SOPA, Komen and the Super Bowl – a Cautionary Tale
There have been several blips on the social media radar during the last few weeks that, taken on their own, have generated considerable press:
• Social media activists created such uproar on January 18 that congressional leaders backing the SOPA / PIPA (Stop Online Piracy Act / Protect Internet Property Act) were forced to withdraw the controversial legislation.
• Online protests regarding the Susan G. Koman’s Foundations decision to no longer fund breast cancer screening at Planned Parenthood locations forced Komen to do an about face and revert to the original funding policy. Online positioning against Komen’s defunding position will create long-term damage to the brand, and forced the resignation of the person responsible for the defunding initiative.
• Super Bowl XLVI set a new record for social media engagement. Twitter saw an amazing 15 million tweets during the 2012 game compared to 3 million last year. That’s an increase of 500%! Facebook and YouTube also saw record-breaking engagement.
Are these three events connected? The first two – yes, obviously. But what’s the connection to the Super Bowl?
The Super Bowl social activity, especially when compared to previous year’s engagement, shows that social media usage is mainstream. It’s no longer just the geeks, the technorati or the 18-34s. It’s everybody and it’s all the time.
Social media’s mainstreaming has created an instantaneous platform for social, political and brand activists. It really gained momentum, just a year ago, with the “Arab Spring” uprisings in the mid-east, which were started and fueled by social media. This was predictor of things to come. But there was a major disconnect. By most of corporate America.
The “suits” who were promoting SOPA / PIPA and running The Susan G. Komen Foundation didn’t (and probably still don’t) get nor understand the immediacy and the impact of social media. And what they truly don’t get is that it is spontaneous. It takes off like a wild fire and blazes out of control almost as fast.
The suits, and in many cases, traditional brand and public relations practitioners, think that they can still control the messaging. (Hello! Motion Picture Association of America’s Chris Dodd, a leading proponent of SOPA / PIPA; and, Susan G. Komen founder Nancy Brinkman!) You make a decision that impacts a lot of people and you can’t contain it like you did in the “old days” of “push” public relations, where only your side of the story is presented to the public.
Writing in MediaPost’s Social Media Insider, Catharine P. Taylor said,
“…what you come away with is the knowledge that many people in official positions in our society are ill-equipped to deal with the voice that social media brings to millions of people. It’s no longer enough for high-profile institutions to get their stories straight and have concise, prepared statements for reporters; now, the role of communications is to gird for whatever might be unleashed in the Blogo/Facebook/Twittersphere and to weigh the power of the social media with the fact that it’s not a focus group.”
Peter Hirshberg, a well-known commentator on Internet and social media culture wrote on his Facebook page last Friday (before Komen reversed their decision):
“Two weeks ago internet activism killed SOPA. Today online protests swamp the Susan G Komen foundation and leaving their founder looking like she had no idea what just hit her. (Much as MPAA’s Chris Dodd did last week.) These are pretty responsive political feed-back loops fueled by social media. They suggest that citizen voices really are resonating more powerfully than before. It’s pretty empowering to find that what you say really does have impact, something the Arab world discovered about a year ago.”
The dynamics of both the SOPA / PIPA and Komen fiascos are indicative of the sea change in messaging. It’s about the old, traditional methodology of controlling the message versus the new reality of the tsunami of the digital age and social media.
If you are a brand, or a brand marketer, your social media needs to be managed by really competent professionals, like Ford has done with Scott Monty. These professionals should be in the room when major decisions are discussed and should also be part of the decision making process. You need to understand that you really don’t control the totality of your brand messaging.
If your idea of “social media” is still that of a college intern managing your Facebook page, your day of reckoning is somewhere on the horizon.