Facebook Bra Campaign: 3 Lessons for Online Organizers

Posted on January 11, 2010 Under Social Media

In case you missed it, a meme swept Facebook last week that had women posting the color of their bras in support of breast cancer awareness. No one seems to know who started it, but it’s everywhere.

As I watched the colors wash over my news feed, I had some thoughts about what online marketers can learn from all this.

1. Anyone can start a powerful viral idea

All signs point to no professional organizer behind this: No one stepped forward to take advantage of all the publicity (CNN, Business Week, Times of India!). No link was circulated as part of the campaign.

That’s the beauty of social media, but it’s also frustrating — think how much more could have been accomplished for breast cancer awareness had all this energy been harnessed better.

2. Viral fads can create huge opportunities for a cause

The Susan G. Komen for the Cure, the biggest and best-known organization working on this issue, was taken by surprise, but still got more attention in a week than most cause advocates can hope for in a month. They were quoted in dozens of news stories, and got more than a hundred thousand new Facebook fans.

3. Lots of opportunities were left on the table.

But there was a lot more organizers could have done to capitalize on this.

  • Give people a place to go — and promote it. The Komen home page has a link to how you can make a difference, but most news stories I saw didn’t include their URL, and the quotes they placed mostly didn’t encourage people to visit the site, either. And the link on the home page wasn’t tailored to the opportunity — it would have been a great chance to feature, say, a blog post with a few simple facts about breast cancer prevention.
  • Ask your supporters to make it bigger. I’m not on the Komen email list or Facebook group so I don’t know if they sent a message about it. (If you are, post a comment?) I would have loved to get a note saying “What a great idea! When you post your bra color, include this link so your friends can get more information.” I do know that I saw not one status pointing to Komen.
  • If your cause is related, jump in! My guy friends were feeling a little left out, and resorted to doing things like posting their t-shirt colors. Where was the men’s health group getting guys to post the color of their boxers to support prostate cancer awareness?

Are YOU ready for lightning to strike?

Fads like this are lightning strikes — they happen in an instant, and you could sit around a looong time waiting for the second bolt.

I’ve pointed out more that Komen for the Cure could have done, but the honest truth is that most organizations (including mine) would probably come out of a Facebook lightning strike the same way — some good, but a lot undone. How would you do?

I started a quick list of things to make organizations more lightning-ready:

  • Can people find you? If people think of you in relation to a particular cause, they’re likely to come looking for you. Komen was positioned perfectly to take advantage of press interest — as I said, they got quoted in tons of news stories.But on Facebook, it was different. I wasn’t sure of the exact name of the organization (I think was a re-branding when I wasn’t looking) and a search for a variation on their name turns up only these results. A ton of other groups come up if you search Facebook for “breast cancer.” It took me four searches to find this Komen Facebook group, which looks like their official one. I kept looking, though, since one news account referred to 100K+ fans. I finally found this fan page through an NPR blog post. How many possible supporters never found them?
  • How quickly can you offer an online resource? I’m talking about something really simple — a basic landing page or blog post you can send curious people to. It needs just a few things they can do right now for the half-second they’re thinking about your issue. Don’t just think about the technology. Can you get information from the right people? Do you have to ask permission?
  • Who on your team wants to help bottle lightning? If you’re lucky enough to get a trend like this, it’s really easy to watch it, have some cool ideas, then just go on to your next meeting. It’s a lot easier to act if you have someone to toss ideas around with, to reinforce the idea that you can actually do something about this. Who can you turn who’s itching to be quick and creative?

Those are just my quick ideas — what other opportunities do you see?

Update, Jan. 12: Carrie over at the U.S. Humane Society found this new promotion, where Facebook is donating money based on how many new fans join the Susan G. Komen for the Cure page.

Update, Jan 14: Rabia Shirazi started a donation campaign inspired by the color campaign.?  Shashi Bellamkonda has a nice write-up of it on his blog. It’s great to see someone build on a good idea.