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Lessons Learned: Susan G Komen Vs Their Public

There has been a bit of a social media/public policy kerfuffle over the past week regarding the Susan G Komen non-profit.  SGK has done an incredible amount of good and is an organization I generally hold in high regard.  Earlier this week word got out that SGK would not longer be offering cooperative services with Planned Parenthood.  And then things went south.

The public was concerned.  They took to social media.  They leveled accusations, highly charged political accusations.  They posted on Facebook and Twitter.  They swarmed the SGK Facebook page.  They demanded answers.  And SGK chose to censor their community, their public.  Not only did they not reply to the accusations of politicizing the war on cancer, but they deleted posts about this issue off their page. 

This censorship further fueled the fire of community outrage.  People expect responses, clarifications, apoligies and changes in policy where appropriate.  They expect to be heard and recognized by a cause they have supported with their time and money.  Censorship is such an evil activity, that the public views it an implied guilt.

A few hours ago SGK hit the media, replying to their community through the press.  They shared their perspective and shifted the blame to Planned Parenthood.  Regardless of who is correct or justified in ending the relationship SGK will walk away with a black eye.  Which is a shame considering the wonderful respect I have for this organization.  And this black eye has little to do with the end of the SGK/PP relationship, and everything to do with poor communications.

I'm quite certain that behind closed doors at SGK there were at least a dozen meetings over this past week to determine the right way to communicate with their community.  I truly believe that those that get social media within the SGK were likely against the censorship.  But the bottom line is, they failed.  And regaining that community trust will take time and effort, something I would hate to see diverted from funds that could have been used to help cancer patients.

SGK made four crucial mistakes:

  1. They viewed their community, their public as participants and not drivers of their success.  There is never a good way to address a crises, but not replying to anyone is a great way to imply guilt.
  2. They censored their community.  Taking down community posts from your Facebook wall is only acceptable when the posts violate the accepted norms of the community.  Just as users must learn to live within the accepted social norms of the community, so must brands.
  3. They were actively unresponsive.   SGK took days to address what they say is a misrepresentation of the facts.  The community demanded an answer.  Taking the action of censorship while being completely inactive in addressing the community concerns implies guilt to the community and public.  This may not be the case, but to the public it looks like the proverbial kid running up to his parent yelling I didn't do it before the parent even knows a window has been broken.
  4. They haven't engaged their community.  The responses I have seen from SGK have been entirely broadcast through traditional and digital media.  In digital channels, they issued a statement on Facebook and a video statement on YouTube.  Their blog is down.  Throughout this entire episode, SGK addressed their public as a group and failed to engage them as individuals.  This doesn't mean that they must reply to every single post on FB - that would be very much not advised.  But they have to start replying to some people, if only to show that they care.

What SGK SHOULD Do Today

SGK needs to both invest in community engagement, and let the public know that they care about them and are investing in this engagement..  

  • Correct the hero image on the video on your website.  It makes the organization look angry, which is a counter-productive stance at this point.
  • Announce the engagement for one month from now.  This will both (a) send the message to your community that you want to engage with them, and are investing in building solutions to address these communications failures and (b) give the community time to get over their initial anger.
  • Find someone in the communications team with strong social experience and begin participating in light community engagement.  Do not reply to all posts, but begin replying to at least 10 posts a day.  This will send the message that while you aren't yet set to answer everything, you are listening, engaging and care.
  • Set up a Town Hall on Google Plus and streamed into Facebook, with a few members of the community.  These participants can be pre-screened and should include a few people who were bothered by this episode.  
  • Invite the public to help SGK choose their partners.  This doesn't need to be a pure democracy, but it should include a decent degree of community participation/
  • Hire an experienced community strategist that can oversee all community engagement.  Community managers are great, but do not always have the experience or broad perspective needed to participate in crises communications planning.  
  • Review and revise internal action plans for crises communications in the online space.