BP, corporations and social media

Joshua-Michele Ross has just published an, as usual, insightful post about the oil disaster in the gulf, BP and social media.

Josh says that BP "as a corporation is structured to be profitable at all costs.” While I might agree with him on this I have also worked with BP and spent time with some if its most senior engineers who were responsible for standards and safety (this was a few years ago ago and they are not the guys dealing with the current situation). They were smart, concerned, experienced people with a high degree of integrity who were talking to me about the possibility of using social media to improve their ways of dealing with the unpredictable better. They were trying to balance the needs of regulation, documentation and the slow wheels of organisational life, with the real and unpredictable world that they had to work in.

This seems to me be to be exactly where the media in social media is so misleading. Josh is right that much of the buzz around this disaster from social media folks is about the story and who wins or loses the PR war. Even the things that Dachis are saying sounds like spin and management bollocks rather than any radical way of changing the way big orgs work.

For me what is much more interesting is how the social web can enable complex and effective ways of working to be better able to avoid things like this happening in the first place and fixing them better when they do. It is yet another situation where the Cluetrain was spot on with “globally distributed, near instant, person to person conversations”.

Josh says of the relationship between corporations and the society they operate in:

I believe that social technologies put selection pressures on businesses over the long run – and will make  it harder and harder for corporate profiteers to thrive.  This to me is the promise of social business — over time, businesses that abide by a social contract (respect, authenticity, reciprocity, earned trust etc.) will outperform those that abide by a strictly corporate (or legal) contract.

I reckon the same sort of contract with staff will help avoid situations like this in the future. However there is no way corporations can shrug off decades of crap and disfunction and become organic networks of autonomous individuals. This is why I reckon it is going to take decades for the full potential of this to become apparent.