Nearly 650 miles of Gulf of Mexico coast line have been environmentally and financially devastated by what President Barack Obama deemed “a potentially unprecedented environmental disaster.”
The oil-laden waters, fishing bans and social hostility of coastal towns caused a subsequent decline in tourism to the region. Gulf towns are now seeking guidance from public relations firms in efforts to rebuild their image and emphasize the region’s remaining environmental and touristic assets.
Bayou La Batre, dubbed the “Seafood Capital of Alabama,” has hired Birmingham-based Direct Communications and Panorama Public Relations to conduct media relations and social media maintenance.
As of June, Panorama Public Relations implemented Bayou La Batre’s first website, Twitter and Facebook account; marking the city’s first advancement toward establishing an online presence. Through social media, city officials addressed rumors and provided accurate, timely information on the disaster level. Currently, Bayou La Batre has about 430 Facebook friends and 340 Twitter followers.
“Bayou La Batre has been on the map, but they haven’t been on the Web,” said Rachel Barbour, administrative assistant at the Bayou La Batre Area Chamber of Commerce. “All the city ever had was a Yahoo account.”
Conducting my own research on Bayou La Batre’s Internet presence, I found the city’s official website difficult to find. Several smaller sites provided scant information on the city and its attractions, and it seems there is still much work to be done. Bayou La Batre is an unfortunate example of an unprepared city. Despite its size of less than 3,200 residents, the city should have had a PR strategy in place to communicate with residents and tourists in case of crisis.
According to the Urban Land Institute, in 2005, Hurricane Katrina destroyed nearly 60 percent of the city’s buildings and washed ashore 75 percent of the town’s shrimp boats. During the Katrina recovery, it would seem logical to implement a PR strategy in the event of a similar occurrence. I feel their efforts will only be mildly successful because Bayou La Batre’s Internet presence in an infantile stage with no established relationship with its community via web. Even the majority of Google and Bing image search results show desolate photos of Katrina and the oil spill’s devastation on the town; not a great way to lure travelers. It seems desperate, rather than strategic, that the efforts are only beginning now; after two devastating events.
Here are a few points on the importance of social media in businesses. In this case, Bayou La Batre is the “business” and failed to utilize social media to maintain an image, promote tourism, improve search engine ratings and communicate with “customers” (residents) until it was too late.
What type of Internet presence do you think a city should have? What would you expect/want your city’s website and social media to provide?