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Social media proves too real for invasive projects

Big, invasive infrastructure projects have lost the social media battle.  This isn’t new, it happened before the war even started.  There’s no way these projects can ever win the social media battle.  However, that doesn’t stop them from trying.  But, they’re only fooling themselves!

Take a look at this silly article in a “renewables” publication.  Oooh… use of NIMBY in the headline and throughout the article.  Name-calling is one of the seven common propaganda devices named decades ago by a now defunct U.S. organization, the Institute for Propaganda Analysis.

Name-Calling: “Giving an idea a bad label and therefore rejecting and condemning it without examining the evidence.” This is the use of negative words or labels to create prejudice against some person, group or idea. If you fall for this you have been driven to reach a conclusion without examining the evidence.

Interesting these folks need to use propaganda to try to convince their own people that they can win this war.  They need their own people to believe anyone who opposes industrial wind is a self-interested “NIMBY” who shall be dismissed out of hand without consideration of his or her arguments.  That’s pretty revealing right up front.  The industry dismisses the concerns of community members automatically.  How could such a project fool the community into believing they care?  They can’t.

Who writes this drivel?  A “clean” PR firm drumming up business for “Corporate social media strategy and management.”  Take a look at this company’s website.  They have written extensively about their “success” with digital media campaigns for “clean” companies.  And, hey, look… they have a facebook page.  Maybe you want to connect and let them know what you think about their article?  They’ve created a post about it.  They want your comments.  The irony of Tigercomm itself being taught the very lesson it writes about is just too delicious.  Let them know what you think about the opinion expressed  in their article.

Such as:

There’s a growing concern within the wind industry that in communities considering hosting wind farms, the loud minority of opponents is increasingly trumping the silent majority of supporters who want the jobs and revenue that come with projects.

Minority?  Majority?  Where’s the unbiased poll numbers?  Or is this contention just created out of thin air to support Tigercomm’s opinion?  My experience has been that the only ones who support a new wind farm or other large infrastructure project, such as an electric transmission line, in a community are the ones directly profiting from it.  It’s pretty much impossible to buy an entire community, but wind farms do try, with their “Good Neighbor Agreements” that effectively gag signatories from vocal opposition.  If the vocal opposition is such a minority, why would a wind farm pay to gag them?  It’s well known that being against something generates more energy than being for it.  Why don’t wind farms use their cash to pay the silent majority to be vocal, instead of paying the vocal opposition to be silent?

At best, Nimby pushback is raising costs through delays. At worse, half-a-billion-dollar wind farms are dying because 50 people shouted at their county commissioners during a public meeting.

My, aren’t we creative and colorful?  That’s a pretty loaded statement.  That make-believe community probably only consists of 52 people who spoke out for or against the project (rarely shouting).  When faced with a threat, rural communities circle the wagons and it’s the whole of their energy that is so powerful, not just a handful of shouters.

Facebook is “the new town square” in rural areas, according to Avangrid Renewables’ director of communications, Paul Copleman, as it’s eclipsed traditional local newspapers, many of which are dying.

Nimby groups organise online, then they show up in the room. The wind IPPs have ceded the digital ground to such an extent that “the opposition is eating our lunch”, according to Matt Wagner, manager of renewable energy development at Detroit-based DTE.

It’s the digital town square because it’s composed of real people with real relationships to each other communicating without the media filter controlled by corporate public relations spinners like Tigercomm.  Real people, real information.  But it’s only a window into the town square room.  The real interaction happens in the community, in person, a place that the corporation isn’t.

Projects are being built in communities that see undeveloped land as something to be conserved, rather than a resource to be used.

Oh my!  The community IS using its land as a resource.  It’s growing food for a profit!  “Undeveloped land” is fully developed to its best and highest purpose – agriculture!  Contrary to urban legend, not all land has to be covered with man made infrastructure to be useful.  Furthermore, it is up to the owners of the land in the collective interest of the community to determine the best use of their resources.  The last thing a farmer needs is some city folks coming in and telling them how to use their land.  This is a complete no-brainer and at the very heart of rural resistance to infrastructure intended to serve the cities.

Nimbys are being helped with outside organisers and money, much of it from incumbent energy sources.

Oh, for goodness sake!  Would you stop with the “dark money” lies?  True grassroots opposition raises its own money.  In more than a decade of working with grassroots opposition groups, I have NEVER seen ANY money given to these groups by outside organizers.  Grassroots money comes from the community, in small amounts.  Any opposition coming from industry is deployed by the industry in tandem with what the grassroots organization is doing.  Industry opposition attempts to siphon grassroots energy for its own purposes, but the two are not connected or coordinated.  Grassroots opposition is the independent leader and industrial opposition is simply an opportunistic parasite.  Industry opposition would never trust grassroots organizations to spend its money to best serve the industry.  They spend it on their own campaigns to oppose things, they don’t give it to us.  Now, I know you think it bolsters your name-calling devices to say “NIMBYS” are financially supported and controlled by your corporate opponents, but it’s simply not true and the only ones who believe it are the ones whose narrative it fits into – namely the climate change shouters.  These folks don’t show up in small towns to participate in individual infrastructure battles therefore they are irrelevant.  Enough already with the “dark money.”  You have absolutely NO PROOF to back up this claim.

The good news? Among the IPP staff on the front lines of community engagement, there is a growing consensus that the industry must up its digital game by more proactively meeting community members where they are – online, not just across the table at the diner.
In a series of interviews with IPP staff, we found widespread agreement on the advantages of increased digital engagement, as well as basic best practices.
They shared nearly a dozen benefits the industry is missing due to digital constraints, including insulating persuadable community members against the predictable arguments of critics; profiling and amplifying supporters’ stories, and creating a credible alternative information source to Nimby Facebook groups.
Interviewees also collectively produced a list of digital best practices for their executive teams to consider, which included starting communicating early, before opposition groups form and gain momentum – it’s a race to define; showing wind farm benefits through supporters’ stories, captured on camera; and showing people the experience of those currently living near existing wind farms.
As Apex Clean Energy vice-president for public affairs, Dahvi Wilson said: “Opponents of one company’s projects can encourage and strengthen opponents to another company’s projects. Like it or not, we’re in the digital boat together. We need more companies to increase their investment in digital community engagement.”
At the staff level, the consensus for upping the industry’s digital game is solid and growing because, as Adam Renz, manager of business development for Pattern Energy, said: “Social media can de-risk projects.”

Insulating persuadable community members?  Insulating them from what?  Keeping them in their sterile corporate bubble where the only facts they learn are cherry-picked for their favorable opinions?  Do you folks even realize where you are?  You’ve invaded these people’s community!  They live there!  They hear and see lots of stuff in their community.  They’re real people with real lives.  You cannot digitally control real people.

Presenting “stories” of people who love wind or transmission does little to convince people to support it.  Everyone realizes those are paid-for opinions and dismisses them out of hand (sort of like how the NIMBY and “dark money” arguments are supposed to work).

In my 10+ years of grassroots opposition organizing and strategizing, I’ve seen nothing but failure from corporate social media campaigns.  They cannot be sanitized effectively, and that’s the foundation of public relations.  If a corporation creates a Facebook page, the opponents will swarm it and post negative comments.  The corporation must delete comments and block people.  The tide of opponents is so strong though, that more keep coming.  The Facebook page is like a ghost town, with all comments deleted or not viewable (like where a post says it has 72 comments, but when you try to view them, only 1 shows up, and it’s complimentary).  There’s a certain look to infrastructure company social media campaigns that defies the very nature of social media.  They are a one-way street with no interaction.  Social media is about interaction.  Without that, it’s just a webpage.  Essentially, infrastructure company Facebook pages are nothing but a website.  But they’re a fun-filled website where opponents get to post their opinions for everyone to read (until they’re removed by the corporation).  We have fun playing cat and mouse with you folks when we have free time, or just need a quick giggle to get through a difficult project.

Get ready, Tigercomm…  isn’t it almost time for lunch?