The New Connectedness

"FYI, it costs $12,000 to bury your toddler."

That message appeared over and over again on Twitter April 8, followed by "Heather and Mike need your help."

Heather and Mike are the Spohrs. Their daughter, Madeline, passed away suddenly of respiratory syncytial virus, complicated by her premature birth just 17 months earlier. The entire tragedy played out, in real time, on Twitter.

It began with a simple "Maddie has a cough" on April 5. It was an innocuous tweet squeezed between "Seth Rogen, come here" and "Those are sweet bangs ... I once had bangs." For the next two days, thousands of concerned moms were re-tweeting Heather's updates from the hospital and finally the sad news of Maddie's death.

Let there be no more doubt that the on-line community is, in fact, a community in the truest, human sense. Social media is the uber-gathering space -- better than a beauty shop, supermarket, diner, church, pub, firehouse, school, and town square rolled into one. The scale of Facebook or Twitter is global. Yet, when a human story touches our hearts, we react as intently as we would to a crisis in our own neighborhood.



Heather Spohr's 3,500 Twitter followers instantly activated an outpouring of support from around the world. Almost 700 people expressed condolences on her blog. More than 400 bloggers paid tribute to Maddie on their own sites, and thousands of people donated as little as a dollar towards funeral expenses through a PayPal account set up by a sympathetic follower. In just two days, more than $30,000 was donated to the March of Dimes in honor of Maddie, and 35 teams were formed to walk in the charity's annual drives. Most of these people never even met little Maddie Spohr.

As marketers, we seek to quantify the power and penetration of nascent social platforms. What percentage of the target audience is engaged in Twitter? How many women 34-55 are on Facebook? How many eyeballs does this blog get compared to that one? And for heaven sakes, what's our ROI?

Old-school brand engagement metrics are inadequate to frame the essence of a technology-powered global neighborhood. Social media has turned a faceless audience back into individuals, and restored the emotional connectedness of which one-way media robbed us. It doesn't feel odd to think of our Twitter followers as neighbors. We know them, we see them around. Sometimes we chat, sometimes not. But when a girlfriend is in need, we are there. In mass.

Social media requires a purely human metric. A woman on LinkedIn may have 200 connections yielding a 150,000-member "network" just two or three clicks away. That kind of scale makes the classic shampoo ad where two friends tell two friends and so on ... finally look dated. We remember the split-screen that creatively demonstrated the viral power of a woman's community. The image seems quaintly small now.

As my Twitter friend Edward Boches has observed, "What social media have done is allowed us once again, despite our geographic separation, or our cubicle, or our house in the suburbs, to connect with each other in a more natural, more human way." Importantly, social media have encouraged us to express authentic emotion in real conversation, as opposed to the manufactured emotion in the monologue of marketing messages of yesterday.

Marketers take note: Emotion sells. Especially to women.

We know women control spending. And, though hard to quantify, we know women have always been the fabric of communities. In the measured world of "media," where ROI is what counts, we're beginning to see how valuable that fabric really is.

Just ask Heather Spohr.

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1 comment about "The New Connectedness ".
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  1. Kim Moldofsky from MomImpact, Inc., April 29, 2009 at 12:17 p.m.

    The night of Maddie Spohr's death I'd fallen asleep with my boys early in the evening. I woke shortly after midnight too rested to sleep again, so I turned on my computer and saw an email about Heather's loss. Like so many women after me, I immediately made a donation to March of Dimes and asked others to consider doing the same via my blog.

    The outpouring of support for the Spohr's was touching in so many ways. And you summarized this well in your article. However, this crass statement leaves me cold:

    "Marketers take note: Emotion sells. Especially to women."

    That one line ruined an otherwise excellent piece for me.

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