J Term in New Orleans

During January 2011, 12 J-Term students in the course “Environmental Communications: Lessons Learned from the BP Oil Spill” will travel with Nina Flournoy, senior lecturer of communication studies in Meadows School of the Arts, on a 10-day journey to New Orleans and the Gulf Coast to examine the communication strategies surrounding the worst environmental disaster in U.S. history

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Social media: Friend or foe?

Taylor.jpg An update from Taylor, a sophomore communication studies major:

Communicating during a crisis in the past 10 years has drastically changed. Smart phones, texting, Facebook and Twitter provide opportunities not available in the past. The benefits from these advances in technology create a world of two-way communication, boundless spread of knowledge – and all of it done within a manner of seconds. Sounds pretty fantastic, doesn’t it?

On an average day, yes, social media is amazing and helpful for its daily users. When ignored, though, social media use (or more of a lack of use) can cause extensive problems.

A perfect example of this is British Petroleum’s Twitter account. During our meeting, John Deveney of Deveney Communication shared some surprising information. Before the oil spill, BP had a total of 52 tweets in a year (this means one tweet each week). This seemed appropriate since the company didn’t necessarily need to sell its product. But here is where the surprise came: How many tweets do you think BP had after the spill? Five a minute? No. Nine a day? No. It posted one a week as if nothing had changed.

By not embracing social media as a friend and utilizing it to its full potential before a crisis, BP allowed social media to become a foe in its time of need. Due to lack of communication via social media vehicles, satirical Twitter accounts criticizing BP cropped up, causing more confusion and reputation damage for BP.

This missed opportunity, in my opinion, was the biggest communication mistake during the spill. BP could have created good will and shaped the story by just utilizing their Twitter account. It wouldn’t have taken much for the corporation to ask the department that it currently employed to up the number of tweets being posted each day.

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