Komen Kan Kiss My Mammagram, PinActivism, and Newsjacking for a Cause | Beth's Blog

Komen Kan Kiss My Mammagram, PinActivism, and Newsjacking for a Cause

Digital Strategy

On Tuesday, the Susan G. Komen Foundation, a leading breast cancer charity,  pulled hundreds of thousands of dollars in breast cancer screening funds from Planned Parenthood.  Each year millions of women are screened for breast cancer at Planned Parenthood, and Susan G. Komen’s funding pays for about 170,000 of those screenings.  These services are particularly important for women from under-served communities.

The AP reported that Komen for the Cure has decided to halt grants to Planned Parenthood and the decision was politically motivated.   Within hours, Planned Parenthood sent a fundraising email out to its network, asking supporters to replace the money that Komen had pulled for breast cancer screenings for low-income women.   As the news traveled from email boxes to social networks to mainstream media, activists, men, and women expressed their outrage.

My Networked Nonprofit co-author, Allison Fine, started a fundraising campaign on Causes this morning called “Komen Can Kiss My Mammagram”  quickly raising several thousand dollars.    I observed conversations happening in threads on Facebook, Twitter, and other social networks – people urging their friends to donate or take action.        I started receiving emails from organizations like Momsrising urging us to email the Komen organization and ask them to restore this much needed support of women’s health.

My colleague, Kivi Leroux-Miller, wrote an astute case study documenting the social media response and provided an analysis about why it happened.    As Kivi says, “This is what happens when a leading nonprofit jumps into a highly controversial area of public debate without a communications strategy, stays silent, and therefore lets others take over the public dialogue, perhaps permanently redefining the organization and its brand. Watch and learn, so you don’t make the same mistake on whatever hot button issues your organization might be wading into.”  Read her analysis.

Let me go a little meta here.  Last week Kivi wrote about “newsjacking” the technique of piggy backing on a crisis to get more media attention.   And it worked!  Kivi got a call from a newspaper in Dallas writing about the nonprofit marketing angle.  She also got quoted on an influential blog.

I asked Kivi to share her process:

I was on the Washington Post site reading something else when I saw the AP story. Literally five minutes later (around 4 pm ET), I got the fundraising appeal email from Planned Parenthood (nicely customized with my name and state, I might add). I immediately forwarded it to Nancy Schwartz, because she had blogged about Komen’s Kentucky Fried Chicken partnership and I knew she’d want to follow up. Again, literally minutes later, I started to see mentions on Facebook and Twitter.

Nancy and I tossed around the idea of doing some kind of joint post about the story, her on the branding, me probably on how Planned Parenthood grabbed the moment, to publish on Thursday since Nancy was busy all day Wednesday. But then the story just exploded on Twitter and Facebook in the early evening, and I kept waiting to see what Komen would say. And I waited, and waited, and waited.

Absolutely nothing.

The fact that they had this totally inane tweet about prostate cancer in a mummy as their most recent tweet when they were getting eaten alive on Twitter just made me crazy. Same thing on Facebook — their most recent post was about a partnership with Energizer and people were just going wild on Energizer, because they just happened to be the most recent update on Komen’s page.  I probably checked Komen’s Twitter and Facebook pages 20 times Tuesday night, pleading with them in my head to say something to their supporters. All the while, I was taking screen captures, which I’ve made a habit, because it’s so much easier to just grab it as you see it, rather than trying to find it later.

Whenever I get obsessed on a nonprofit story like this, where I find myself spending an hour, or two, or more focused on it, I know I have to blog it right away. If I’m that taken by a story, I know my readers will be too, and if I’m going to put that much time into something, I have to turn it into content I can use — I’m trying to blog five days a week after all, and it’s not always easy!  Before I went to bed, I’d decided to post on Wednesday and to focus on Komen’s non-reaction and how I really believed they had completely changed their positioning within field, I assumed without really meaning to do so. I’d posted on both my personal and Nonprofit Marketing Guide Facebook pages that I was probably going to write about it the next day.

Got up Wednesday morning, saw that Komen still hadn’t said anything, and started writing. Building out a blow-by-blow post like that, then adding your own commentary, takes some time, especially when dealing with a controversial topic like abortion. My own personal feelings aside, I really wanted to focus on the nonprofit marketing angle, because that’s why people read my blog.  I probably spent a solid two hours on the post this morning, not counting all the research the night before.

I really didn’t think about the newsjacking potential of the post until I got into writing the commentary, and decided to really call out Komen for the lack of responsiveness to their supporters. I knew it would be a good lesson for my blog readers, but then mid-morning, Komen posted on Facebook (but still not on Twitter), and I found the response to be really lacking given the outrage.

I published around 11:30 a.m. ET, and at that point, I figured my post would probably get covered by the nonprofit trade press, like the Chronicle of Philanthropy (which it did). I really didn’t appreciate that the story had gone beyond the nonprofit news world until my phone rang around 1:30 pm and it was Kate Nocera from Politico.com. That’s when I thought, “Damn, I just newsjacked this story!” She had been searching for reaction to the Komen story and came upon my post. I was so irritated with Komen at that point that I was pretty critical in the interview.

I usually publish my weekly e-newsletter on Tuesday or Wednesday and hadn’t gotten to it Tuesday, so it only made sense to include the Komen story in the e-newsletter too. I had planned for that edition to be a longer article on using photography, but I cut that back and led with Komen. Traffic to my site was so heavy this afternoon that the site started crashing every 15 minutes, so I had to call my hosting company and upgrade (I was already on a decent virtual private server, but had to double the capacity.)


This isn’t the first time that Komen has endured a social media backlash. It’s ill fated “Buckets for the Cure” backfired.

As I reading the comments on Allison’s campaign wall over at Causes, my friend Stephanie Rudat has posted some of the visuals.    This made think of Pinterest.  Given that Pinterest’s demographics are mostly women, I wondered whether it might be worth experimenting with some “Pinactivism.” I set up a board named after Allison’s Campaign, “Komen Kan Kiss My Mammagram” and invited other women who work in social media and activism to add to the board.   All the visuals are linked to Allison’s campaign. The board got over 500 followers in less than half hour.   Whether they donate or not is another story.

The point is that social networking platforms provide a canvas for people to find each other, self organize actions in something they believe, and do it.   A lot more nimbly than the most likely fortress like communications machine at Komen.   In the book I just finished with KD Paine,  we talk about the importance and a method of measuring relationships.    This public relations disaster also shines a light on the importance of measurement of relationships and the ability to respond in real time.



28 Responses

  1. Married in MA says:

    Fascinating! Wonderful job!

    Thanks very much!

  2. Wendy says:

    This is fascinating. I’m dismayed by the entire thing, but watching it unfold and reading analyses like this are completely commanding my attention.

  3. J. E. says:

    Komen defunded Planned Parenthood because Congress is investigating their inappropriate use of government funds, as well as their failure to report criminal behavior. I support Komen now because they defunded an abortion BUSINESS that hurts women. Abortion is a sign that our society has not me the needs of women. Planned Parenthood profits of our culture’s failure to support pregnant women and mothers. I’m disappointed by your inaccurate and unprofessional post.

  4. Cyn says:

    “I’m disappointed by your inaccurate and unprofessional post.”

    Yes, it’s terrible when facts get in the way with your political agenda.

  5. Cyn says:

    “I’m disappointed by your inaccurate and unprofessional post.”

    Yes, it’s terrible when facts get in the way of your political agenda.

  6. Duard says:

    @JE: Setting aside the fact that there is no actual criminal investigation by law enforcement, only a single extremist politician pushing his agenda. And setting aside the fact that Komen’s funding was used for breast cancer screenings and never for abortions. Still, you have to recognize that Komen’s handling of the issue has been strikingly inept and provides a remarkable case study of what not to do.

  7. Joy P says:

    Which is the point of the article. We’re professionals here.

    Still, you have to recognize that Komen’s handling of the issue has been strikingly inept and provides a remarkable case study of what not to do.

  8. J Allen says:

    great analysis- very in the moment- the best of what social media can do: keep us in touch with the issues. A great case study almost as good as New Coke.

  9. Great post. Thanks for sharing Kivi’s brilliant post as well. What a wonderful example of the power of the web. Only time will tell, but thanks to social media, my guess is that the damage done to Komen is now irreversible.

    It will be a long, long time before any pro-choice person gives to Komen, if ever again. As a fundraiser, I wonder if supporters will be able to replace the funding for Planned Parenthood it lost from Komen.

    And on the other side, will conservatives quickly replenish the donations lost for Komen by the general public (aka pro-choice, pro-women types (like me)).

  10. S. Fawcett says:

    I did not realize before that Komen donated to Planned Parenthood, but I have been educated. I have donated to Komen before and will continue to do so. I have never donated to Planned Parenthood willingly.

  11. A.C. says:

    Ummm…has everyone besides J.E. forgotten that Planned Parenthood is a BUSINESS not a non-profit?! Also PP doesn’t do the mammograms themselves, they refer you to a place that will. PP’s website specifically states “Planned Parenthood connect patients to resources to help them get vital biopsies, ultrasounds, and mammograms.”

    Before writing a political article get your facts straight so you don’t look so ignorant.

  12. Chav says:

    Planned Parenthood IS a non-profit. It’s easy to tell who is on the side of truth and who is on the side of evil when you must lie to make your point – thanks for making it so clear!

  13. […] background-position: 50% 0px; background-color:#222222; background-repeat : no-repeat; } http://www.bethkanter.org – Today, 3:39 […]

  14. […] background-position: 50% 0px; background-color:#222222; background-repeat : no-repeat; } http://www.bethkanter.org – Today, 4:02 […]

  15. […] Social media consultant Beth Kanter has written a good summary of online responses, “Komen Kan Kiss My Mammagram, PinActivism, and Newsjacking for a Cause.” Kanter also set up a Pininterest board, “Komen Kan Kiss My Mammogram,” named […]

  16. Julia Beck says:

    Fantastic analysis – both you and Kivi (thanks for sharing) are on my short list of key voices of this pivotal moment in social responsibility history. Great insight on brand, SM impact and the big picture…thank you!

  17. Observer says:

    JE You totally missed the point. Komen could have had the best and more sensible reasons for de-funding PP. But they did NOT communicate it at all effectively. Not only did they make mistakes (and that’s putting it mildly), the nature of their mistakes are such that this whole thing will almost certainly do them tremendous damage. And, it’s well deserved.

    When you make a decision on how to spend a considerable amount of people’s money, and it’s a real change from what you have been doing, you have an obligation to let them know what is going on. If you missed, then when you see that there is strong reaction, you must communicate.

    “Trust us, we know what’s best and don’t need to answer to the peons” just doesn’t cut it. THAT is the real issue here.

  18. OrgSpring says:

    This is one of the problems associated with organizations that get involved with influencing legislation and taking sides so publicly.

    But then again, it’s also the reason they have so many doors opened.

    And left in the wake are the women who need a service the organization purports to provide.

    Ironic, but not in a good way.

  19. OrgSpring says:

    Sorry for the double comment, but I thought I’d post this article from the Washington post – so far, they’ve been one of the few places to get a quote from Brinker directly.


    Page 2 is where it gets interesting. Apparently the reporter did some research into a few places that are dropping partnerships or sponsorships with Komen. It seems like alot of damage for dropping a $600k grant. It also doesn’t specify the partnerships or sponsorships it has picked up, if any, but I have to imagine there are a few.

    There’s also a great quote from a woman about how this detracts from Komen’s mission.

    What I find more interesting is how Komen will manage this crisis throughout its social media channels. So far, it doesn’t seem to be handling it to well, but time will tell.

  20. Komen just blinked. In an email to supporters, Cecile Richards announced that funding had been restored…due no doubt to the activism and passion shown here.

  21. Such a brilliant writing, i am very inspired that there is a someone who are thinking about women issues. Today’s most of the areas in the world where women are suffering from many problems due to lack of education and treating them misconceives.

  22. Aaron says:

    It kills me to see that Komen slacked off on their social media. Beth, I would like to thank you for the post and for sharing it with the rest of us!

    As for the commenters– I am conducting thesis research for my MS at the University of Tennessee. I’d be grateful if you took a few minutes to take my survey at http://bit.ly/bloggersurvey. It should take approximately 10 minutes of your time. If you have any questions, please email me at asachs@utk.edu. Thanks so much for taking the time to fill this out!

  23. […] backlash? For me, it started with a flood of requests to join causes on Facebook like “Komen can kiss my mammogram“, started by Alison Fine. supporting Planned Parenthood to replace the lost […]

  24. […] caso ha fatto parlare tantissimi blog americani, giornali (vedi qui, qui, qui, qui, […]

  25. […] thing that we learned from the Koman debacle is that the best way to deal with a media crisis it to simply be prepared for one. And the best way […]

  26. […] PR response was woefully inadequate, their social media efforts were non-existent compared to Planned Parenthood’s, and their board decision-making process was flawed. And all of this follows their brand-busting […]

  27. […] Komen is facing a PR mess of gargantuan proportions that will cost way more than it was giving Planned Parenthood to fix. Its core stakeholders – including donors and board members for its affiliates, criticized the decision publicly (see this post on CNN), jumped ship (the main public health officer at Komen’s national headquarters resigned over the decision to defund Planned Parenthood), logjammed Facebook with commentary (check out the Komen Kan Kiss My Mammogram cause) and issuing statements expressing profound disappointment and outrage. Nonprofit consultants have also been doing a great job at dissecting Komen’s PR mis-steps – including Shonali Burke (7 PR Lessons Komen for the Cure Didn’t Know They Were Giving You, Nancy Schwartz, Kivi Leroux Miller (the Accidental Rebranding of Komen for the Cure), Beth Kanter (Komen Kan Kiss My Mammagram, PinActivism, and Newsjacking for a Cause). […]

  28. […] me to join her Pinterest board of the same name, as an exercise in “Pinactivism.” In her post, Beth also touched on “newsjacking” and Komen’s ham-handed handling of the issue […]