The Coast Guard is responding to a major oil spill in New Orleans that is shutting down a lot of shipping traffic on the Mississippi new New Orleans. Since we work with the Coast Guard and a lot of major oil and shipping companies on crisis communication, each event provides important lessons learned. A quick observation here. Google “new orleans oil spill” and you will quickly see how social media spins an event like this.
The headlines from nola.com focus on the blame game immediately–in this case unlicensed tug operators.
However, much of the blog traffic relating to the spill, like most blog traffic is political–and most very leftish it appears. This comment on the Barack Obama website links McCain’s decision not to come to New Orleans to support offshore drilling to the spill. Another blog comment (along with video of the spill from Jackson Square) is more direct–this spill shows what would happen if McCain becomes president and the moratorium on offshore drilling is removed. Never mind the fact that the spill had nothing to do with offshore drilling other than it involves a petroleum product.
The lessons ought to be clear. Communicators from companies and organizations responding to a major event like this need to be prepared for an awful lot of chatter that is way off the mark in terms of relevance, accuracy, and value. But the chatter will be significant. An event like this will be used, in more powerful ways than ever, to support the agendas of the observers. It is really no different from watercooler conversation because this kind of commenting and spinning and rumor mongering and misinformation has always occurred. Just never with the speed, volume, and potential impact that there is today.