For much of the criticism that social media activism is nothing more than, “slacktivism” that fails to produce real world change, last week’s Susan G. Komen for the Cure debacle serves as a reminder that when utilized properly social media can have an impact on real world events.
When Komen announced their decision to cease funding Planned Parenthood for breast cancer screenings the internet lit up with disapproval. Komen clearly unprepared for the barrage of attacks went a full 24 hours without responding only to put up a stiff and out-of-touch video with founder and CEO Nancy G. Brinker that was given nearly five times more “dislikes” on Youtube than “likes.”
Every organization needs to have a social media strategy to respond to critics and it’s clear that Susan G. Komen didn't prepare themselves from the inevitable backlash that would follow defunding an an organization like Planned Parenthood, which provides much needed healthcare to low income and uninsured women. That Komen not merely decided to do such a thing, but failed to realize that their actions would create a firestorm on social media is extremely telling.
Komen's Facebook page was bombed with critical postings for days and their Twitter replies were filled with angry tweets from persons vowing never to support the organzation's work again, until finally Komen “caved” and decided to reverse its decision. It’s still unclear whether their reversal will result in the funding of Planned Parenthood as in the past but their movement on the issue was clearly a result of the power of social media used as a tool to communicate around a cause. And as a result of the controversy Planned Parenthood’s donations skyrocketed, raising more than the $650,000 the org annually recives from Komen in the first place.
Recent events like the fall of SOPA and PIPA as well as 2011’s Arab Spring are reminders that when the internet wants to impact real life change. Swiftly, millions of people united around one goal can take to their keyboards, sign petitions, tweet criticisms, and make their feelings known publicly in Facebook statuses. It’s a powerful reminder that when the powers that be decide to go against the will of the public, who may appear to not be paying attention as they puruse their play cousin’s wedding pictures on Facebook- they are in for a rude awakening.
Going against the will of the people in the era of social media is more than a publicist's nightmare; it can damage a company or organization's reputation beyond repair. In the span of a few days, Komen went from generous charity to enemy of the state, proving the true value social media yet again.