Like a LOT of people, I was initially sucked in by the Shell Oil “Arctic Ready” website and its social media campaign, which provided a tool for the general public to create billboards championing oil drilling in the arctic. The link turned up in one of my Twitter feeds fairly early on a weekday morning last week, and as I was working at the time, I did not give it as much scrutiny as I would have had I been at home.
It appeared as though visitors to the site were using the tool to create messages critical of Shell’s plans for arctic drilling, though when I tried to use it I got a “server is down for maintenance” message.
Given the time difference between Sweden and the US, it seemed plausible that Shell’s online communications team could have launched the campaign late in the previous day and then left the office/gone to bed without realizing what chaos it had wrought. I quickly retweeted the link and posted it to Facebook with instructions for folks to take a look before Shell pulled it down.
I then grabbed a number of images of the “visitor-generated” billboards because I was just sure it was going to disappear at any minute (and I knew I would want to blog about it later). I then returned to my regularly scheduled work day.
Needless to say, I was stunned when I checked the “Let’s Go Arctic” social campaign page during lunch and it was still up.
It was at this point I began to suspect that all was not what it seemed with this major-oil-company-social-media-strategy-gone-terribly-wrong. And sure enough, some Googling later on that evening revealed that the site was actually part of an elaborate hoax on both Shell Oil and web surfers alike. We’d both been punked!
The only difference was that I came away from the experience entertained and impressed with the hoax-ters (Greenpeace, The Yes Men and some members of Occupy Seattle), while Shell Oil is still reeling from it. (Lots of links for more info below.)
On the other hand, I am still a little embarrassed that I didn’t catch on to the prank a little earlier. The quality of the grammar, vocabulary and spelling on the billboards alone prove that the general surfing public could not possible have been involved.