It’s one thing to have a disgruntled customer or two lambaste you on social media (happens every day to every major brand and most minor ones). It’s another to have idiot employees post videos that make your product or company look disgusting (like Burger King’s current problem). But it another to have organizations who hate you, with major brand names of their own like Greenpeace, set out in an organized fashion to ridicule you, embarrass you and generally make life difficult–all using the remarkable power of social media. Combining communication savvy, social media, some real budgets and a conviction of their moral rectitude, this kind of attack should cause shivers of concern among all major organizations.
The campaign, and it is now seen as that, against Shell organized by Greenpeace and the activist group The Yes Men started with a hilarious viral video that presumably showed Shell celebrating their arctic drilling success at a big party at the Space Needle in Seattle. The video was supposedly shot by one of the party goers using their smartphone. The centerpiece was a cake shaped like a oil well that was supposed to pour out chocolate to an honored guest. Instead, it spewed the dark, oil-like liquid all over the poor old lady, and when they tried to stop the gushing, they were heard saying we can’t stop it. Extremely well done spoof, with considerably dollars spent to create it, and of course it went viral. To date, nearly 800,000 views. And the comments show that those pre-disposed to hating big oil were taking great delight in this visible PR fail by a big oil company.
But this was just the beginning. The group set up a fake Twitter account called ShellisPrepared posing as Shell PR. But they are very clever. They also posted a bunch of fake Shell ads, made to look very much like the current “Let’s Go” campaign but with subtle and humiliating messages. Then they used the ShellisPrepared twitter account to make it look like Shell was desperately trying to pull the ads. Of course, that just fires up the digital lynch mob and hyper-networking among the vast crowd of energy users who hate energy providers did the rest. This is addition to the very sophisticated fake website called arcticready.com. This costs money folks!
The lesson is chilling. You have people who hate you? You have organizations that would like to see you fail? You have citizens part of this digital lynch mob just waiting for a PR slip up–and if one isn’t coming will create one for you?
It’s one thing to face activists, opponents and the like. The fake Twitter accounts like BP faced in the gulf spill create some interesting challenges and dilemmas. But this new kind of very sophisticated, planned, expensive and coordinated attack seems to be something quite new and very challenging.
Would love to hear your thoughts on how to combat this new threat.
(Later comment–What is interesting to me about this kind of attack is the conflict of values represented by the digital lynch mob. I suspect that watching this causes a severe case of cognitive dissonance. The very crowd that touts the ultimate value of disclosure, transparency, honesty and openness also loves this kind of dishonesty, deception, and lack of transparency of those behind it–all because they share a hatred against the target/victim. This is one of the great hypocrisies of the digital lynch mob.
This story is starting to get some serious media attention, particularly around the issue of duping journalists. I continue to sense that this elaborate disinformation campaign is going to mark a serious new challenge for major brands as it will be duplicated by any-old activist group. At the same time, I believe it has the possibility of seriously undermining the credibility of Greenpeace as a serious environmental voice. Even those who hate Big Oil have to think twice about the tactics in the age of authenticity and transparency.
Forbes’ take (including interview with one of the perpetrators) (unlike the Forbe’s blogger, I don’t see a lot of hilarity in this)