A New Kind of Fail Whale From SeaWorld

I’m still surprised that organizations manage social media under the assumption that they can guide or control the message. A while a go I wrote about how McDonald’s tried just that with their #McDStories Twitter campaign – and it failed miserably. Two years later and we’re still seeing organizations trying this.

#AskSeaWorld – SeaWorld’s Own Fail Whale

Unfortunately for the social media staff at SeaWorld, they learned firsthand that the people control the medium.


In an attempt to adjust the negative public opinion of the organization’s treatment of orca whales, SeaWorld launched the #AskSeaWorld hashtag campaign.  I think the strategy was to paint a picture of authenticity/transparency and appear to be addressing public concerns head-on, but what happened was the exact opposite.

SeaWorld retaliated to the “haters” with an excuse for why they were not answering all the questions, which again blew up in their face, as you can see from the tweet conversation below (BTW, SeaWorld received dozens of replies to their tweet).

Lessons Learned from SeaWorld

  • Don’t think that you’ll be able to sway public opinion through a hashtag campaign.
  • If you’re going to ask for opinion or open the forums, you better be prepared for the good, the bad, and the ugly.
  • If there’s negativity surrounding your brand, Twitter is just going to amplify it.
  • Have a well though-out response plan to deal with the “haters”. Don’t skirt around the issues and ignore the tough questions.

I wonder how many years we’ll have to watch organizations commit social media brand suicide.  The fallout from hashtag blow-ups like #McDStories and #AskSeaWorld takes a long time to recover from.