What’s a surefire way to inspire people to seek out an opinion poll just to cast their negative votes against your organization? Get caught trying to rig said poll in your favor.
On December 31, the Orlando Business Journal posted a reader poll that asked, “Has CNN’s Blackfish documentary changed your perception of SeaWorld?” By Thursday, two days into the poll, the paper reported that a surprisingly overwhelming 99% of respondents said “no,” their opinion of the park had not been tarnished.
Sure, it makes sense that locals might look more favorably upon their own park than the wider public might, but 99% seems just a little too good to be true, doesn’t it? That’s because it was.
After the paper did a little digging, it found that more than half of the votes had been cast from a single IP address: SeaWorld.com.
After this bit of unflattering information came to light, SeaWorld spokesman Nick Gollattscheck tried to explain the phenomenon to CNN, saying, “Our team members have strong feelings about their park and company and we encourage them to make their opinions known. If a poll is posted regarding SeaWorld, our team members have as much a right as anyone else to vote and express their opinion. We’re unsure why that’s being questioned here.”
Whether it was an intentional attempt to stuff the ballot box or a simple case of proud SeaWorld employees defending their beloved employer of their own volition as Gollattscheck suggested, the news about the poll spread like wildfire, worsening an already precarious PR situation for the park.
About a week later, that same poll now shows very different results. The below screenshot was taken this morning:
While it’s impossible to say whether those 86% of 11,183 people flocked to the poll to share their negative opinions as a direct result of the controversy, we think it’s safe to assume it had at least something to do with it, especially considering that respondents numbered in the low hundreds before the the story came to light. SeaWorld’s attempt (whether organized or genuinely heartfelt) at using the poll to its own PR advantage seems to have backfired rather spectacularly. This, coupled with the company’s other fishy PR tactics that have recently come to light, make us wonder how much “Blackfishwashing” SeaWorld will attempt before it changes its strategy.