Watching the Susan G. Komen Foundation go into what might just be the biggest death spiral so far 2012 is instructive, and instructive for one reason: if you do something controversial, the Internet is going to find you.
For benefit of the uninitiated: Komen is a breast cancer research foundation that earlier this week announced that it would cease donating money to Planned Parenthood for obvious political reasons (Komen is headed up by people whose politics lean hardcore conservative). Then today — after the newly activist pro-life organization had announced an effort to raise money by selling pink handguns — Komen reversed course and issued an apology, announcing that they would once again donate money to Planned Parenthood along the way. Now EVERYONE hates them (Liberals and conservatives united by hate!). Especially the internet, which is where the backlash against them started in the first place.
Granted, politicians and charities do stupid things that spark the ire of the Internet all the time, but Komen’s mishandling of this situation is particularly breathtaking in how quick and brutal it’s been. They were always going to get clobbered on blogs and take a bit of a beating on TV news, because their decision was going to be controversial, but what really spun it out of control was how they handled it on Facebook.
They began deleting comments.
For Komen’s web team, if they’re reading, there’s really no quicker way to make people more outraged than to try and deliberately erase their outrage. Because then they take their outrage somewhere else, and it tends to spread like wildfire. We’re pretty sure that if you had just let people complain on the page, they would have felt reassured and done nothing. Instead, you infuriated them.
Similarly, at this point, the tools to express that outrage are dirt-cheap and everywhere: within hours of the announcement, petitions had been started, fundraising drives for Planned Parenthood had begun, angry letters were being reposted to Facebook, and, well, you can see the Someecard that’s been reposted constantly at right.
If there’s one lesson here, it’s that if you make a highly charged political decision, damage control no longer exists. There’s just not enough reaction time, now. There are too many people with Photoshop, too many petition sites, too many people on Facebook…you are going to get called out on it, and you’d better have a response ready. You’re probably just best sticking to your guns, putting your head down and riding out the storm. Otherwise, you’re going to wind up looking like a bunch of idiots: just like Komen did.