by Ashley Tucciarone
Some of the most vivid memories I can recall as a child involve visiting SeaWorld on summer weekends with my family. My favorite part was always getting to see the live shows they performed with the famous killer whale, Shamu. Unfortunately, SeaWorld has been under fire from several animal rights groups and the eye of the public since the popular documentary Blackfish aired in 2013. CNN’s video degraded the practices of SeaWorld and criticized their captivity of orcas. In March 2015, the company tried setting the record straight by addressing “false accusations” from activists who are against killer whales and other animals in zoological settings.
Blackfish tells the story of Tilikum, a performing orca whale that injured and killed several people while being encompassed at SeaWorld. The producer of the documentary gathered live footage and conducted interviews to determine Tilikum’s treatment in captivity, and to examine orca whales as a whole. The video claimed that the lifespan of captivated whales are cut short in comparison to whales living in the ocean. In response to the video and the public’s negative reaction, SeaWorld decided to launch a social media campaign for the sole purpose of re-establishing a positive image. SeaWorld spent millions of dollars on a campaign they called, #AskSeaWorld. Individuals were encouraged to tweet at SeaWorld using this hashtag and ask questions, and consumers were told SeaWorld would address any concerns.
Unfortunately, the campaign launch was not as successful as the theme park had hoped. Consumers began responding immediately with over 35,000 tweets in the first week. Although the hashtag did unravel rapidly, the campaign was not spread in a positive manner. Critics who did not agree with SeaWorld’s practices took this as an opportunity to attack, questioning when the park was going to shut down, and introducing welfare matters regarding animals. Some more recent tweets from the past few days include, “Can you explain the empty car park on Valentine’s Day? Are people turned off by captivity?” Another one stated, “Whales are so nice to see in the wild together, how do they search for food at your sea circus?” CNN quoted, “SeaWorld, it appears, has more outspoken enemies than friends on Twitter.” All of the negative comments have had an impact on the company’s stock; they are down 40% in the past year and are approximately 50% below they company’s all time high. At first, SeaWorld disregarded the misuse of the hashtag, however, after being criticized they responded with “Jacking hashtags is so 2014 #bewareoftrolls,” followed by “We are trying to answer your questions but we have a few thousand trolls and bots to weed through #askseaworld #smh.” Both of these responses are unprofessional and definitely did not help the company’s case; their social media campaign was an epic fail.
SeaWorld chose to promote their social media campaign on Twitter so that the public was able to converse directly with the company. However, this was an open gateway for critics and degraded the theme park more than Blackfish already had. The company made several mistakes and could have prevented a lot of the critiques they received. First, SeaWorld waited nearly two years to respond to the documentary, thus drawing attention back to the situation. Instead of addressing what critics were saying, SeaWorld automatically defended themselves which opened the doors for critics to argue. SeaWorld should have established a social media campaign promoting their theme park, demonstrating ways in which they could improve their practices, and creating new marketable ways to attract consumers.
Cronin, M. (2015, March 25). SeaWorld’s New Twitter Campaign Backfire In Most Spectacular Way. The Dodo. Retrieved from https://www.thedodo.com/ask-seaworld-twitter-1058989271.html
Grisham, L. (2015, March 25). ‘Ask SeaWorld’ ad campaign draws criticism. USA Today. Retrieved from http://www.usatoday.com/story/news/nation-now/2015/03/25/seaworld-killer-whales-ad-campaign/70422606/
Lobosco, K. (2015, March 27). ‘Ask SeaWorld’ marketing campaign backfires. CNN. Retrieved from http://money.cnn.com/2015/03/27/news/companies/ask-seaworld-twitter/
Lynch, M. (2015, March 27). SeaWorld tried to answer questions on Twitter, and it did not go well. Retrieved from http://mashable.com/2015/03/27/seaworld-twitter-questions/#Ue9C2bUVIuqV
Sola, K. (2015, March 27). #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