SOLUTION: SeaWorlds CSR Campaigns Using Twitter Critique

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Ethical Practice of Social
Media in Public Relations
Edited by
Marcia W. DiStaso
and Denise Sevick Bortree
Taylor & Francis Croup
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Ethical practice of social media in public relations / edited by Marcia W.
DiStaso & Denise Sevick Bortree.
pages cm — (Routledge research in public relations)
Includes bibliographical references and index.
1. Social media—Moral and ethical aspects. 2. Social responsibility
of business. 3. Public relations. 4. Internet—Moral and ethical
aspects. I. DiStaso, Marcia W., 1970- II. Bortree, Denise Sevick.
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Corporate Social Responsibility
in Environmental Crisis
A Case Study of BP’s Youtube Response
to the Deepwater Horizon Crisis
Denise Sevick Bortree
On April 20, 2010, an explosion on the Deepwater Horizon platform in the
Gulf of Mexico started a chain of events that would lead to 11 deaths and
millions of gallons of oil pouring into the Gulf waters. BP was the key actor
in the crisis, and used many communication channels during and after the
crisis to inform its stakeholders about its efforts to cap the well and restore
the Gulf region. On May 27, 2010, BP’s YouTube channel was launched
with over 20 videos. During the first 18 months of the crisis, it posted over
300 videos to the channel. This study examines the ways in which BP used
the videos to communicate its corporate social responsibility and to pro­
mote its restoration efforts during the environmental crisis.
Corporate Social Responsibility and Ethics
Corporate social responsibility (CSR) has been defined as addressing legal,
ethical, and economic responsibilities of an organization in relationship
with key stakeholders (Carroll, 1979; Carroll, 1999; Garriga & Mele,
2004; Maignan &c Ferrell, 2004). It is often understood to be discretion­
ary acts by organizations to give back to communities and societies that
have supported them (Kotler & Lee, 2005). In the environmental realm,
this means that organizations need to consider their impact on people,
habitat and species, and the economy. Although, social responsibility by
a company can have a positive impact in its bottom line (Joyner & Payne,
2002), as does environmental responsibility (Wahba, 2008), CSR actions
are considered to be ethical because of their positive impact on employees,
communities, the environment, and society.
CSR can take on many forms including corporate social marketing, sus­
tainable business practices, philanthropy, and cause promotion (Kotler &
Lee, 2005). CSR has been leveraged by corporations for decades and in
Denise Sevick. Bortree
many cases has been incorporated into accountable reporting strategies
(KPMG, 2011). Today even mid-size companies are rapidly beginning to
adopt CSR strategies, with a recent report indicating that as many as two
thirds are currently implementing CSR programs (CSRWire, 2013).
Research has suggested companies that have effective CSR programs
may be more insulated from certain types of crisis than are those without
effective programs (Eisingerich et al, 2011). Recent studies suggest that this
process works the other way as well. Handling a crisis well tends to protect
the reputation of an organizations’ CSR programs (Haigh &c Brubaker,
2010; Haigh & Dardis, 2012)
Crisis and Image Restoration Strategies
Organizations that experience crisis often suffer reputational damage and
must work to restore their reputation in the public eye (Coombs, 2000;
Coombs & Holladay, 2008). A crisis, often defined as any event that pro­
duces negative consequences for an organization (Fearn-Banks, 2002),
must be addressed by an organization. Research suggests six strategies that
may be used in this process—compensation (offering payment or gifts),
ingratiation (praising stakeholders), apology (taking responsibility and ask­
ing for forgiveness), denial (stating that there is no crisis), justification (min­
imizing perceived damage), and reminder (pointing to good works of the
organization in the past) (Coombs, 2007). The effectiveness of the strate­
gies depends on the nature of the crisis. For example, organizations that are
culpable for the crisis should not engage in denial or justification. Rather,
apology and compensation would be more effective strategies.
Managing crisis through social media provides the opportunity for
immediate dissemination of information; however, the effectiveness of
crisis management through social media channels is still in question (Liu
et al 2011; Shultz et al 2011; Moody, 2011). Research suggests that some
types of information are more readily accepted through traditional media
or word-of-mouth rather than social media (Liu et al, 2011). The study
presented here measure responses to all crisis videos in a social media chan­
nel and compares their acceptance to those that tout CSR messages. This
comparison will provide insight into the relationship between content and
response in a social media outlet.
Prior research on the Deepwater Horizon crisis suggests that in its press
releases BP most often accepted responsibility and offered compensation
to victims (Harlow, Brantley, & Harlow, 2011). The same held true for
their social media channels (Muralidharan, Dillistone, & Shin, 2011).
Other research found that during the crisis, 34% of BP’s press releases
were official updates and 23% addressed its social responsibility. What is
not known is the types of image restoration strategies that BP attempted to
use through its CSR videos during and after the Deepwater Horizon cri­
sis. One could argue that CSR is a form of image restoration strategy that
Corporate Social Responsibility in Environmental Crisis
takes responsibility for the damage caused by the crisis. If so, CSR could be
closely aligned to apology.
As an organization emerges from a crisis and begins to leverage its CSR
strategies, the way in which it frames its actions have implication for accep­
tance by the public. Framing, defined as structures through which individu­
als make sense of information (Reese, 2007), help guide readers to the most
important material and offer a sense of priority for topics. Hallahan (1999)
suggests that framing can be a valuable tool in public relations that can help
guide publics in their understanding of situations, organizational action,
news, and responsibility, among others.
Much of the dialogue around the Deepwater Horizon crisis focused on
environmental issues, including impact to species and habitats, impact on
individuals, and impact on broader regions in the southern U.S. Environ­
mental framing has been studied for many years, and the results suggest
that media often adopt frames from information subsidies when addressing
environmental topics (Reber &c Berger, 2005), making the proper selection
of framing particularly important. Other studies of environmental fram­
ing (Dardis, 2007; Olausson, 2009; Davis, 1995; Bortree et al, 2012) offer
insights into the most effective strategies for framing these messages. They
find that when people feel that they might lose something (loss frame) or
they might experience an immediate impact (current generation), they are
more likely to take positive action toward the environment (Davis, 1995).
In the case of the Deepwater Horizon crisis, focus on immediate needs
of the stakeholders and an understanding of how loss might be prevented
should be more positively received than other types of frames.
Case Study: Deepwater Horizon Crisis
This chapter will examine framing and the use of CSR as an image restora­
tion strategy by BP during the Deepwater Horizon crisis. On April 20, 2010,
an explosion at a Deepwater Horizon oil rig off the Gulf of Mexico set off
a chain of events that will forever be linked to the corporation BP. When
the media discovered that the oil rig was leased by BP, the company found
itself in the center of the crisis. Slowly, BP began to engage in social media in
response to the crisis. A week after the blast (April 27), BP took to Twitter
and began to tweet at the handle @BP_America (BP, n.d.). On May 2 (day
13) the company made its first post to Facebook regarding the crisis. On May
18 (day 29) the official BP YouTube channel was launched and the first video
was posted on May 27, 2010. Numerous attempts to cap the well failed, and
finally on July 15, 2010, 86 days after the initial explosion, the well was
officially capped (Robertson 8c Fountain, 2010). By then BP had suffered
significant reputational damage and began an active campaign to boost its
Denise Sevick Bortree
image through an aggressive corporate social responsibility campaign that
it documented in video and posted to its YouTube channel. The campaign
included partnerships with local organizations and activist groups, signifi­
cant financial contributions to boost the local economy, and prominent use
of local employees to establish a sense of proximity for the company.
On October 26, 2011 (15 months after the well was capped), BP was
granted permission to resume drilling in the Gulf of Mexico (Krauss,
2011). This study takes a look at the all videos during the life of the crisis
and then specifically analyzes CSR videos that BP used to repair its reputa­
tion between the end of the crisis (July 15, 2010) and the day BP received a
drilling permit for the Gulf (October 26, 2011). By examining the trends of
BP’s CSR communication on YouTube over the 15 months, the study offers
insight into the way the company leveraged a digital channel to address
concerns of the residents of the Gulf, government officials, and investors.
Three Phases of the Crisis
This study examines all three phases of the crisis that are defined below.
1. Explosion/oil spill (4/20/10—7/14/10). On April 20, 2010, the first
phase began when an explosion on the Deepwater Horizon platform
in the Gulf of Mexico led to the leak of thousands of gallons of oil
from an underwater well.
2. Post well cap (7/15-10 -9/18/10). The second phase began on July 15,
2010 when after multiple attempts over a number of weeks, BP finally
capped the leaking well; however, the well was not yet declared dead,
meaning it still posed a potential threat.
3. Well declared dead (9/19/10-10/22/11). The third phase, the post­
threat phase, began on September 19, 2010, when the well was
declared officially dead (Fountain, 2010), and BP could turn its full
attention toward a restoration in the Gulf. The end of the crisis, in
this study, was set as October 22, 2011 when BP was given a license
to begin drilling for oil again in the Gulf.
Three Categories of Videos
On its YouTube channel, BP organized videos related to the Deepwater
Horizon crisis into three playlist. Presumably, these categories were devel­
oped to make access to information simple and to promote its responsible
actions during the crisis. These were used in the analysis of this study.
1. Reassuring health and safety—Videos in this category showed orga­
nizations how to address safety and health issues that had arisen dur­
ing the crisis. Too, the videos showcased some of the processes that
BP was using to ensure health and safety.
Corporate Social Responsibility in Environmental Crisis
2. Restoring the economy—This series of videos focused on the eco­
nomic impact of the crisis on Gulf coast communities. Videos featured
local businesses talking about how they were working with BP, and
some videos gave information on applying for financial assistance.
3. Restoring the environment—The environmental videos addressed
BP’s actions toward environmental damage caused by the crisis.
Many of these videos featured wildlife being rescued and returned to
the wild or habitat being cleaned up.
Research questions
Studies of the Deepwater Horizon crisis have not looked indepth at BP’s
use of YouTube to disseminate its messages to key audiences. This study
will explore the way BP leveraged its CSR activities during the Deepwater
Horizon crisis by answering the following research questions.
To what degree were BP’s CSR video messages rejected (or
accepted) by viewers?
How were BP’s CSR messages framed?
Which image restoration strategies were used in BP’s CSR video
How were images and references to people, places, and the envi­
ronment used in BP’s CSR video messages?
Are there relationships between images and the degree to which
CSR video messages are rejected?
To answer the research questions, a quantitative content analysis was con­
ducted on the 315 YouTube videos posted on BP’s channel between May 27,
2010 (the day the channel was launched), and October 22,2011. Two trained
coders pulled information about each video from the YouTube site and then
viewed the video and conducted additional coding on the content. Intercoder
reliability was conducted using 10% of the videos, and results were calcu­
lated using Cronbach’s alpha. Overall results were high (a = .97), and the
reliability for each category is reported below with the category descriptions.
Coding Scheme
Videos were coded for their date posted (a = 1), length (a = 1), number of
views (a = 1), number of comments (a = 1), number of likes (a = 1), and
number of dislikes (a = 1) as reported on the YouTube website. Then, each
video was viewed to determine whether it included CSR content. Videos
Denise Sevick Bortree
that were considered CSR were subjected to additional content coding as
reported below.
YouTube permits viewers to select a “like” or “dislike” response to vid­
eos. The dislike percentages for the videos in this study were calculated by
comparing the number of dislikes to the number of views. For example, if
a video was viewed 100 times and disliked 10 times, it had a 10% dislike
score. The author reasoned that those who indicated dislike had strong
negative feelings toward the video.
Frames. Building on prior PR literature (Hallahan, 1999; Bortree et al,
2007), the study looked at ways that the videos framed the issue, including
emotional vs. rational, restoration and hope, attitudes of Gulf residents
(positive, neutral, or negative), and partnerships with others (nonprofit,
for-profit, government, and individual/celebrity). Each potential frame was
coded as present or absent in a video (a = .96).
Image restoration strategies. Six image restoration strategies were coded
in this study: compensation, ingratiation, apology, denial, justification, and
reminder (Coombs, 2007). Each strategy was coded as present or absent in
a video (a = .97).
References. This study was interested in the people, locations, and other
items referenced in the videos. To measure this, videos were coded as ref­
erenced (or not referenced) in images or in words for the following: Gulf
residents, BP employees, government officials, specific communities (towns,
cities, neighborhoods, etc.), states, species, plant life, water, beaches, or
food (a = .94).
Images. Separately, the videos were coded for the images that appeared
in them. Coded images included: BP employees, employees helping others,
Gulf residents, residents helping others, government officials, animals/fish,
beaches, water, cities or communities, underwater images, BP-owned sites,
people laughing/enjoying self, people angry/frustrated, women, men, Cau­
casians, or minorities (a = .95).
BP posted 315 videos to its YouTube channel between April 20, 2010 and
October 22, 2011. The degree to which these videos were accepted by the
public were likely influenced by time and by the number of views, as the
publics’ anger began to subside as the crisis moved into a post-crisis phase.
Too, videos that received more views likely were more disliked, as the
publics’ anger about the crisis would lead it to view and share videos. A
graphical representation of the relationship between time and the number
of dislikes can be found in Figure 8.1, and a representation of the rela­
tionship between views and dislikes can be found in Figure 8.2. The vid­
eos were categorized into the three timeframes and an ANCOVA was run
to compare degree to which the videos were disliked during each period.
Corporate Social Responsibility in Environmental Crisis
Relationship between views and
dislike percentage
Figure 8.1
Relationship between time and dislike percentage across all BP videos.
Even controlling for time and views, there was still a significant difference
between the dislike percentage for the three phases (p = .048) with phase 1
being most disliked and phase 3 being least disliked.
To answer research question one about the degree to which BP’s CSR
video messages were rejected by viewers, an ANCOVA analysis was run
Figure 8.2
Relationship between views and dislike percentage across all BP videos.
Denise Sevick Bortree
that controlled for time and views. The analysis suggested that the three
types of CSR videos—health and safety, economy, and environment—
were significantly more disliked (F (1,306) =6.33, p = .01) than the other
videos posted by BP during the 18-month period. Among the three types
of CSR videos, health and safety was most disliked followed by environ­
ment, and videos on the economy were least disliked (F (1, 51) = 19.71,
p .01), Gulf residents (p
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