Image Building, Damage Control and Search Engine Optimization

Most business owners think search engine optimization is just a way to improve ranking in search engine results pages (SERPS), but the BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico has put a whole new light on working the search engines.  While the oil spill has drawn a huge volume of media attention, British Petroluem is using search engines and social networking for damage control.

Media engines, from ABC to report that BP has spent a small fortune purchasing targeted search phrases.  The end result of spending an estimated $10,000 per day on PPC or pay per click advertising is top spot in search results pages.   The higher the listing, the more likely to draw traffic.  While the company explains the action is to provide information to the public, essentially, they redirect web traffic from media coverage to their own website.

It’s only natural to wonder, though, that given the media attention the BP pay per click campaign has garnered, if more harm than good will come to the company’s image.

In addition to an aggressive pay per click campaign targeting such terms as ‘oil spill’, ‘Gulf oil leak’ and numerous variations, British Petroleum is using social networking in an attempt rebuild its image and spin the story.

As mentioned in NPR’s coverage, BP has embraced social networking to rebuild its image, using Twitter and Facebook to distribute  updates and news.  At face value, this seems like a smart move, but a spokesman for BP is quoted as conceeding that the company “puts the same information on its social media sites that it releases to the traditional media outlets.”

Given that social networking sites are built around the premise of engaging in conversation, such one-way declarations are unlikely to have the effect BP desires.

Sure, social networking can be an effective vehicle for building link volume – which is a smart SEO strategy, but if your networking fails to engage people either in discussion or to follow/friend, how effective is it?  The fact is  using social networking this way can actually fuel public anger over the oil spill and BP.

While most businesses would simply receive lackluster search engine visibility for failing to use social networking as a way to engage customers, this radical example indicates misuse can be a public relations disaster.

While there is absolutely no bright side to the Gulf oil spill, this is an extreme example of the role search engines and social networking can play for business today – if used properly.  Beyond reaching new customers, both are tools for branding and public relations.   Organic search engine optimization is best for long term visibility, but when immediate return is needed, BP’s campaign has clearly shown paid advertising is the way to go.

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