Australia’s chief mining lobby, the Minerals Council of Australia, wanted to fight fire with fire. Instead it ended up throwing kerosene on a burning powder keg.
Sick of being the butt of memes and GIF on the interwebs, the council yesterday launched a digital campaign aimed at giving what it's calling the silent majority a voice on coal industry issues.
According to its website, the sector directly employs 200,000 workers, indirectly employs 150,000 workers and contributes around $60 billion to the Australian economy and therefore deserves a greater say (and sway) in public life.
As the group explained to The Australian, its Australians For Coal campaign is a three-pronged assault that hopes to use TV advertising, political lobbying and social media to sway public opinion.
The main focus of this campaign – as opposed to previous lobbying attempts from the Minerals Council (like the mining tax campaign) – was the group’s focus on social media. It wanted to provide a counterpoint to the Greens’ influence and reach on the Twittersphere.
The campaign launched yesterday and it received a storm of attention. As the graph below shows, the hashtag #AustraliansForCoal exploded on Twitter. So the campaign worked, right? Well, no.
Few users actually supported the campaign. Instead the hashtag became a platform for everyone on the Twittersphere to vent their frustrations at the sector.
I’ve always wanted beachfront property even though I live inland #australiansforcoal— Kate Carruthers (@kcarruthers) April 14, 2014
And this last one is just plain creepy…
We reached out to the Minerals Council of Australia to see if it was happy with the response it received. Unsurprisingly, we’re yet to get a reply.
This is the second time this week that a high powered group has attempted (and failed) to wrangle the Twittersphere. As you may recall, the Queensland government’s #StrongChoices campaign blew up in its face just two days ago.
We said it then, and we’ll say it again: the Twittersphere can smell spin from a mile away.
But back to that data we mentioned earlier from the Australians For Coal website: the 200,000 workers it directly employs.
According to the latest ABS industry release, the coal sector actually employs closer to 54,000 workers. This was picked up by Twitter within hours of the campaign's launch.
And as if this wasn’t enough, the group made the dire mistake of pitching its campaign as a counterpoint to the Greens’ social media dominance.
Remember that old high-school adage that you shouldn’t pick on bigger kids? That also applies on the Twittersphere.
The Greens have exponentially more reach than the Minerals Council on Twitter. So when the Greens tweet something, it’s get read and when the Minerals Council replies, it gets largely ignored. The same thing happened during the 2012 London Olympics when British diver Tom Daley took a Twitter troll to task. The troll tried to apologise, but it was drowned out by Daley’s 500,000-strong follower base abusing him over his original comment.
Note the reach in the examples below: Senator Scott Ludlam’s Tweet vs the Australian’s for Coal’s tweet.
i am bored with the coastlines being where they are and wish there was more violent weather and thats why i'm supporting #australiansforcoal— Scott Ludlam (@SenatorLudlam) April 14, 2014
There's about 800kgs of coal in a tonne of new steel and 500kgs of coal in the average car. Thanks for driving today.— Australians for Coal (@Austs4Coal) April 14, 2014
You can’t blame the Minerals Council for trying to break into the 21st century with some form of a digital campaign.
But why didn’t it try launching its campaign on Facebook first? It has more Australian users – a confirmed 13.5 million compared to Twitter’s unconfirmed 2.5 million. It’s also a little more forgiving towards interest groups and niche political agendas.
If anything, this whole incident serves as a stark contrast to the campaign the council waged back in 2012 against the mining tax. Back then, it seemed as if the miners were able to mould public opinion to their will.
This Twitter backlash may make politicians think twice about just how influence the Minerals Council of Australia actually wields over the masses.
Got a question? Ask the reporter @HarrisonPolites on Twitter or comment below. He will listen hard for the silent majority’s input.