Sunday, February 12, 2012

Komen, Gap & Christmas Trees: How Social Media Activism Influences Major Decisions and What it Means for Associations and Nonprofits

Three “news stories” illustrate the growing power of social media to influence major decisions:
  • Back in 2010, the Gap introduced a new logo and quickly reverted to the old logo after social media spoofs on the new logo. 
  • After nearly five years of planning and waiting for the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) to respond to its request to approve a Christmas Tree checkoff, growers were stunned with a “right-winged” attack on the “Obama Tax on Christmas.”  The White House had the USDA rescind its approval of the Christmas Tree checkoff.
  • The Susan G. Komen for the Cure organization announced defunding of Planned Parenthood and quickly retreated after a barrage from “left-winged” activists. 
I’m not focusing on the claims and counter claims behind each of these cases.
All three share a common element: the opposition spread widely through social media tools.

And, that is a key point of these cases.

Here are four suggestions for associations, professional societies and charitable foundations:
  1. Evaluate your decisions from a “political” and “controversy” viewpoint. What decisions or positions may create issues for our organization?
  2. Develop communications plan. First, a pro-active plan on announcing the policy or program to your members and to the general public. Secondly, a crisis communications plan outlining your steps if the action becomes a major public issue. This plan should identify who is the spokesperson and who needs to pre-approve responses.
  3. Monitor all media platforms including social media. As I wrote earlier, an unanswered lie becomes the truth within 24 hours. In today’s world, you can’t wait until it appears in the traditional media. Your organization needs to vigilantly monitor all social media platforms as an "early warning detection system."
  4. Respond swiftly. Start with engaging the community discussing your issue. Share the rationale for your decision(s). Be proactive. 
You may think your organization doesn’t take on controversial policies or programs.

That’s what the National Christmas Tree Association thought. Until the attack on the “Obama Tax on Christmas.”

Be forewarned: any project, decision or issue is subject to attack. Your organization needs to be prepared ...even when it can’t imagine such an attack.


  1. Boy that's for sure. I think it's also important to understand that communicating with people in their new "preferred" medium -- social media -- is way more effective than old traditional medium. I saw more impact of facebook posts telling people the checkoff had nothing to do with Obama or taxes, than I saw with NCTA's "official press release."

  2. Thanks Rick ... appreciate the feedback.