“Wow. Just wow.” Those were the leading words of Cecile Richards‘ letter to Planned Parenthood supporters about the impact of social media on her organization. This was the second example in just two weeks in which advocates using social media caused big organizations to reverse their positions.
Let’s run the numbers, shall we?
Susan G. Komen vs. Planned Parenthood:
- More than 1.6 million tweets about the Komen decision to stop funding breast cancer screenings at Planned Parenthood
- 10,000 additional “likes” for Planned Parenthood on Facebook
- $3 million in donations to Planned Parenthood
- $250,000 donation from Michael Bloomberg to Planned Parenthood
- 10,000 new supporters for Planned Parenthood
- 2/3 of 3,600 online comments were negative about the Komen decision
- 250,000 signed a petition at MoveOn.org
- $680,000 in funding reinstated by the Susan G. Komen Foundation
The Entertainment Industry vs the Internet Industry (SOPA/PIPA debate):
- Wikipedia, Reddit and 7,000 web sites go dark or post protest links
- 3.9 million tweets
- Google traffic down 60%
- 162 million people saw Wikipedia’s blackout page
- SOPA/PIPA bills postponed indefinitely
So what went wrong for these chastened organizations? Poor decision-making, sure. Total disregard for two-way communications? Uh-huh. Completely underestimating the wisdom of the crowd? Oh yeah.
For all people might scoff and criticize Mark Zuckerberg, this is exactly the type of open discourse that he imagines Facebook can help create. In his letter to investors, he says:
We believe building tools to help people share can bring a more honest and transparent dialogue around government that could lead to more direct empowerment of people, more accountability for officials and better solutions to some of the biggest problems of our time.
Amazing, actually, that these three events (Komen, SOPA, Facebook IPO) happened within days of each other. I’m not sure if there is some greater god trying to tell us something or if it’s mere coincidence. Whatever it is, there are some important communications lessons here:
- Behind-closed-doors decisions are gone forever. Transparency is essential for success in today’s marketplace. Every decision you make will be tried in the court of public opinion – and that court is much larger, and its voices much more amplified, than ever before.
- Your stakeholders expect dialogue – before a decision is made. Communications theorists have called this two-way communications. In the days of mass media (yes, they are long gone), it was one (organization) to many (stakeholders). Now, it’s many stakeholders talking to one organization, and you’d better…
- Listen, and I mean really listen – and don’t deny. It’s one thing to stand your ground. It’s another to be blind to reality. Komen apparently scrubbed negative comments from their Facebook wall (only in rare cases should you ever do this, and then only when it violates someone’s privacy). Organizations must take what their stakeholders say to heart and incorporate these views into the organization’s decision-making. Today, it’s the only path to success.
What leaders today need to realize: We no longer have a top-down command structure. It’s bottom up. The court of public opinion rules.
Diane Thieke is trying to reinforce her control over her kitchen. But, the dialogue isn’t going well. The three kittens are not budging from the kitchen counter. Follow her on Twitter.