It's at times like these you might hear me say that social media just isn't for everyone. A company whose actions are generally quite contentious, would do well not to draw attention to them, no?
Not so for Shell, who thought it wise to open up one of their least popular ideas to the social sphere.
They asked members of the public to design an advert for Arctic energy production, using beautiful pictures of Artic scenery and overlaying their own text. Here's what happened:
"Turn the power on, it's time to melt some ice"
"You can't run your SUV on 'cute'"
"Some say catastrophe, we say opportunity"
People wrote what they really thought on the posters. In an ironic twist the social voting system (usually employed to encourage users to filter out inappropriate content by voting it down) has meant that those who don't want to destroy the environment, are able to keep their views in the spotlight by others affirming their messages.
It really couldn't have worked less in Shell's favour if Greenpeace had orchestrated the campaign.
I honestly don't know what Shell were thinking, and the PR department must be panicking now as the site is still currently showing these messages at the time of posting.
Where to go from here? I honestly don't know. They have a few options:
- Remove the website entirely - Not a very 'social' response and would lead to ridicule online and possibly from the press, but would blow over (relatively) quickly.
- Engage with the public, asking them to stick to the advert's intended messaging - although asking people politely to stop is the usual first response to trolling (and a good one) it doesn't really work here because what is being said isn't offensive, and the public have the moral highground.
- Remove the page and replace with a conciliatory message saying something like "we have listened to your concerns and are taking them on board. Please bear with us while we evaluate the best course of action" - Ha! Yeah right. Again, other companies may be able to make this approach fly, but when you're an oil company trying to drill the arctic we're not going to fall for it...
Moral of the story? If your proposal is going to upset the majority of the general public then don't put it to them publicly via social media. Definitely don't give them a chance to respond. Oh and don't ever, ever, try to con them into creating an ad campaign for you and your morally dubious campaign!