Susan G. Komen and the Anatomy of a Social Media Wildfire, including a guest appearance by @rachelsklar

Few would dispute that Susan G. Komen Foundation has dramatically helped advance the fight for a cure for breast cancer. The organization has helped make pink the national color for October, elevating the search for a cure to the top of the national dialogue for an entire month. Its work has resulted in NFL players wearing pink cleats, NBA players wearing pink headbands, and every brand package having a pink ribbon. This puts a focus on breast cancer in a unique way.

The organization deserves plenty of praise and credit for that accomplishment.

Last week, however, the Komen brand image and reputation took a hit with the revelation of plans to eliminate annual funding for Planned Parenthood Health Systems. Days of debate, backlash, and questions unfolded before Komen agreed to reinstate the funding.

What made the organization change its plans?

Social media played a major role, just ask Cecile Richards, the president of Planned Parenthood, who told reporters,

“The intimate nature of social media, and the ability of folks to communicate across all lines — I’ve never really seen anything like it.”

This was yet another example of outrage spreading rapidly once the match was lit, and another reminder that the world has changed forever.

In the days following the Komen decision, Planned Parenthood picked up 10,000+ new Facebook fans who expressed their anger in the form of $400,000+ in online donations, which helped swell the Planned Parenthood treasury along with a $250,000 gift from Michael Bloomberg.

This growth was accentuated by the grassroots groups that popped up via outraged supporters. 10 people, 100, 1000, or more made up each of these individual groups that expressed outrage in their own unique way.

On Twitter there were 1,300,000 tweets related to Komen in the days immediately following the announcement. These tweets spread far and wide thanks to prominent social media influencers such as Rachel Sklar (a prominent CNN contributor, attorney, and former media editor at Huffington Post).

The grassroots nature of the movement was stoked by the wise moves of Planned Parenthood, which also purchased Twitter advertising related to the issue, generating an additional 400,000 tweets. In addition, Planned Parenthood featured fantastic content throughout the endeavor including the development of social media badges and icons that people used to endorse the message.

The recipe for a social media wildfire could be stated as follows:

1. Legitimate reason for outrage.

2. Immediate social media reaction, which drives news coverage and is then accentuated with advertising, driving further social media outrage.

3. Influencers stoking the flames and staying on message.

4. The organization behind the movement making the right decisions and driving the movement without trying to control it.

The social media playbook is clear. It won’t take off for everyone like it did for Planned Parenthood, but if an issue arises for your organization that ignites a movement then you should follow their lead. Give your supporters the tools to maximize their energy, fan the flames with the media and influencers in social, help supporters refine their message through your content, and drive the movement without trying to control it.