Take Back the Pink Lessons Learned

Two weeks ago, the Associated Press reported that the Susan G. Komen Foundation had decided to de-fund breast health screenings at Planned Parenthood affiliates. Unless you’ve been on a faraway island, you’re probably aware of this!

I jumped into the scrum by creating an online fundraising effort called Komen Kan Kiss My Mammogram. It was quickly apparent that there was a critical mass of  people who were equally galvanized to advocate on behalf of Planned Parenthood. Of course, we weren’t alone, the web exploded in anger towards Komen and soon it was a huge story in the mainstream media. The fury was aided by Komen ineptitude, which will surely become a Harvard Business School case study in arrogance and tone deafness.

In discussions on Facebook and Twitter, I was delighted to find a critical mass of friends who wanted to participate in advocating for funding for Planned Parenthood to take the place of the Komen dollars. In full transparency, I felt , and I haven’t confirmed this with the others, that this was a perfect opportunity not only to express our outrage but to practice working side-to-side in a very fast moving environment, using a variety of social media platforms (including Beth’s fun experiment with pinterest) and testing out an idea that was developed in real-time on Facebook we called hashtag jumping. That’s how we came to launch the hashtag #takebackthepink on Super Bowl Sunday to enable thousands of people to share their outrage about Komen (even after they capitulated and will allow Planned Parenthood affiliates to re-apply for funding) and co-opt the Komen tag #supercure.

Personal Note: My favorite moment of the last two weeks was when Tom Watson suggested a hashtag jump and everyone said GREAT! followed by, “So….what’s a hashtag jump?” Our willingness to literally jump in and create something new, test it, see what worked and what didn’t, is what made this effort so exciting and energizing for me and I think others.

Over time, a group of folks became key actors in this short-lived drama. They included Beth Kanter (of course!), Stephanie Rudat, Amy Sample Ward, Lucy Bernholz, Tom Watson, and Lisa Colton. Many, many others were involved, I hope I haven’t offended anyone but just mentioning these folks.

Again, in the spirit of practicing what we preach, we wrote a reflection report on the experience of developing the #takebackthepink Super Bowl Sunday hashtag jump. The full report has a description of the process, immediate results, and lessons learned. Feel free to read it here.

Here are our lessons learned to date (I think we’ll have some more as this effort marinates a bit):

  1. We could not plan for an event like this, however as individuals who are  unencumbered by organizational rules or policies, and that we have our own large networks of people to bring to an effort, and that we are comfortable working in a dynamic, flat, environment, we reacted very quickly and nimbly to events as they unfolded and provided avenues for action for other people angry at Komen. A core group of the organizers are fluent with a variety of social media platforms including Twitter, Pinterest (a fun opportunity to take it out for a social change spin, thought Beth!) and Facebook, plus Stephanie’s graphic design expertise. As one participant recalls, “There was an immediate sense of relatedness amongst the group conjoined by leaders.  We all saw something in the uproar and possibility for ourselves and those we care about.”
  2. #takebackthepink was a particularly resonant phrase with our group because it represented the opportunity to begin to separate Komen from the color pink. As Lucy would tweet later, “Pink is a color not an org.” A fundamental part of our effort was to reestablish the primacy of women’s health over the branding concerns of a single organization. We believe we created an opportunity for a large number of people to participate in this process, and the momentum to continue the discussion moving forward.
  3. There were two moments of tension during the week between a centralized approach and a network approach. The first time, the effort split in two; with one group focused on fundraising and another on advocacy and awareness. The second, a faction chose to opt out of the Super Bowl effort. Both times it was brought up that it was no longer about recouping money to PP (as that was already achieved in the first 48 hours) but was about redirecting people’s emotional responses, keeping people connected to causes and organizations even if they weren’t Komen, and demonstrating the importance of knowing what the orgs do that you support.
  4. There was a flow of people in and out of the effort depending on their interest and availability. A public thread rather than the private email thread would have been more in keeping with our interest in and value of transparency. We chose the email vehicle believing that the element of surprise would be important to our efforts. It turned out not to be the case.
  5. Finding the messaging middle ground in a fast changing environment was very challenging. Take Back the Pink was seen by some as Komen bashing and by others as “too nice.” We did our best to find a positive place for Super Bowl Sunday: there are a lot of organizations and way to support breast health, here are options in addition to Komen. It was harder to communicate than, “Screw Komen, fund Planned Parenthood” and it’s unclear how successful we were in explaining the shift and making the message clear.
  6. We could have done a better job of looking for other hashtags in real-time and piggy-backed on them in order to weave together different conversations.
  7. We developed and shone a spotlight on nonprofits and transparency, an unusual element to a discussion of pro-choice and women’s health issues.
  8. Defining success in a very fluid situation was also very challenging. If fifty people retweeted with our hashtag was that success? Five hundred people? Five thousand people? An interesting model to use for comparison is Occupy Wall Street. Rather than using numeric outputs as goals, perhaps our effort, simply being and spreading, was successful. We are still wrestling with this question, although perhaps one answer is that if a single person learned about a new resource or organization that was success. Having the single largest media event of the year on the immediate horizon made for a great leverage point.
  9. It would have been great to have advocacy organizations sign on as participants and partners in this event, however, when we did bump up against organizations they were unable to move fast enough with their approval processes to fully participate. This will continue to hamper the ability of organizations to work with “free agents” like us who need to meet an opportunity like this with speed, agility and a lack of concern for traditional message controls. Perhaps organizations can more fully participate in the next phase of development of the Facebook page.
  10. This group is open to continuing the Facebook page and the conversation about general breast health and the array of organizations and resources available to women.  Clearly, there is a void in the digital space for being a resource to those who want to learn, contribute, volunteer, receive services but don’t know of all of the options or how to vet. Our capacity is stretched, though, we all participated in this effort as volunteers.

For me, the most resonant lessons were, 1) difficulty of free agents like us working with organizations – the rhythms, interests, pace and risk levels are totally different and very difficult to reconcile, and 2) defining success. The “whats” are always easier to measure than the “so whats” but this effort, I felt, was particularly difficult to measure for change. There is no question we gave a lot of people something to do to express their outrage and anger, great, but what difference did it make? I don’t know the answer but am open to suggestions!

I am enormously grateful to my old and new friends who participated in this effort. It was great fun, I don’t mean the issue was fun, it was deadly serious, but the process of working and creating together, moving quickly without fear or restrictions, was GREAT fun, and I appreciate their willingness to play, their patience in explaining something that whizzed past me (Amy Sample Ward!), their spirit of adventure, and openness to reflecting and learning.

I’d love to hear what others thing of this effort, our report, and similar efforts. Thanks!

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