Crowdsourcing and Crisis Communication pt. 3
The world was shocked on April 20, 2010 as BP´s oil drilling rig Deepwater Horizon exploded in the Gulf of Mexico. According to the US government more than 780 million liters (about 206 gallons) of crude oil spilled out of the well over the next 12 weeks, until finally, on the 86th day the well was covered by a giant, make-shift cap. In early August, mud and cement was pumped into the well to seal it. Pressure relief drilling – which took place from mid-May through mid-September – helped to pump in even more mud and cement, permanently sealing the well.
The ramifications of the catastrophe were appalling. During the initial explosion 11 workers died. As Greenpeace reported, over 8,000 animal and plant species in the immediate area were also affected. Thousands of dead animals – including birds, turtles, dolphins and one whale – were found. The economic consequences were also devastating: fishermen were out of work, and the tourism industry suffered a hard blow. The oil spill disaster had severe consequences for BP as well. The corporation continues to deal with the effects of the incident and the questions about its level of liability. BP faces multiple law suits, many in the form of damages claims.
How did the corporation react in April, as the catastrophe of what would turn out to be the biggest oil spill ever was unfolding? One of the corporation´s efforts to quell the maelstrom of public reproach was by using crowdsourcing. BP developed a strategy to gather ideas at www.alternativeresponsetechnology.com. The aim of the website was to gather possible solutions to deal with the crisis. Anyone who wanted to do something to help, or who just had a good idea to contribute, now had the possibility to propose solutions. Whether they included elaborate technology or just a simple idea, the website was a way to reach BP directly. Using an inquiry form or calling in, anyone could contribute the details of their ideas. Many of these included very specific materials and equipment, and later a team of experts looked into the applicability of these ideas.
Many individuals, as well as companies, submitted their ideas on the website. That´s how Clean Beach, a company specializing in sand-cleaning technology, convinced BP to utilize their services. The company´s tractor-like device, which mechanically separate oil from sand, was then used on beaches of the Gulf. Thousands of ideas reached BP through the website. And BP considered, and ended up implementing, a number of them. Critics saw the website as an attempt to save BP´s damaged reputation. Even if that´s true, this creative brand of crisis management PR spoke to many people and the crowd could take part in finding a solution.