Why SeaWorld’s Social Media Campaign was a #SocialFail

By Ellie Halter

Of the 2015 social media fails, #AskSeaworld is one of the worst. In March, SeaWorld created a campaign meant to regain the credibility and image of transparency that was lost in 2013 due to the documentary “Blackfish.” They created a campaign that included the hashtag “AskSeaWorld” on twitter in an effort to answer peoples questions about marine animals in captivity. The problem? Twitter users were more interested in the company’s neglectful activity and blatant dishonesty that “Blackfish” exposed and to which PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals) had previously hinted.


Tweet from SeaWorld: "Have questions about killer whale care? Tweet us! See your answer and others here: AskSeaWorld.com)

This picture from DailyMail.com shows a screenshot of an original tweet for the campaign


They gave people the chance to criticize them

The same week the Twitter campaign started, The Huffington Post published an article comparing the park’s attempt as a dive into a shark tank. They traced the critical tweets back to “blackfish,” which they say “investigated the death of orca trainer Dawn Brancheau and harshly criticized SeaWorld’s treatment of killer whales.” An article in Ad Week explained that the “hashtag Q&A” prompted twitter users to created two other hashtags: #EmptyTheTanks and #AnswertheQ.

They Left Questions Unanswered

Some critical questions even went unanswered, according to an article in The Dodo, a site created for individuals concerned about the wellbeing of animals. The site took a detailed look into which questions were and weren’t being answered, and analyzed a few responses in their article “#AskSeaWorld: The Art Of Deflecting And Why It’s Bad For Business.” In these, The Dodo gives clear examples of SeaWorld’s spokesmen answering with all types of logical fallacies, while also attempting to appear as victims of lies and dishonesty of animal rights groups like PETA.

They “went on the defensive”

According to the Orlando Sentinel, Fred Jacobs, a spokesman for SeaWorld, said he anticipated “digital harassment.” But was this harassment or negative consumer engagement? The associate director of PETA, Elise Allen, told The Daily Mail that it was “Caring people everywhere” who were disheartened by the park and deciding to engage in the conversation. “Blackfish,” along with animal rights groups and former employees, took away SeaWorld’s credibility by exposing stories of workers and facts from credible biologists. Their campaign blatantly said – trust us, we’ll give you answers –  when it was all too clear that those answers weren’t honest in the past.

"Jacking Hashtags is so 2014" #bewareoftrolls

A defensive tweet from SeaWorld by the Daily Mail

So what should SeaWorld have done? The “What Great Brands Do” author Denise Lee Yohn told the Orlando Sentinal “You’re inviting people to take over the conversation, where you really need to shape and influence the narrative as much as possible.” Instead of assuming bots and trolls found them an easy target, SeaWorld could have prevented the negative feedback. The reaction “Blackfish” and animal rights groups created was unanimously negative, so believing they might receive a positive response was poorly thought out. Aside from considering the cause of what might be upsetting these users and prompting negative alternative hashtags, SeaWorld could have done research on other companies or organizations who recovered from bad publicity, and modeled their campaign after a group who had improved their reputation successfully.

Coffee, P. (2015, March). #AskSeaWorld Reputation Campaign Fails Miserably. PR Newser. Retrieved from http://www.adweek.com/prnewser/askseaworld-reputation-campaign-fails-miserably/111686

Coffee, P. (2015, March). SeaWorld Launches Multi-Million Dollar Reputation Campaign. PR Newser. Retrieved from http://www.adweek.com/prnewser/seaworld-launches-multi-million-dollar-reputation-campaign/111366

Cronin, M. (2015, March). SeaWorld’s New Twitter Campaign Backfires in Most Spectacular Way. The Dodo. Retrieved from https://www.thedodo.com/ask-seaworld-twitter-1058989271.html

Lobosco, K. (2015, March). ‘Ask SeaWorld’ Marketing Campaign Backfires. CNN Money. Retrieved from http://money.cnn.com/2015/03/27/news/companies/ask-seaworld-twitter/

Pedicini, S. (2015, March). Critics Inundate Twitter with #AskSeaWorld Campaign. Orlando Sentinal. Retrieved from http://www.orlandosentinel.com/business/tourism/os-askseaworld-twitter-20150330-story.html

Pemberton, B. (2015, March). “Are your tanks filled with orca tears?”: SeaWorld Twitter campaign backfires as marine park hashtag #AskSeaWorld is hijacked by animal rights campaigners. The Daily Mail. Retrieved from http://www.dailymail.co.uk/travel/travel_news/article-3019299/Are-tanks-filled-orca-tears-SeaWorld-Twitter-campaign-backfires-water-park-hashtag-AskSeaWorld-hijacked-animal-rights-campaigners.html

Sola, K. (2015, March). #AskSeaWorld Twitter Campaign Pretty Much Goes How You’d Expect. Huffpost Green. Retrieved From http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2015/03/27/seaworld-twitter-fail_n_6950902.html

Zoutwater. (2015, March). #AskSeaWorld. The Art of Deflecting and Why It’s Bad for Business. The Dodo. Retrieved from https://www.thedodo.com/community/zoutwater/askseaworld-1064959426.html

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