Anatomy of a Public Relations Brouhaha: The Susan G Komen Foundation

Topics: Social Media

Disclaimer: This a post about social media, not politics. We take no personal stance, nor do we wish to detract from the seriousness of the debate. However, we think there are lessons to be learned – from ALL sides – in terms of online communication and engagement.

Armed with a cup of coffee and Alfie (my chihuahua) by my side, I logged into Facebook around 7 this morning and discovered that my feed had been taken over by the Susan G Komen Foundation. Family, friends, and colleagues were all abuzz. Here’s just one of a few notices that popped up:


Political view aside, my antennae started to perk up. Comment deletions? Isn’t that against the 10 Commandments of Social Media Management? So off I went to the Susan G Komen page, and lo and behold, it was a social media hailstorm. THOUSANDS of comments. Thousands of comment deletions. Thousands of comments about the comment deletions.

I then did a few Google searches. The results were not pretty. It was a total public relations meltdown, complete with board members resigning and all.

Ooookay. So: what are the take-aways from this?

1. You can’t “delete” a social media backlash.
If you have a Facebook page, for example, be ready to engage. Because if you delete a post, it’s like trying to cut the head off Hydra – two will emerge in its place.

2. The conversation will happen with or without you.
So many companies nowadays try to decide if the want to be “on” Facebook or Twitter. The thing is: people will still talk about you, regardless of whether or not you have an official page. The best thing to do is to take control of the situation by owning your social presence, instead of avoiding it. In fact, by engaging smartly on your own page, this is your opportunity to respond to and communicate with your audience in the most authentic way possible.

3. Know your audience. And don’t betray them.
The striking thing about the Susan G Komen foundation is how completely out of touch they appeared to be many people that supported them. Again, I’m not taking sides, I’m merely stating it’s incredible to see such a beloved non-profit organization, with such a noble mission, alienate such a devastatingly large segment of their donor base.

This is feedback meant for any and all online commenters anywhere about the Susan G. Komen foundation. You will catch more flies with honey than with vinegar. If you’re trying to help someone understand why someone matters to you, swearing and insults help nothing; in fact, they do you a disservice. If someone already doesn’t agree with you, it’s unlikely they’ll move into your camp if you decide to act like a freakazoid on top of it. Also, please learn how to spell.

5. Online Groundswells are a force to be reckoned with.
I’m in awe, really. In January we saw SOPA stopped dead in its tracks because of a fury of online backlash and buzz. And today? Well, it’s not morning anymore. Onto my next point here =>

Earlier today – a development that I was quite unaware until recently as I’ve honestly been busy writing copy for clients – the Susan G Komen foundation reversed their stance and announced that they will now continue to fund existing grants – including Planned Parenthood. The most important thing here is that after appearing not to listen, and after appearing to be at odds with a huge portion of their supporter base, they started to listen. And what’s more, they’re starting to act on the feedback. That’s something all of us can learn from.

Okay, that’s all for today. Hope everyone has a good weekend. Wait, what PINK HANDGUN…?

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