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.
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.