond the waters of the Gulf of Mexico -- it's now lapping the shores of the Internet. Specifically, Google (GOOG), Yahoo (YHOO), Bing (MSFT) and YouTube.

In an effort to contain the public's growing outrage at the spill, BP wants people searching the Internet for news to get the official company line on the disaster. So much so, BP is paying big bucks to get top listings on search terms like "oil spill."

This damage-control effort seems to have yielded faster results than BP's previous attempts to cap its gushing oil rig. Just four days after putting its own video on YouTube, where it sits at the top of the "oil spill" page, 131,660 visitors have clicked on the company's "Get the Latest Gulf Spill Footage on BP's YouTube Channel" (as of 6:21 a.m. PST Tuesday).

Videos from ABCNews and NewsAustralia pale in comparison. ABCNews, which this morning was the second video on the YouTube "oil spill" page, had gotten only 7,200 clicks, while NewsAustralia, with its No. 3 ranking on the page, had fewer than 2,000 viewers after three weeks on YouTube.

This begs the question of whether the public assumed BP's YouTube video came from a bona fide, get-the-latest-news type of organization, or realized it was a BP video before clicking on it.

A Pioneering Move

The paid search tactic is similar to using advertorials, which are not always clearly marked as paid advertisements. In BP's case, the video on YouTube (as on search engine sites) is slightly offset with a pale yellow background and small letters that note it's a paid ad with the words "promoted video," "sponsored results," or "sponsored link."

However, a BP spokesman, who notes the company has been purchasing search terms since 2004, says: "In today's environment, search is very prevalent and an important way of connecting people to the important parts of the story. Our BP.com online site is a rich resource of information about the situation in the Gulf of Mexico and our response."

James Lukaszewski, a crisis management consultant with The Lukaszewski Group, applauded BP's move in buying search terms.

"The trouble with most companies is they clam up and if they do say something, it's a little too late," says Lukaszewski, who added that the tactic of buying a position on the Web is a pioneering move in crisis management.

He further added that the use of advertorials is a common move among companies, more so in the U.S. than overseas. That apparently has played out in BP's case too. The oil company doesn't show up when searching for oil spill on the Chinese search site Baidu.

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