Friday 05 September, 2014

Shell’s Social Media Oil Spill

Can trolling affect social change? That’s perhaps what environmental activists think. They’ve launched a full-scale social media smear campaign against Shell Oil and it’s turned into a disaster quickly.

Everybody Loves Arctic Oil Drilling!

For its campaign promoting drilling the arctic, an idea that’s not extremely popular with anyone except for… oil companies, Shell provided image templates and asked its customers to add their own text to create ads for it. The company thought that cute pictures of bears, narwhals and kids would get people writing uplifting messages about how drilling the arctic is going to make life wonderful for all of us.

It’s amazing that a company this big could so completely misjudge the public. Folks took the images and ran with it. They created sarcastic ads that lampooned Shell Oil, teaching the giant corporation something its marketing department didn’t realize – people hate it.

Just to give you an example, one ad showed a cute picture of an arctic fox and read, ‘Your SUV can’t run on cute. Let’s go.’

Of course it didn’t use the satirical ads. However, the ads have been posted on other websites and shared all over the web.

Crowdsourcing to an Angry Mob

What Shell was doing (or trying to do) is called crowdsourcing. It sounds like the buzzword of the week, but it’s actually a marketing idea that’s been around for a while. It’s gaining popularity now because companies are seeking to engage their customers directly through the Internet, especially on social media sites like Facebook and Twitter, and these sites are perfect for crowdsourcing.

Crowdsourcing is a way of generating new ideas, engaging customers, and democratizing marketing. It puts customers in control, which is a good thing as long as they don’t see you as a greedy, earth-destroying and soulless corporate giant.

The Social Media Oil Spill Spreads

The nightmare was far from over for Shell. People began putting the satirical ads on the company’s Twitter feed. It had to work overtime to remove them. Among other things, it issued desperate pleas to stop, threatened legal action (an empty threat), and actually asked people not to re-tweet. It was a complete disaster and the company only made it worse by responding this way.

Environmental group Greenpeace then took the ball and ran with it, launching its very own social media campaign against the oil company. Among other things, it started a fake Shell Oil Twitter feed to ridicule the company further. Many people weren’t aware that it was a hoax.

The Great Takeaway

Hopefully Shell learned its lesson. DON’T ask for customer engagement if you don’t know how they feel about you. You will get what you ask for many times over. If a social media disaster occurs, you’ve got to do better than begging and threatening the people who are supposed to be your followers. Maybe you should have a sense of humor about it and roll with the punches.

Is Shell going to give up on drilling the arctic because of the witty ads? Of course not. But activists were victorious in raising awareness about the issue and turning the oil giant into a laughing stock.

Bob Steele

Bob Steele is an entrepreneur, software developer, marketer, and author living in the Denver metropolitan area. He’s an avid outdoorsman who loves skiing, hiking, fishing, boating, and just plain having fun. His interests include games, space, technology, physics, cooking (well eating actually), economics, business, internationalism, and team sports. With over thirty years of professional consulting experience, Bob has been exposed to many diverse business models and has gained a sensible approach to life. Bob’s company, WaveCentric is focused on commerce, marketing, and entertainment related products.

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