Not exactly a bold piece of public relations. Before you can roll your eyes at reports of yet another breakthrough to stop the spewing oil, BP provides its own quotation marks around the news. Furthermore, the company makes clear it is only reporting what someone (Adm. Thad Allen of the Coast Guard, who is in charge of the federal response to the oil spill) told CNN.
If you can practically see the corporate strategists shrugging their shoulders as they post that update to BP_America, that may be because BP is overshadowed on Twitter by a much more popular satirical feed, BPGlobalPR, which has grown to have more than 130,000 followers.
The parody site is updated throughout the day, offering a combination of "everything is going exactly according to plan" P.R. speak, macabre humor and occasional glimpses of genuine outrage.
Over the last week, BPGlobalPR boasted of a deal on "blackened shrimp" at BP gas stations, linked to the photographs of oil-soaked pelicans with the out-of-character postscript "warning: truly heartbreaking" and spoke of how "we've modestly made modest changes to this modest gulf."
Beyond its followers, BPGlobalPR benefits from retweeting, becoming grist for other Twitter feeds. On Saturday, this cynical packet -- "Safety is our primary concern. Well, profits, then safety. Oh, no -- profits, image, then safety, but still -- it's right up there" -- was bounding its way across the Internet.
Twitter has been praised for its utility as a microbroadcaster. People from all walks of life -- hairdressers, chefs, politicians -- use the service to blast out every thought and professional accomplishment to their followers.
However, when you come to Twitter already with a brand, or like BP, with a tarnished brand, the experience can be bedeviling at best. Spin (or if you prefer, nuance) can be hard to execute in 140-character bursts, but mockery comes in perfect Twitter morsels. Brevity is the soul of sarcasm.
In response to a request for an interview with the creator of the BPGlobalPR Twitter feed, someone identifying as Leroy Stick explained the rationale for the feed, while providing no personal details.
"Satire on its own can't get bad actors to act better, but it can attract attention and direct people to those actors and their actions," Leroy wrote in a message on Saturday, one of many e-mail correspondences Leroy has had with journalists. "A lot of people, especially early on, sent me angry messages thinking the account was legit. I like to imagine that moment when they realized it was a joke, and they had to think about what the account actually was and why it existed."
Knowing who's who on Twitter has been a challenge since the beginning: the basketball great Shaquille O'Neal created his own Twitter feed, with the insistent handle The_Real_Shaq, after someone was pretending to be him. The impersonations had become so problematic that Twitter created "verified accounts" last year assuring followers that the person controlling the account was the real deal.
BP_America is one of those verified Twitter accounts, and perhaps for that reason -- that, and BPGlobalPR's over-the-top sense of humor -- there should be little genuine confusion between the two among Twitter users. Thus far, BP has not filed a complaint against BPGlobalPR.
A Twitter spokeswoman wrote via e-mail that the company favored an "open exchange of information and ideas between individuals, organizations, corporations and government leaders," including parody, for which it suggests guidelines. (These can seem a bit humorless, however, like including a note saying, "This is a parody.") "If a brand or organization feels they are being impersonated or that a parody account does not fall within our guidelines," she wrote, "we respond to impersonation requests within 24 hours."
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