CSR and new battle lines in online PR war: a case study of the energy sector.
Authors: McQueen, D.
Editors: Adi, A., Grigore, G. and Crowther, D.
Place of Publication: Bingley
The focus of the chapter is on disputes around corporate social responsibility (CSR) in the fossil fuel industry and how media and social networking technologies are deployed in a virtual war between oil corporations and dissident, activist and protest groups. The paper explores the PR record of two energy companies, BP and Shell, alongside public communications by various opponents including Greenpeace. It shows how a range of online messages play an increasingly important part in a wider ‘PR war’ designed to influence public opinion and government policy. This PR war often centres on contested notions of CSR and claims by the oil giants about their environmental impact, which opponents dismiss as ‘greenwashing’.
BP’s CSR and reputation management is critically examined in relation to the Deepwater Horizon disaster of 2010, the subsequent public relations debacle and online campaigns by activists targeting the company’s brand and CSR credentials. Shell’s more recent CSR-related communications around oil exploration in the Arctic are also contrasted with Greenpeace’s ‘brandjacking’ and social networking campaigns designed to discredit Shell’s claims to being environmentally responsible. Finally, the chapter will turn to the less well-known public relations war between Shell and protestors over the Corrib gas pipeline and reprocessing plant in County Mayo, Ireland and the rapidly-evolving and sophisticated PR strategies deployed by both sides of the dispute.
Communications by BP, Shell and their opponents in this far-reaching ‘PR war’ are compared including creative use of the internet, digital technologies and social media. For opponents of the fossil fuel industry this has enabled the linking of disparate communities and activists around the world. The chapter touches on the wide scope of protest methods used by campaigning groups but focuses on online campaigns, including the use of social media, the development of parody sites and low- or no-budget video which has allowed opponents of the oil industry to reach new audiences. However, such efforts have not gone unanswered and responses by Shell Oil, in particular, show how the public relations war has had uneven outcomes with no outright ‘victor’ emerging.