Like so many big brands before it, Susan G. Komen for the Cure, arguably the world’s leading breast cancer charity and advocacy group, discovered the power of social media when it wandered into what is technically termed an online s---storm with its decision (since reversed) to pull funding from Planned Parenthood. Now the question is: how can Komen use social media to undo some of the damage to its brand?
That the Komen brand sustained damage is pretty much beyond question, and I think I’m speaking for many people when I say I find that unfortunate: while you may not agree with their color scheme, the cause is self-evidently a good one and Komen scores relatively high among philanthropic enterprises in terms of transparency and efficiency. On the other hand, they walked right into it, as few non-profit organizations are better prepared for a PR/media showdown than Planned Parenthood.
Indeed, PP evidently has legions of supporters seeded throughout social media, it would seem, ready to march at a moment’s notice: the Wall Street Journal cites data from NetBase Solutions showing the volume of online chatter about Komen increasing 80% from Monday to Tuesday of last week, triggered by the AP report about Komen’s initial decision to pull funding from PP, with 66% of the sentiment negative. Popular Twitter tags included "#standwithpp" and "#shameonkomen”, while an image posted by PP was shared by 22,000 people on Facebook to demonstrate support.
Following the backlash Komen wisely beat a hasty retreat, and is clearly concerned to communicate its new position to the public, especially to those interested in breast cancer advocacy: part of the “front page” of its Web site is now devoted to a special announcement from founder and CEO Nancy G. Brinker explaining, basically, that it won’t happen again.
But rebuilding a brand damaged by political controversy is a difficult, long-term project. While I’m sure Komen’s board of directors wish they had never set foot in the political minefield, now they face the challenge of extricating themselves and restoring the organization’s reputation as a non-partisan research and advocacy outfit. And social media, where the backlash was first felt, clearly needs to be an important component of their recovery strategy.
And who better to help them out than the social media-savvy advertisers, marketers, and PR pros who read this column? So how do you think social media can help Komen come back?