If you think social media doesn’t matter, think Susan G. Komen and Planned Parenthood.

To anyone who continues to pooh-pooh the importance of social media – consider the recent squabble between women’s health care titans, the Susan G. Komen for the Cure Foundation and Planned Parenthood.

Forget the politics (of which there are plenty). The real teachable moment in the brouhaha is what happens when an organization “ jumps into a highly controversial area of public debate without a communications strategy, stays silent, and therefore lets others take over the public dialogue, perhaps permanently redefining the organization and its brand.”

That’s the word from marketing consultant Kivi Leroux Miller. Her suggestion? “Watch and learn, so you don’t make the same mistake on whatever hot button issues your organization might be wading into.”

Good advice, except that learning from the “other” is easier said than done. Bulverism runs rampant in today’s politically charged environment. It’s ideological purity uber alles.

The slightest hint of admiration for tactics is deemed tantamount to agreement with an opponent’s views. And that’s too bad, because refusing to acknowledge that anything good can come out of (fill in the blank) is cutting ourselves and our organizations off from potentially valuable  insights.

Which brings me back to the Komen/Planned Parenthood face-off and the advice it’s generated about social media usage and crisis communication.  I’ve plucked a few references from the hundreds of online articles that have been generated in recent days.

Disclaimer: The political ideologies espoused by the authors listed below don’t necessarily represent my own. Their insights about social media and crisis communication do.


From the Agitator, good questions to ask.

What if a crisis of confidence and trust in your organization arose? How prepared would you be to acknowledge the facts, respond with alacrity and truthfulness, describe and implement with full transparency the needed changes, and get back to the mission of communicating the positive work of your organization to your donors, other key constituencies, and the media?

From Ventureneer, advice to organizational leaders.

Look at your policies, partners, and crisis management plan. Good governance means preventing — or at least anticipating — a crisis. Three rules that should guide you:  1) Never underestimate the power of social media. 2) Plan ahead. 3) Be consistent.

From Forbes, six learnings for communicators when it comes to delivering controversial news.

  • Create a receptive environment in advance by engaging with key audiences and explaining your planned actions.
  • If possible, deliver messages in a face-to-face environment, and answer questions forthrightly.
  • Enlist the support and aid of outside experts who can help deliver the message.
  • Develop a strategic plan anticipating media and audience response, and be ready to either pre-empt or react quickly.
  • Engage early and often in the social media space. Monitor discussions and anticipate the tipping point.
  • If you are the recipient of negative news, assess your position and its impact, and be prepared to mobilize your stakeholders to take a desired action.

From Jew Point O, the  importance of cultivating “free agents.”

Leaders of today’s organizations should educate themselves about free agents (read The Networked Nonprofit for starters) and think deeply about how to work with free agents on an ongoing basis, and in fast paced environments as well.   Millennials in particular are well positioned to be free agents, and as they continue to mature, their modes of engaging and supporting organizations may look more and more free-agent-y.  As Ben Wiener said at the 2011 Jewish Future’s conference, “We don’t meet, we tweet.”

For an example of women of faith engaged in a civil exchange of ideas in response to the Komen/Planned Parent debate, check out Kate Wicker’s blog post titled “Let’s Talk about Komen (& Why I’m Leaving the BlogHer Network).”  Be sure to scroll down to the comments. These mostly-mommy bloggers understand the power of social media!

And finally, from the Ian O. Ihnatowycz Institute for Leadership at the University of Western Ontario, a helpful essay and 5-minute video on “Learning from the Enemy.” This resource preceded the Komen/Planned Parenthood discussion, but is relevant nonetheless.

TALK BACK: Where have you seen social media used especially well? Where are you at in using social media for your organization? How do you feel about my premise that it’s possible to admire tactics without condoning ideas?

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