#AskSeaWorld Hashtag Discussion Does More Harm than Good

Marketing, advertising, and public relations strategies have been transformed by the rise of social media. Print media has largely been supplanted by online advertising, brand profiles, and hashtag campaigns that use growing online networks and conversations to spread their message across the globe.
While many businesses have used social media tools to grow their brand and build customer loyalty, not all have been successful. Online Q&A sessions have proved to be particularly problematic especially for brands that are prone to controversial customer opinions. The NYPD’s #myNYPD, McDonald’s #McDStories, and  JPMorgan’s #AskJPM are just a few of the campaigns that resulted in overwhelmingly negative conversations.

 SeaWorld decided to create their own campaign, #AskSeaWorld, after being mired with controversy and bad publicity. In 2013, a documentary entitled Blackfish was produced about Tilikum, an orca at SeaWorld and the controversies surrounding killer whales and the sea-park industry. Just last week John Hargrove, an ex-SeaWorld trainer, published Beneath the Surface: Killer Whales, SeaWorld, and the Truth Beyond Blackfish.   seaworld topic wheel SeaWorld’s #AskSeaWorld campaign was intended to give customers an opportunity to send in questions and boost business after the release of Blackfish and the poor attendance and earnings that followed. Based on the low rate of success of this strategy, it was unlikely that the resulting conversation would provide positive PR for the sea-park company.   Looking at the 3.3+ million Tweets written about SeaWorld and Blackfish over the past year, it is no surprise that the Q&A session was inundated with negative Tweets. Topic Waves show us which subjects have garnered the most attention, and Blackfish related Tweets outweigh the tiny “Support SeaWorld” segment. With so few allies, an unchecked hashtag discussion seems like a receipt for disaster.   seaworld-topic-waves Over the past 5 days, roughly 112k Tweets included the #AskSeaWorld hashtag. The most retweeted posts were written by animal rights group, PETA, and top hashtags included #blackfish and #emptythetanks.

In addition to being a prolific Tweeter, PETA is a popular interest among those involved in the SeaWorld conversation. Looking at Affinities, we can see that the #AskSeaWorld audience is 65 times more likely to be interested in PETA as well as 199 times as interested in animal rights and 14 times more interested in pets than the general Twitter audience. These animal lovers are also interested in taking action, suggested by the fact that they are also 31 times more interested in blogging, 10 times more interested in advocacy, and 4 times more interested in activism than the general Twitter audience.
Seaworld Affinities Although SeaWorld should address the accusations made against the company, an online hashtag discussion was not the right way to do it. Like many attempts before, the campaign backfired and generated negative conversation. This is because a hashtag campaign gives the audience total control over the conversation. In order to prevent negative conversation, brands need to shape the narrative especially when they know that there is controversy.
While this conversation may be a result of the unpredictable nature of social media, our social media analytics provided warning signs about who was talking about SeaWorld and what they were saying prior to the campaign. Taking these factors into account when planning a social media strategy can help brands manage the tone and content of the conversation, resulting in a social media feat rather than a fiasco.
Fore more information on analyzing social data during a brand crises, we invite you to visit our blog today.

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