When Planned Parenthood first learned that Susan G. Komen was going to cut its funds, there were many pleas made to regain the commitment of nearly $700,000 in funding for 19 affiliates. What exploded when the news went public is a valuable lesson for any nonprofit harnessing social media and traditional media.

Like any David and Goliath story, this one has winners and losers.

By the time The Associated Press broke a national headline on the funding loss, Planned Parenthood was ready to go – and began leveraging the strong reactions made in social media to tell more of its story and expand on its key messages. The organization quickly went from political pariah to social media darling.

Here’s how it started with AP’s post:

NEW YORK (AP) – The nation’s leading breast-cancer charity, Susan G. Komen for the Cure, is halting its partnerships with Planned Parenthood affiliates – creating a bitter rift, linked to the abortion debate, between two iconic organizations that have assisted millions of women. The change will mean a cutoff of hundreds of thousands of dollars in grants, mainly for breast exams.

A few months prior, Congress had been engaged in its own battle to defund Planned Parenthood and constituent groups were already on high alert.

Heather Holdridge, director of Digital Strategy for Planned Parenthood Federation of America, said once the AP story was posted on its Facebook page, the social media conversation took over. “We sat back and waited and started paying attention to the conversation. People were upset and angry.”

Within a day, Facebook posts on the subject jumped from 2,600 to 23,000.

Donations to Planned Parenthood also increased.

A Tumblr site named “Planned Parenthood Saved Me” was created where supporters shared more than 350 personal patient stories on the benefits of affordable health care. That content was also leveraged, resulting in more engagement.

“The substantive content came from traditional media initially,” said Holdridge. “It certainly led it. And the media kept it alive.”

Sentiment measurement is also important – so that missteps aren’t made. Here’s how Twitter and Facebook stacked up on metrics: Of those weighing in on social media, pro Planned Parenthood posts were measured at 56 percent of the overall content while pro Komen posts hit only 27 percent.

John Gordon, senior VP of Digital in Fenton’s New York office, said the real value of social media is “listening.”

But for many traditionally structured nonprofits, social listening can be tough to do with department silos and a single approval authority residing in an executive director.

“Social media can be planned. Social media can be exploited.  What social media can’t do is predict a potential reaction. But it can harness the power of the conversation,” Gordon said.

“Your social media goals should be perfectly aligned with your brand. When a situation comes out of left field, you need to center yourself quickly and respond. You’re on task. You’re on point. And your response is completely aligned with message goals.”

Gordon, who has advised Planned Parenthood in the past but was not involved in this instance, said Komen was flat footed.  “They felt they could sit on high and direct messages down. They didn’t have those channels and relationships available,” he said.

The story ended poorly for Komen, a group that managed its message traditionally from the top down. Local chapters were hurt in their fundraising initiatives across the country, including here in Indianapolis.

Planned Parenthood largely reaped the reward in this social conversation with an engaged audience. When the conversation started, its Facebook numbers hovered around 210,000. Currently, they have 334,679 (at the end of August 2012).

Disclaimer: Kyle Communications writes regularly about social media campaigns. Documenting the successes or failures of social campaigns is in no way an endorsement of the policies of any organization. The people quoted in in this column were speakers in a webinar scheduled by Social Media Today.

Leave a Reply