This week: So much for drum circles and urban camping. This week was yet another lesson in the power of a social media protest. Earlier this year online protesters got Congress to shelve (for the time being, anyway) two Internet privacy bills. This time around, it was the nation’s leading breast-cancer charity, Susan G. Komen for the Cure, which felt the virtual wrath of angry protestors after the announcement that it would no longer give money to Planned Parenthood. Komen’s response to this online crisis has offered up some important lessons in crisis management, namely by reminding us what not to do.
Interesting fact from the Komen crisis: Both Planned Parenthood and Komen use the same crisis management agency.
Also included in this post: what the Super Bowl taught us about social media marketing, tips on generating content ideas, how to get people to return your emails, tips on beating information overload, and for those of you interested in financial regulation, the best infographic we’ve seen thus far explaining Dodd-Frank.
Susan G. Komen’s PR debacle:
In case you need a quick refresher, here’s what’s happened (for the lesson’s scroll down to How it all went wrong):
- December 2011: Susan G. Komen decides to stop giving money to Planned Parenthood. No public announcement is made.
- January 31: Planned Parenthood breaks the news. Virtual firestorm ensures.
- February 3: Komen reverses its decision: Planed Parenthood can get its money back (for an excellent overview of what motivated this decision, see The Atlantic’s Who is Behind Susan G. Komen’s Split From Planned Parenthood? ).
Komen’s side of the story:
A recent rule change bars the foundation from donating to any group that is under government investigation, which, technically Planned Parenthood is. Back in September Florida Representative Cliff Stearns launched what has been described as the first-ever oversight of Planned Parenthood’s use of taxpayer funds. If Planned Parenthood is cleared of any alleged wrongdoing, the organization will regain its eligibility.
The protesters’ side (abridged version):
Komen bowed to political pressure from anti-abortion activists, who have sought to paint Planned Parenthood as nothing more than a baby-killing machine. The breast advocacy group has betrayed its shared mission with Planned Parenthood of saving women’s lives. Komen higher-ups, who were known to oppose abortion, deliberately changed the rules, so Planned Parenthood would no longer be eligible for funding. Plus, the rule isn’t even being applied uniformly: the organization still gives money to Penn State and accepts money from Bank of America, both of which are facing government scrutiny.
For more on the motives behind the decision and the players involved, these articles are worth checking out:
- Who Is Behind Susan G. Komen’s Split From Planned Parenthood? (The Atlantic)
- Komen VP steps down after Planned Parenthood flap (Reuters)
How it all went wrong:
It’s hard to imagine you couldn’t see this crisis coming. Mention “Planned Parenthood” to someone and odds are you’re going to be talking about abortion too. And when you’ve got people talking about abortion, the biggest problem usually isn’t an overabundance of civility.
So why didn’t Komen – the brains behind the ubiquitous pink ribbon campaign and no stranger to public relations – anticipate any fallout?
The answer most often heard is that Komen simply didn’t see this as an issue. This was a policy change, and while Komen’s PR team worked to monitor and develop response plans for potentially controversial “issues” – like its position on embryonic stem-cell research – matters of policy did not merit such attention. As a result, when the policy did become an issue, the charity was ill prepared to act.
Key lesson learned: PR pros have been harping on this for a while – and with good reason: you can’t anticipate every crisis-triggering scenario. Therefore, crisis communication plans need to should focus on how you can respond, not just what you should respond to.
What else went wrong (aka learning via negation):
- Once news broke, Komen waited more than 24 hours before responding. In contrast, Planned Parenthood blasted out the message using all available communication channels. Over the weekend the message was shared thousands of times and Planned Parenthood chalked up 32,000 new friends.
- When Komen did start talking, statements were often ambiguous (see Mr. Media Training’s Susan G. Komen’s Bad Week in Crisis Communications ).
- Twitter gaffes: “Just like a pro-abortion group to turn a cancer orgs decision into a political bomb to throw. Cry me a freaking river.” This tweet was retweeted by Komen’s VP Karen Handel (she has since resigned and the tweet has since been removed).
- Technical difficulties: Komen’s blog was done for several days and the comments on Komen’s YouTube response video were disabled.
- Komen deleted negative comments to its Facebook Wall (a BIG PR no-no).
For more useful PR lessons from this debacle, these are worth checking out:
- Komen provides excellent crisis management case study (SpinSucks)
- Susan G. Komen foundation takes steps to rebuild trust after PR fiasco (Washington Post)
Next up: Super Bowl lessons
It might not have been the most memorable of games, and maybe some people cared more about New England losing than either team winning, but for online marketers, there have been some useful lessons in social media-advertising integration.
Fun fact (and useful article): Twitter: In The Final 3 Minutes Of The Super Bowl, There Were 10,000 Tweets Per Second
Infographic of the week (part 1): Suffering from TMI? Here’s how to beat information overload (with yet more information)
Infographic of the week (part 2): Dodd-Frank in one graph
Blogs we wish we’d written: