The success of offshore wind power depends on winning a battle against false narratives, which requires energy companies to tailor their communication strategies to diverse audience segments.

The problem: We noticed the signs a year ago, but now it’s clear – offshore wind power has become one of the most divisive issues in the energy sector.

While proponents argue offshore wind will provide clean electricity, opponents blame a recent spike in whale deaths on exploration devices that use sonar to seek wind turbine sites.

Even though many experts have debunked these claims, the narrative “offshore wind kills whales” has stoked increasing levels of scepticism towards the new technology.

This presents a major challenge to offshore wind companies like Orsted, Equinor, Shell, Siemens Gamesa, General Electric and Dominion Energy, which see increasing opposition, protests and even legal challenges to their projects.

And of course, the main channel where opposition gathers heat is social media, especially X.

Our analysis of 4,428 original tweets posted in the last 12 months showed that the lion’s share of the X discussion around offshore wind consists of misinformation-laden content:

Our take: misinformation is just the tip of the iceberg

Many PR experts and academics have a pretty one-sided view on this issue: people sharing misinformation should be convinced via educational campaigns.

However, it’s not that black and white. When approaching this problem, energy companies and PR pros should take into account the different behaviours and motivations of users in order to formulate tailored engagement strategies.

That’s where you need human-enriched social media analytics solutions.

Analysing the way X users communicated around offshore wind in our sample of 4,428 original tweets, we identified several types of users with different motivations who require different engagement strategies:

1. Sensation spreaders

The largest segment is influenced by the sensational aspect of the “offshore wind kills whales” narrative and shares misinformation-laden content due to its newsworthy nature.

Motivations: A strong emotional response to perceived threats against wildlife, driven by compelling stories and images of dead whales.

Communication strategy: Use emotionally compelling success stories and vivid visuals showing how offshore wind projects benefit both renewable energy and marine life to redirect their emotional engagement towards a positive and accurate narrative.

2. Industry sceptics

The second-biggest segment is sceptical of renewable energy solutions in general and often shares climate change denial stories as well.

Motivations: Lack of trust in the energy industry, especially Orsted, Dominion Energy and Shell, “gotcha” moment when talking about “evil corporations”.

Communication strategy: Anything coming from the energy sector will do little good. Stories or testimonials from local communities that have seen environmental and economic benefits from offshore wind farms, or visuals that show proactive measures taken to protect wildlife, can help engage and potentially sway this audience.

3. Political motivators

This segment includes individuals who view the offshore wind debate through a political lens, possibly influenced by broader political beliefs or alignments.

Motivations: Aligning with political ideologies, these users often blame the “radical left” for killing whales by using offshore wind technology.

Communication strategy: Use balanced, non-partisan communication that focuses on the benefits of offshore wind to all stakeholders, regardless of political affiliation. Highlight bipartisan support where applicable.

4. Misguided environmental advocates

This group genuinely cares about the environment and wildlife conservation. They may initially react to claims against offshore wind due to their concern for marine life but are open to scientific evidence and rational discourse.

Motivations: Protecting biodiversity, ensuring sustainable energy practices that do not harm wildlife.

Communication strategy: Provide clear, scientific data showing the real impacts and safety measures of offshore wind farms. Highlight regulatory oversight and ongoing environmental impact assessments.

5. Community stakeholders

Local residents or groups directly impacted by offshore wind farm projects. Apart from whales, their concerns might also include visual impacts, noise, or economic effects on their communities.

Motivations: Protecting local aesthetics, real estate values, and local fishing zones; ensuring community benefits from local projects.

Communication strategyConduct open forums and community meetings to address concerns, showcase community benefits, and discuss mitigation strategies for any negative impacts. Provide platforms for ongoing community feedback and involvement.

The solution: engage with expert voices

The smallest user segment was experts and science communicators. Users sharing reliable information and actively combating misinformation, such as Princeton engineering professor Jesse D. Jenkins, Wood Mackenzie’s vice-chair of energy Ed Crooks or UT Austin journalism professor John Schwartz, who emerged as the most influential credible voices in our sample:

That’s the segment you want to tap into. Here are a few tips on how to do it:

  • Identification and mapping: Utilise methodologies like our Influencer Network Analysis to identify credible voices in the offshore wind debate and map them to the topics they discuss, enabling strategic deployment of experts to address misinformation tailored to each user segment’s concerns.
  • Early engagement: Integrate expert voices in the early stages of communication about offshore wind projects, allowing experts to pre-emptively address public concerns before they gain traction.
  • Proactive misinformation countermeasures: Prepare expert-driven responses to misinformation – for instance, by creating targeted content to debunk myths for misguided environmental advocates with clear scientific data or crafting emotionally compelling narratives to redirect sensation spreaders towards accurate information.