The big BP oil spill has me thinking a lot about reputation management. British Petroleum handled things well, responding fast, expressing dismay, forking over cash, etc..
Then the finger pointing began: The feds point at BP. BP points at the oil rig owner. The rig owner points at Halliburton (remember them?). The installer points at the cook. And so on. BP could have taken the high road, but as the blame game goes on they sound more and more defensive.
So, when your company starts gushing oil into the ocean, or sewage onto the internet, and you need to deal with it, here’s what not to do:
First reflex of any corporate executive, upon seeing negative press on the web, is to start posting angry responses. Everywhere. On your blog, in letters to the editor, doesn’t matter. They’re going to get their point of view heard, dammit!
Please stop. The best case is that everyone ignores your spluttering. The worst case is that even your most eloquent defense makes you look like a whiner.
Result: You look like a defensive blowhard with too much time on your hands.
Alternative: Shut up. Wait a while. See if other people who aren’t connected with your company jump in to defend you. If they do, thank them. That’s it.
Alternative 2: Express chagrin. If you just can’t be quiet, write something like “I’m sorry about the oil slick you can see from space. BP is dedicated to improving the environment, and will be using some of our newest technologies to help rehabilitate the Gulf Coast.” I will still hate you, but with some small bit of sympathy, or at least a diminished desire to dump 5,000 oil-soaked oil company execs in front of Congress.