Susan G. Komen Fights For Reputation

7 Feb

Until this past week, Susan G. Komen for the Cure held a position that would make most organizations green with envy. Since 1982, the foundation has developed a set of signature events, over 100 corporate partnerships, and its trademark pink ribbon, making it among the most recognizable brands nationwide. Today, many Americans immediately associate the color pink with Komen’s mission.

On Tuesday, January 30, word broke of Komen’s controversial decision to cut its grants for Planned Parenthood’s breast cancer screenings. The decision, in response to recent congressional investigations of Planned Parenthood’s abortion funding, came as a surprise to Komen supporters. When supporters responded via social networks, Komen was woefully unprepared.

Social Media Revolution

As headlines have revealed over the past year, social media isn’t just for informing your friends that you ate a turkey sandwich for lunch. Given the advent of the Arab Spring and Occupy Movement–both organized via social media–companies and governments realize the platform isn’t a toy.

Komen is not a stranger to social media. With 547 thousand “likes” on Facebook and 39 thousand followers on Twitter, Komen has already been using the platform to enforce its brand image. Besides posting frequent industry updates and articles citing the foundation, it also publishes personalized messages of support to thank donors and walk/run participants.

As of January 30, however, Komen had not notified corporate partners or social media followers of the funding cut. In effect, the foundation had no control over the message when it did surfaced.

Damage Done

By the time Komen addressed the Planned Parenthood issue on Thursday, the news had gone viral. Forty-eight hours is more than enough time for social media users to generate buzz. Komen subsequently lost control of its image–petitions, blog posts, and images flooded news feeds.

Crisis Control

Komen informed Planned Parenthood of the funding cuts in mid-December and had over a month to plan for possible reactions to the news. Yet Komen overlooked the need for a social media strategy, and found itself in a PR crisis.

When the foundation finally released a response, it was professionally crafted. In a video statement, CEO Ambassador Nancy Brinker explains the criteria changes that led to the cuts, which she says had been “regrettably mischaracterized.” Her robotic eye contact and use of first-person pronouns are clear attempts to bridge the trust gap. Twitter has been a useful way for Komen to address critics’ concerns publicly, allowing increased content control.

Komen’s initial lack of preparation is a result of inexperience: relative to Planned Parenthood, Komen has faced little opposition in the past. Planned Parenthood, on the other hand, is well practiced. Their “I Stand With Planned Parenthood” campaign is a response to opposition from the government and partners like Susan G. Komen. Planned Parenthood published an online petition, encouraging users to virtually sign it, and pass the link on to their networks. The link has over 2000 shares on Facebook; Brinker’s video has just 455.

Komen seemed to already understand how social media could help share good news with followers. Evidently, the foundation was not as prepared for followers’ negative feedback. Learning from the past, Komen should work with its PR team to create a social media crisis plan, as well as anticipate more transparent communication, especially of controversial news, in the future.

by Julia Joy Berk

Sources: (image)


2 Responses to “Susan G. Komen Fights For Reputation”

  1. Jacqueline Chen February 8, 2012 at 4:40 am #

    Super interesting post! I liked the picture to illustrate how much damage had been done via the internet in such a short amount of time. I agree that the situation was poorly handled and that they lost a lot of support and took a huge blow to their reputation. I agree that they should have expected the negative backlash and developed a crisis control plan way before announcing their cut in funding since the topic is so controversial. Great read!

  2. Julia Joy Berk February 11, 2012 at 5:13 pm #

    Thanks Jacqueline.
    There’s been a lot of public speculation as to whether Susan G. Komen will ever return to what it was. I think there will be a negative stigma, at least for a while.
    Do you think companies will continue to partner with “pink products” at the rate they used to?

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