Will Top Kill and Oil Spill Kill BP?


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The BP oil spill has been front and center in the news and in our minds for the past month or so. The numbers geek in me decided to look at social media numbers and see what the story is. As a first order of business, I looked at the trendline across 3 topics that I built: “Oil spill”, “British Petroleum” and “Top Kill” (which refers to the BP operation to curb the levels of spillage – more technical details here). This is the data I got back on the past 30 days of oil spill news:

The spill happened on 4.20.10, which is beyond this view window. However, we can observe definite spikes in conversation amidst already elevated levels. One of the developments responsible for the spikes occurring on 5.3.10 was the growing pressure on BP by the White House to research causes as well as take care of the problem monetarily (see White House press conference here that surfaced the smaller spike on 4.30.10). It seems that there was a relative lull between 5.5 and 5.24, with a large volume of conversation gaining steam between 5.24 and 5.26. These conversations were driven primarily by the launch of the Top Kill project and the fake BP PR Twitter account and the decision to livestream Top Kill.

The interesting takeaway from this chart is that the BP conversation trend mirrors the conversation trend about the oil spill in general, which basically points to the fact that most of BP’s identity is now wrapped up in the oil spill context. Looking at the velocity of the BP conversation increase, it’s extremely shocking to see that the conversation level increased by over 3.00%, going from 16.3k mentions to over half a million month-to-date vs. last month-to-date (see below)! The company’s brand legacy will be intertwined with this disaster for years to come.

The amount of the conversation is simply staggering. On some days, there have been as many as 30 thousand messages across blogs, Twitter, video, forums and discussion boards, as well as online news. I drilled in manually into each of the “spikes” to uncover the top stories driving them. However, with that volume it is simply impossible to digest anything beyond top 20 or so stories per day. Similar to the oil story, scale is a real issue for large companies. Drilling into events makes sense to a point, and the ability to sort by impact, influence and reach (all of which is possible within our platform) definitely helps. But to really understand discussions going on under a particular topic, more text analysis is necessary. Topic discovery, made possible with tag phrases, is one of the first steps you can take in order to drill down into data intelligently. Let’s take a look at what bubbles up within the “BP” topic, as measured over the past two weeks.

It is quite clear how the public feels about BP: the largest tag is “Scum of the earth”. Some other interesting tags show conversation around the national origin of BP (American vs. British) and the size of the oil slick (the size of Puerto Rico), as well as calling Obama un-American for allegedly dragging his feet in the cleanup process. Let’s look at just May 24-26th, the heaviest volume days for BP:

Even though general sentiment (BP is Scum of the earth) is unchanged, the accusation level has increased to the level of “Accidental terrorism”, and focuses on the growing following on the spoof BP Twitter PR account, the launch of the Top Kill initiative, and the call to boycot BP.

Focusing on conversation around the oil spill over the past 2 weeks (bottom left), a crazy story emerges about a man in Miami who threatens his girlfriend with a cleaver as a result of a fight about the oil spill. The conversation during the latter part of the month (5.24-5.26) (bottom right) highlights words like frustration, disaster, and criticism against Obama’s handling of the crisis.

Finally, it makes sense to take a look at the platforms driving these conversations:

As you can see, the BP conversations are primarily driven by microblogs (such as Twitter and Google Buzz) and Discussion Forums, whereas discussions about the oil spill in general lean heavier towards online news and blogs.

Republished with author's permission from original post.

Maria Ogneva
I'm the Head of Community for Yammer, the enterprise social network used by 100,000 organizations, including more than 80% of the Fortune 500. At Yammer, she is in charge of social media and community programs, fostering internal and external education and engagement. You can follow her on Twitter at @themaria or on her blog, and Yammer at @yammer and company blog.


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