ExxonMobil : Cleaning up neatly

An emergency response strategy fits the moment

click to view

The feature

ExxonMobil, US-based oil major, has acted smartly across its web channels to contain criticism in the aftermath of a pipeline leak in the US.

ExxonMobil’s home page ‘quick links’ panel is led by ‘Mayflower, AR cleanup operations’, which leads to an ‘emergency preparedness’ page in the safety & environment section of its site. The page reports progress in the cleanup operation begun after a pipeline leak at Mayflower, Arizona [AR] on 29 March. Page content includes an embedded news report-style video showing the cleanup under way, a PDF newsletter for the local community (dated 7 April) and a News releases panel with the daily updates that have followed since the press release announcing the leak. The home page ‘news’ panel is given over to the four most recent releases, which are listed by date but repeat the same headline, Cleanup Operations Continue in Mayflower, AR.

Elsewhere, the company has used its Perspectives blog twice to counter critics. On 5 April ExxonMobil’s well-followed vice-president of public and government affairs, Ken Cohen, addressed “Some of the whoppers they’re pushing out on social media”. Five days later a follow-up post answered a page of questions raised by Greenpeace, the environmental pressure group, with a link to its website. The blog was promoted through Twitter by Mr Cohen.

The takeaway

ExxonMobil’s Mayflower leak is on nothing like the scale of its most infamous environmental disaster, the Exxon Valdez tanker spill of 1989, and news coverage of it has been concomitantly low key. How much of a part the company’s online response has played in calming the reporting is a moot point, but it is surely not a negligible factor and is certainly a worthy case study of ‘emergency preparedness’ in online communications.

Clearly the response has been organised on the back of a strategy to ‘front up’ to the incident (literally, in the case of the website home page) and then to tell the company’s side of the story calmly but forcefully and in the channels over which it has most control. It has also used the website to communicate directly with the local community, through the newsletter and video. The formulaic news release headlines and lack of promotion on the home and report page for the blog posts deaden the response somewhat, but could be construed as prudent moderation – not wanting to put any heat under the issue.

First published 16 April, 2013
< Back to Tips