The organ donor initiative, described in an article in the American Journal of Transplantation, encouraged Facebook users to publicize their own organ donor status on their timelines, and share links that made it easy to change their organ donor status, which in turn encouraged even more people to register, and so on. According to the authors, the Facebook push produced a rather mind-boggling 21-fold increase in organ donor registrations on the first day of the campaign, with 13,012 people signing up to become organ donors, compared to the usual daily average of 616.
The example of the social media organ donor registration drive is both encouraging and cautionary. On the positive side, it showed that (for certain causes, at least) the combination of peer examples and ease of engagement can prompt large numbers of people to make a significant commitment.
Less encouraging (but not surprising) is the fact that after the initial period of “viral” success, fueled in part by the novelty of the timeline feature showing organ donor status, the organ donor registration rates apparently fell back to “just” twice the normal rate several weeks later. That’s still better than no increase, but Andrew M. Cameron, an associate professor of surgery at Johns Hopkins who led the study, conceded, “we need to find a way to keep the conversation going.”
There’s also the fact that this model may have limited applicability for other types of activism. Choosing to become an organ donor is usually a one-time event, which costs the donor nothing while offering a big payoff in feeling good about ourselves. Thus it’s a perfect cause for social media -- and I imagine these results would be harder to replicate for almost any other kind of charitable initiative.