STUDY: Social Media Is Winning PR War for Anti-Fracking Groups

Signs protesting the process of hydraulic fracturing, also known as fracking, are seen near the town of Calicoon Center, New YorkWe’ve written frequently about the PR war over hydraulic fracturing or “fracking” — anti-fracking and environmental groups VS. the energy companies that have adopted the controversial practice. Now, a recent study by Makovsky suggests that while both sides may be impassioned and dedicated to winning the debate, the war is being fought on two different battle grounds, and the side utilizing social media appears to be the side that’s winning.

The survey revealed that 57% of U.S. consumers believe that fracking is one of the three most important environmental issues today. Furthermore, 65% of respondents (71% in fracking cities) say they hear about the issue at least weekly, and 77% say they hear about it primarily from internet news sites and social media.

Now here’s the kicker: the study also found that the vast majority of social media mentions of the subject are coming from anti-fracking activists and groups. In fact, of the 1.3 million Twitter mentions of fracking from January through July 2014, anti-fracking activists generated 2000% more impressions than groups supportive of the practice. Let us spell that out again… two-thousand percent!

Meanwhile, the oil and gas companies competing in the court of public opinion and hoping for a social license to continue fracking have mostly relied upon outdated, less effective, and more expensive campaign tactics like TV commercials.

“One of the most under-utilized (and under-valued) tools for earning a social license in the oil and gas industry is social media,” said Andy Beck, executive vice president of Makovsky’s Energy and Sustainability Practice, in a news release. “Oil and gas companies that choose to use outmoded tactics, such as massive spending on TV advertising, can expect less than stellar results—only 18% of our survey’s respondents say they hear about this issue from TV ads.”

So, if 18% of people are hearing about fracking from TV ads while 79% are hearing about it from social media — where anti-fracking messages clearly reign supreme — the oil and gas companies’ tactics are less like fighting fire with equally-raging fire, and more like spending bundles of money on those flameless candles that no one notices or takes seriously.