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Lessons Learned When Your Community Revolts

There are three pillars to building an online community and engaging on social media channels:

1. Honesty, transparency, and being upfront.

2. Listening and being responsive to members of the community no matter how lame or silly you find the questions or feedback.

3. Thanking your community for their support, feedback and guidance. 

If you don’t practice these principals every single day somewhere along the way your community is going to revolt. And it won’t be pretty.

For example, yesterday, Planned Parenthood released a statement saying that the Susan G. Komen Foundation would not be renewing grants to support 19 local Planned Parenthood affiliates, which provided 170,000 clinical breast exams and 6,400 mammogram referrals to women in low-income communities through the Komen grant. According to Jessica Pieklo on the Care2 Cause Channel, last year’s grant totaled about $680,000.

Komen said that they cut their funding because Rep. Cliff Sterns (R-FL) launched a congressional investigation into whether or not Planned Parenthood was using public money on abortions. Since Komen has implemented more stringent eligibility standards to safeguard donor dollars “consequently, some organizations are no longer eligible to receive Komen grants,” said Komen in a press release yesterday.

How did the women’s community including many of Komen’s donors, Facebook fans, and followers on Twitter and Race for the Cure team leaders react?

They revolted.

Once the news began to spread, women and men of all ages flocked to Komen’s page on Twitter and Facebook and posted emotional and heart felt messages, expressing their sadness and anger over Komen’s decision to take away funding for breast cancer screening services.

What's more telling than this communal reaction is Komen's response to its own community's revolt. They went dark for 24 hours. Not a peep on Twitter or Facebook even as supporters continued to post thousands of messages on social networks and let's not forget the buzz that grew offline, around dinner tables, and office water coolers. Some members of Komen’s Facebook page even said that their comments were deleted.

Yesterday morning Komen finally posted a brief statement on it's Facebook Page. (read the full statement here)

“While it is regrettable when changes in priorities and policies affect any of our grantees, such as a longstanding partner like Planned Parenthood, we must continue to evolve to best meet the needs of the women we serve and most fully advance our mission.”

The community's response to Komen’s first Facebook post since the news broke? Over 7K comments. Komen’s response to these 7K comments? Nothing.

Online Community Rules Organizations Should Never Break

Here are five key lessons learned from the Komen and Planned Parenthood dustup.

  1. Be Upfront: When your organization makes a major decision that you know will generate a lot of publicity and community feedback, be prepared to talk about it openly. Don't retreat and go dark.
  2. Listen and Respond: Respond to your communities comments. And don't issue a brief statement taken from talking points. This does not bode well when you are trying to build real community and foster deeper relationships with your constituents and donors. Nonprofits need passionate people managing their social media who are good listeners and always responsive even when things heat up. Ignoring your community is not an option in today always “on” world. It can permanently ruin relationships with your supporters.
  3. Never Delete Comments: The only comments you should ever delete on your Facebook page is if they are threatening or abusive.
  4. Don't Blame Your Community: Don't tell your community that you are “dismayed and extremely disappointed” by their response.  Chastising your community for expressing their opinions, even if you don’t agree - is one of the worst things you can do to your community. It also riles them up even more.
  5. Thank your Community: When donors and supporters spend time expressing themselves on your social network pages thank them for their feedback.

How do you think Komen should have handled their social media and community presence over the past couple of days? What would you have done different in this situation?


More Resources:


Reader Comments (4)

I've said this before and I'll say it again: there's no such thing as a business-ending social media PR problem. Komen is under no obligation to respond to any of their followers, and they can delete anything they'd like to delete under their own power. Is that what we'd advise our own clients to do? No, because we value transparency and community. But the truth is, being social is optional. A business doesn't have to be nice in order to be successful.

And since a wealth of evidence indicates that defunding Planned Parenthood is directly in line with Komen's actual long-term goals -- regardless of whether that aspect is aligned with the goals of their community -- they're under no obligation to apologize or compromise. Nor, I suspect, would they see any value in doing so, especially if this controversial action actually leads to more financial support from conservative funders who'll take the place of the liberal funders they're likely to lose.
February 2, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterJustin Kownacki
Being social isn't optional when you've taken the time to use social media as part of your communications platform. You can dislike what your community is saying, but you ignore it at your peril. And deleting feedback from your community is clearly a recipe for disaster.

Even if Komen's move is pointing toward a different long-term strategy, they needed to respond to their community when it started talking. Silence is not just short-sighted, it's stupid. Komen had an opportunity to handle this much differently and they blew it.
February 2, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterSusan
First rule of crisis PR management: Don't listen to your in-house lawyers: They will push you to 'no comment' until all i's dotted, t's crossed and analysis completed. Worst thing you can do.... was this a factor?
February 3, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterMartin
Great review of the basics Komen missed! Will be doing my own "what's next" post next week and will point people here. Thanks Allyson!
February 4, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterKivi Leroux Miller

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