This article first appeared on commPRO.biz. A scenario recently surfaced that cuts way too close to horrible for most marketers. In June, a video appeared of a Shell Oil launch party gone wrong. The party was to kick off drilling in the Arctic. The video looks very grassroots and incognito, and was widely shared on YouTube. The video even shows a security agent at the private event objecting to the filming, much like you’d expect.
Next, very real-looking press releases appeared to deny Shell’s involvement in the launch party. But the next move upped the game.
Hmm, a crowdsourced, interactive ad campaign to promote Arctic drilling? On the surface, it seems like an interesting interactive social media concept, right?
Next, Twitter lit up with tweets and retweets lamenting the site, complaining about the incompetence of the social media team that wasn’t responding, asking people to not retweet these horrible lies, stating Shell was going to sue the imposters, and so on. It got worse with every passing moment. One thing after another fueled and stoked the viral fire.
If it were real, all this would be a horrific problem. But Shell didn’t orchestrate any of it. Greenpeace, an environmental activist group that wants to keep Shell from drilling in the Arctic, created the campaign. Ouch.
Take a moment to absorb this. There was a social media onslaught with tweets, retweets, public displays of angst about the situation, and more. There was a PR trap where the activists played both sides. And it was all fake. It was a coordinated digital protest; a parody at best and a copyright/trademark violation at worst. (Check out a list of stories about the whole scenario here .)
Did I already say “ouch”?
What would you do?
What would you do if this happened to you?
Shell is scrambling to update information and get the correct word out, but it’s very difficult to do. Once information goes viral, it’s very challenging to unring the bell. It will be a full-time effort to seek out all mentions of the false information and correct them. Think about it: How actively do you verify information as juicy as this before you share it? It all gets out of hand very quickly.
But even if you do get out correct information, the people who already read it won’t know the update, right? And once the wave recedes, it’s hard to get the same frenzy of attention the initial rush received. This is a total bummer of a situation.
Some thoughts to consider
Full disclosure: I am not a fan of big oil. Regardless, there’s a big lesson for all of us to learn about social media. Here are some thoughts to consider:
1. Listening is important. The sooner you know about a crisis, the better. Shell could have found out and responded sooner, but it didn’t.
2. You can’t solve crisis situations by ignoring them. Participate full force and keep going. You will probably have to out-talk the detractors somehow.
3. Take time to build a really good online reputation. Do this both as a company and as a social media savvy citizen in the marketplace. It will help insulate you in situations like this one.
4. Social media isn’t just a group of crazy kids causing problems. These activists knew their political and media chops. They knew where and how to push, and they executed with pretty serious skill. Social media can hurt you more than you may admit. You must respect it.
5. If your business model is easy to make fun of, harmful to society, or controversial, you will have to deal with something like this. Be ready.
What do you think? If you had to advise Shell on how to deal with this in the future, what would you say?
Vicki @Smartwoman Flaugher, is a digital reputation development consultant, and she speaks and writes about social media, SEO, and content marketing at the head blogger at the Social Media Zone. (Image via)