In my last post I talked about an interview I’d heard on CBC radio’s Spark with June Cohen, Executive Producer at TED. In addition to the concept of taking “ideas worth spreading” to developing countries via TED’s new Open TV Project, the other topic Cohen was jazzed up about and that interested me was what she called “radical openness.” (Or as it’s also known, “radical transparency.”)

And radical transparency has become a LOT more interesting in the wake of the BP disaster in the Gulf of Mexico.

BP is intent on getting its message out. The company’s tweets are frequent, as are its status updates on Facebook (it looks like the same feed). The BP website is up-to-the-minute with video, claim information and more, featured on the home page and the “Gulf of Mexico Response” page as well.

And, in a May 21 press release, posted on its website, the company reiterated its commitment to its oil spill response transparency.

Still, it feels a lot like “push PR.” And organizations like The Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW) and Greenpeace are demanding “more footage and documents from BP to assess the true situation of the oil spill.”

(Interestingly, the original push for transparency from BP on its website may have come from the White House, rather than BP itself.)

The really big question for me is, where is the conversation?

BP is managing its messaging very well, but that’s all it is – messaging. BP asks, “Do you have ideas to help us?” and lets visitors submit enquiries on its website, but those questions and answers aren’t visible on the site. Similarly, the BP America Facebook page shows posts ostensibly by “BP + Others” on its wall, but every post is prefaced by the BP logo. There are no posts under “Just Others.” (BP’s failings here are skewered in a great fake twitter feed – see BPGlobalPR).

So the critique is taking place publically on the web, but it’s running in a parallel line to BP’s carefully crafted “response” messaging – and two simultaneous monologues don’t make a dialogue, folks.

There’s something radical happening, all right, something that will affect our oceans, marine life, water fowl and much more – but transparency isn’t part of it.

AuthorJinnean Barnard