Komen reversal shows power of social networks

WASHINGTON: The quick resolution to the standoff between The Susan G. Komen for the Cure organization and Planned Parenthood is a testament to the power of social media.

WASHINGTON: The quick resolution to the standoff between The Susan G. Komen for the Cure organization and Planned Parenthood is a testament to the power of social media, say industry experts.

Komen said earlier this week it would cease to fund grants for breast cancer screenings at Planned Parenthood because of a policy that dictated organizations under investigation by US authorities could not receive financial support. Planned Parenthood is the subject of a probe by Rep. Cliff Stearns (R-FL).

Following a public outcry from consumers around the country, the breast cancer prevention foundation reversed its decision on Friday.

Lee Davies, group VP of the health practice at Makovsky + Company, said while it is unclear exactly how far in advance Planet Parenthood knew about Komen's decision, the expediency with which it kicked off a communications strategy is worth noting. Within hours, Planned Parenthood sent out mass emails and placed phone calls requesting supporters take a stand against the action.

Meanwhile, Komen was silent for at least 24 hours after making its initial announcement. During that time, the media landscape filled with third parties weighing in on the decision.

“There was a lot of information going around, and it was hard to differentiate what was fact and what was hearsay,” said Tara Greco, SVP in APCO Worldwide's DC office. She added that the ordeal could have been avoided if Komen had better predicted the reaction to its decision.

“It appeared to be one women's organization beating up another, and that was startling to people,” Greco said.

Critics also charged that Komen changed its rationale for the decision, amplifying its communications challenges. That may also have been a reason why Komen was unable to pre-establish a group of supporters who would publicly back the decision to stop funding Planned Parenthood.

“It wasn't a balanced conversation in the media, and that may function as a lesson learned,” said Al Jackson, Washington office director at Chandler Chicco.

With a short turnaround time to get its message out, Planned Parenthood put a heavy emphasis on social media. As a result, women flooded social networks with statements of outrage.

“Social media allows focus across all lines, and I've never seen anything like it,” Cecile Richards, president of Planned Parenthood, said on a media conference call on Friday.

The organization raised nearly $3 million from more than 10,000 donors over three days. Komen's annual contributions to the organization range from $500,000 to $700,000.

PR executives by and large praised Planned Parenthood's digital strategy, saying it could serve as a case study for social media success.

“I believe that eventually the same outcome would have occurred. The difference now is it took days instead of weeks or month and possibly years,” said Melissa Waggener Zorkin, CEO and president of Waggener Edstrom Worldwide. “The turbo-charging of communities to respond to issues that excite, or incite, them is something that every brand in the world must account for by engaging those communities, instead of trying to corral them later. The latter does not work in the world today.”

With the conflict between the two organizations now over, Komen has numerous communications challenges ahead, said industry experts. For instance, conservatives will likely criticize the decision, saying Komen bowed to liberal pressure. Komen must also rebuild trust among parties offended by the decision, meaning it will have to emphasize one-on-one engagement and transparency moving forward, said experts.

“[Komen still has a] stronghold of community support, and that means the impact on Komen's brand may not be irrevocable, but it will take time, possibly years, to rebuild the belief and support they once enjoyed so broadly,” Zorkin said.

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