The BP oil spill brought an unyielding spotlight of media coverage to the sunshine state and its Gulf Coast neighbors. Now what?
Days turned into weeks, weeks turned into months with nonstop, wall-to-wall coverage of the disaster, it’s effect on the local economy, human interest stories and enough beach-backed live shots to piece together your very own episode of Miami Vice.
Even with a $25 million BP grants to Florida, Alabama, Mississippi and Louisiana, fighting this story -- let alone the spill -- with traditional advertising seems to be gaining little traction in consumer minds.
Yes, the leak reportedly has been stopped, but the spill continues to bubble up within consumers' perception of Florida.
So, what should Florida and some of its local communities do with additional grant money?
To start, don’t spend it on advertising. At least not yet.
Why? Because consumer sentiment has been pushed so far toward the disaster side of the story, it would be difficult -- if not impossible -- to pull people's perceptions back toward reality in the short-term.
By the way, the reality is that most of the beaches in northwest Florida are clean and open, with more sand than tar.
Consider a sentiment analysis study about Florida tourism and the oil spill on Twitter, which I selected because of available reporting tools from Wordle and the popularity of the social network.
The graph below is simply a visual representation of the data. If I had conducted a full study about Florida or a local community, a much deeper analysis would have been required to reduce the margin of error.
As you can see, the consumer sentiment -- at least on Twitter -- is very focused on the negative implications of the spill, rather than the recovery, deals or jet ski rentals.
This finding corresponds with a new Travelocity poll of 2000 Americans which found that 25% of respondents cited the Florida Keys as one of the top three destinations most impacted by the spill, "although the beaches are clean and open."
Knowing this disparity as evidenced by the Twitter analysis and the Travelocity poll, my recommendation for a local Florida community or tourism board would be to focus efforts on public relations and social media outreach (find as many partners, champions and brand advocates as possible to tweet for tourism) for the next several weeks.
Ah, but the stats above show such a large divide on Twitter and by implication other social networks, so why would you dedicate more resources to that medium?
Frankly, because you have to start somewhere -- and that somewhere is at the grassroots level of this campaign.
This strategy should not be about placing a full-page ad, running some TV spots and hoping the message comes through.
No, should be a post-to-post, one-on-one communication combat mission to sway the opinion of your potential visitor.
This strategy will require micro communication, before mass communication.
Once complete (easier said than done), re-evaluate the overall sentiment, and if the gap between oil-spill fears and Florida tourism has narrowed, then begin shifting resources to a more traditional advertising campaign.
Sure, that full-page ad in the New York Times may have looked great, and I am sure the circulation numbers were high, but if the readers of the paper did not absorb the messaging into their overall perception of Florida, it will be quickly overshadowed by the next tweet.