Monday, February 27, 2012

Cause Docs: The 2012 Oscars

Five short "cause" documentary films were nominated for an Oscar this year. Taking home the prize last night was Saving Face, a disturbing portrait of violence against women in Pakistan. Though the short film won top honors, each of the documentary shorts nominated for an Oscar this year in the category of Best Documentary Short Subject offer powerful, raw glimpses of contemporary life around the globe.

Here's a closer look at each of the films in the category, including the winner:

Sharmeen Obaid Chinoy, who made Saving Face with American director Daniel Junge, profiles Mohammad Jawad, a Pakistani-born plastic surgeon in London who helps women disfigured by men who have thrown acid in their faces, to punish them for defying their wishes. According to The Acid Survivors Foundation, about 150 women are viciously attacked each year by men who can obtain acid used in the local cotton industry. Jawad now works with charity aid groups, such as Islamic Help, to rebuild the faces of women like Zakia, who the film follows. Zakia lost an eye and half of her nose after she asked her husband for a divorce. "He wanted her to spend the rest of her life within the four walls of her home and wanted her to regret the decision to divorce him," Chinoy told Radio Liberty in a January interview about the film. Saving Face is scheduled to air in full on HBO on March 8th. Here's the trailer:

The Barber of Birmingham: Foot Soldier of the Civil Rights Movement by Bay Area photographer Robin Fryday and veteran documentary producer Gail Dolgin, profiles 85-year-old James Armstrong, a barber and self-described "foot soldier" in the nation's civil rights movement since the mid-1950s. The film captures the impact of President Obama's 2008 election to the White House on aging civil rights activists who fought for the right to vote. Since 1955, Armstrong's barbershop in Birmingham, Alabama, has been a hub for haircuts and civil rights. Armstrong, an Army veteran whose two sons were the first to integrate an all-white elementary school, has devoted his life to the dream of civil rights for all. Here's the trailer:

God is the Bigger Elvis by Rebecca Cammisa and Julie Anderson is a profile of actress Delores Hart, who abandoned a film career at the age of 23 to become a Benedictine nun. Hart co-starred with Elvis Presley in the 1957 Parmount movie, Loving You, giving Elvis his first on-screen kiss, and starred in nine other movies before deciding to join a convent. [Hart's photo is above.]

Incident in New Baghdad is a film by New York-based filmmaker James Spione that offers an insider's look of the famous July 12, 2007, Baghdad airstrike that killed two Reuters journalists and a dozen other mostly unarmed individuals in a suburb of Baghdad during one of the most violent and chaotic periods of the Iraq war. The Morninglight Films production showcases former Bravo Company member Ethan McCord and his recollection of what he saw when he arrived at the scene of the attack to investigate. The film also focuses on footage released a year ago by WikiLeaks from a gunsight camera of an Apache helicopter engaged in the incident. Here's the trailer:

In The Tsunami and the Cherry Blossom, Lucy Walker and Kira Carstensen talk with survivors of last year's horrific Japanese tsunami and explore their courage and resolve to rebuild as cherry blossom season begins again.

What do you think of the nominees and the Oscar winner? Let us hear from you.

--Marcia Stepanek

(Photo, top, of Delores Hart on Flickr)

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Saturday, February 25, 2012

Conflict Calling

Livestreaming, the act of broadcasting a video to the Internet in near-real time, is fast becoming the weapon of choice for increasing numbers of citizen activists worldwide, from supporters of Occupy Wall Street to protesters in Cairo and Moscow, to civilians targeted for assault in Syria's civil unrest.

Increasingly, cell phones are being used to document events as they happen, and to broadcast them, simultaneously.

Because of a spike in the number of citizen livestreams coming out of Russia, Egypt and Syria in recent weeks and months, here are some quick takeaways on mobile/video activism -- especially significant this past week, amid Syria's failure to completely block all livestreams of authoritarian abuse leaking out of Homs, the epicenter of the 2011-2012 Syrian uprising.

* Bambuser, a mobile app out of Sweden, has become one of the most popular livestreaming platforms, chiefly because of its ability to stream video over poor mobile connections and because it supports more than 200 different mobile devices, from inexpensive Nokias to the latest iPhone. About 90 to 95 percent of live video coming out of Syria in recent days and weeks has been streamed via Bambuser. The Syrian government blocked 3G and desktop Web access to the service on February 17th, yet some streams documenting the government's attacks on civilians as well as horrific conditions in Syrian hospitals caring for the wounded are still getting through. Here's another stream out of Russia today, by citizen journalist Vova Moska, documenting the large crowds that converged in Moscow's Red Square to protest government corruption in advance of next week's expected victory of Vladimir Putin at the polls.

* Livestreams are becoming one of the most potent forms of cause activism and citizen journalism. Thanks to recent improvements in Facebook's newsfeed, it is now easier to broadcast a live feed to target audiences via a smartphone or tablet device. One of the more facile stream-casters to date is Tim Pool, who became Web-famous last fall for his day-long, live videostream on Ustream of the tense, second-month anniversary of Occupy Wall Street last November 17th, which he engineered via a Samsung Galaxy S II cellphone operating on Sprint's 4G network. Pool's continous livecasting, which he hosted, narrated and produced on the spot for nearly 22 hours that day, drew more than 20,000 simultaneous viewers and 250,000 unique visitors. His feeds were also picked up by Al Jazeera English and other more mainstream news outlets.

* Livestreams are proving to be effective inhibitors. According to Bambuser Founder Mans Adler, in an interview last December with NPR's Brooke Gladstone, livestreams have evolved over the past five years from content produced by "soccer moms streaming live from soccer games" to live action shots of conflict produced by citizen activists covering civil unrest. When picked up by traditional media channels, livestreams can serve as near-instant documentation of authoritarian abuses as they occur -- and under the right circumstances, help to stop them. "Livestreaming provides (activists) with the opportunity to not be afraid of losing their content because when you're protesting, the police may confiscate your phone," Adler told NPR. "Doing a livestream isn't so risky. Once livestreamed, the content is already out there on the Web." Adler cites the case of Tarek Shalaby in Egypt, who was livestreaming a protest outside the Israeli Embassy in Cairo last June and got arrested along with 12 other people. "He kept streaming while the police arrested him and the others and you can hear everything they're saying," Adler told NPR. "The police were collaborating with the Egyptian Army, which was the first time anybody had heard that. The livestream was picked up by Al-Jazeera and it was such a huge thing on the news -- even before the police had managed to get those 13 people to the police station. The head of the police station was afraid of all the media attacking him, so he ended up letting them go."

In case you missed it the first time, here's an edited transcript of that interview:

NPR: A lot of people think livestreaming is a paragon of objectivity. Is that really the case?
ADLER: No, but it's definitely much harder to fake. I mean, it has the potential of validating things that a lot of other tools have a hard time of validating. Since Twitter is only text, it's very hard for a news editor to validate if someone writes that there are 100,000 people on Tahrir Square at the moment. However, if they are livestreaming, then a news editor will be able to send a real time chat saying, can you broadcast to the right? And they will validate that this is going on right here, right now.

You founded Bambuser in 2007. What motivated you then?
ADLER: The vision was to democratize the technology of broadcasting. The traditional business model for broadcast video costs several dollars a second. Now, all of a sudden, you had everything on your phone; you had a camera, you had an Internet connection. And boom, all of a sudden, you can do the same with your mobile phone.

How was the technology first applied?
ADLER: There were soccer moms streaming live from soccer games. There were people handing out real time live lectures so that students away from the university could ask questions and interact. A lot of nonprofit organizations picked up the tool here in Sweden. A lot of the political parties started to do livestreamed press conferences. Then, it sort of moved over during the last couple of years to more activists. Livestreaming provides them the opportunity to not be afraid of losing their content, because in scenarios where you're protesting and the police may confiscate your phone, doing a livestream is not so risky. Once livestreamed, the content is already out there on the Web.

Have you seen any of the livestreaming translate into tangible results?
ADLER: We have several scenarios of this. For example, a guy that we actually met in Egypt, Tarek Shalaby, he was livestreaming a protest outside the Israeli Embassy in the beginning of June. He got arrested, together with 12 people. He kept streaming while the police were arresting them. He even managed to get his phone into his pocket before they took it away from him. You can hear everything they say. And they were actually collaborating with the Egyptian Army, which was the first time anybody had heard that.

In Egypt, there is loyalty toward the army and a great deal of hostility toward the police, so this would seem like betrayal.
ADLER: Exactly. And so this livestream was picked up by Al-Jazeera and it was such a huge thing on the news -- even before the police had managed to get those 13 people to the police station. The head of the police station was afraid of all the media attacking him and ended up letting them go. ... And then when a bomb exploded in Oslo on July 22nd (2011), there was a person starting a live broadcast and that video was directly picked up by the Danish national broadcaster. It took four minutes from when he started his broadcast until that broadcast was live on mainstream television.

Are you seeing a trend among the people who download Bambuser?
ADLER: We're receiving a lot of videos from Russia, Syria, from the Emirates and, of course, a lot of Occupy Wall Street movements, still.

So in a way, this live streaming provides a portrait of protest.
ADLER: Absolutely. It's sort of like taking the temperature on a political level of what's going on, on our planet right here, right now.

For more on livestreaming in activism, check out Global Revolution, Livestream's citizen media channel, and this on how to convert your camera cellphone into a wireless Webcam. Here's another "how-to" on livestreaming from Livestream.

-- Marcia Stepanek

(Photos: (Top) A screenshot of a Bambuser-generated video out of Homs, Syria, on February 17th documenting the bombing of a pipeline by government authorities; (middle) a photo, courtesy Fotorater, of Mans Adler, the co-founder of Bambuser, and (bottom) photo of Tim Pool, a chief livestreamer of last fall's Occupy Wall Street protests in NYC. (All photos published here with permission.)

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Monday, February 20, 2012

Cause Video Checklist

Our friend Andrew Rasiej, founder of the Personal Democracy Forum, has often referred to the importance of “viteracy” — a word he coined to mean “video literacy” — in the current social media climate. I and my NYU faculty colleagues Howard Greenstein and Tom Watson couldn’t agree more, which is why we’ve added a video lab to the social media strategy class we're team-teaching this term in the Master's program at NYU. (We’ve also just added Andrew as a guest speaker for that March 3 lab, along with some other thinkers and co-practioners.)

Here is Cause Global's list of "10 things to think about before you start shooting" a cause video:

1. Consider your video an “argument for” something — a donation, a better explanation, greater awareness, a solution, a bigger pool of volunteers, a cause. You can make it highly personal, from your own experience. Or you can approach it as a citizen journalist. In either case, you want to showcase a need.

2. Keep it strategic. Remember, you’re making this video to help advance one or all of your organization’s strategic goals as stipulated in your social media strategy papers. Good videos show versus “tell.” What does your organization most need to show? Does it need to clarify its “reason for being?” Promote a lesser-known initiative? Kick off a new campaign? Prove impact? Be clear about the purpose of your video before you start shooting. Just telling a story isn’t enough.

3. Remember “the ask.” Consider your video a visual “ask” aimed at getting individual viewers to act in some way. What will your video be asking them to do, and where can they go to do it? Will you need to configure an extra page on your organization’s Website that will take micro-donations? To text in $15? To tweet your video?

4. Choose a single, simple message. Make your video short, maybe 60-90 seconds, max. Once you’ve determined your video’s “argument” and strategic purpose and ask, then you’re ready to select the message. Boil it down to a sentence. What is the single message this video needs to convey? The American Jewish World Service, in its prize-winning, 2010 video last year, was making an argument for more cross-sector engagement. Its strategic purpose was to boost awareness of AJWS, both inside and outside the organization. The ask? To go to its Website to give money, time, ideas. And the message? Says Judd Apatow, the filmmaker: “They were saying, ‘We are a Jewish organization but we serve and support all people in need, and we need more donations and new members to help us to keep doing this well.’”

5. Choose your audience. It is important to select who you really want and need as an audience so you can target your message. AJWS was facing an erosion of younger members. Its target audience was Millennials.

6. Choose the “voice.” Is your intent to make your message heart-wrenching, clever, provocative or funny? All of the above? At a panel in which I participated during Social Media Week last week, Buzzfeed President Jon Steinberg told attendees that digital content shouldn’t simply be about conveying “information.” It should also be the kind of content that gives people an excuse to connect (again) with their friends. Therefore, the content has to be fun or weild unusual emotional impact. “The stuff that goes viral is the kind of stuff that people can feel important or cool or relevant about, just by being associated with it,” Steinberg said. AJWS filmmakers chose humor as their “voice” because they knew humor was effective in messaging Millennials.

7. Think multimedia. Sure, you’re making a video. But don’t forget to think about the music and the still images and interviews you also might want to use. Does your organization have archival photographs you could use? Can you use illustrations if you can’t get much original footage? How about a simple animation? A podcast for narration? AJWS chose to do a series of short interviews with well-known people and edit them together. But you also can use still photographs and narration, Ken Burns-style -- or mix both stills and video.

8. Don't oversweat the equipment. For organizations operating on a shoestring, it's okay to keep it very simple. Nothing elaborate is required. Check out the video and camera functions of your phone. [Here are some smartphone video tips, to get you thinking about that option.] Or, borrow a Flipcam or dust off your old one. The Kodak zi8 pocket cam, the Sanyo Xacti VPC-CG10 or the lineup of Sony Bloggie Touch cams also offer acceptable options. [We especially like the audio features on the Samson Q3.] See if you can borrow something from your organization.

9. Map your scenes. Learn a bit about “storyboarding” — how to make a visual map of each shot. Where you want to “locate” your video? In your yard? Times Square? A studio? At your organization’s next fundraiser? At an environmental dump? An animal shelter? A performance space? What will this video need to show?

10. And finally, don’t agonize over the “putting-it-all-together” phase of things. Editing is a skill but one that you will be able to get the hang of in no time. Most software programs like iMovie and Movie Maker have simple editing tools, and there are some good Webinars offered by TechSoup and other organizations to walk you through some basic editing.

Go ahead. Involve your organization. Tell them it's time to visualize the mission statement, and get ready for a fascinating ride.

-- Marcia Stepanek

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Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Generation Go

This week's Social Media Week gatherings in 11 cities around the world -- from Hamburg and Hong Kong to Singapore and Sao Paulo -- are focusing on the role of Twitter, Facebook and other social networks as a catalyst for cultural, political, economic and social change. The theme is "Empowering Change through Collaboration." But the big takeaway so far? Social media innovation in 2012 won't be about Playing Nice with Others so much as creating new ways to battle the status quo.

Madison Avenue is ready and waiting. Tonight, at a special Valentine's Day panel on "connectedness" at J. Walter Thompson's Midtown headquarters, JWT's Worldwide Digital Director David Eastman shared research by his agency's trendspotters on what they're calling "Generation Go" -- an emerging cohort of cause-wired citizens who will use social media to support ever-higher levels of self-organizing across society. "We're becoming hyper-documentarians, chronicling everying -- the big, the small and everything in between -- in words, pictures, video and emoticons as it happens," says Eastman. "Generation Go is finding opportunity in economic advertisty, with many using social media as a platform for their entrepreneurial energies." [See his Top 2012 Trends in Social.] The moniker struck a chord among many #SMWNYC attendees, including Noni Cavaliere, who counted herself a member and tweeted this definition: "We go, not wait for someone to tell us to go." Fellow attendee Valerie Morini tweeted that "Generation Go is more of a mindset" favoring "entrepreneurship" and "change without invitation."

Reflecting back on a year of social media-driven uprisings in the Middle East and on Wall Street, Meetup Founder and CEO Scott Heiferman took it all a little further, saying social media have unleashed widespread energy among citizens seeking to build a new society of parallel political and economic systems. "The future is going to be defined around the idea that people are going to render the old economy somewhat pointless," Heiferman told the #SMW12 crowd. "We're at the very early stage of a true revolution, in that people are turning away from big media and big business and big finance, big pharma, big food. What we're doing on Facebook and Twitter and other social platforms is inventing new kinds of transactions. We're turning to each other now and increasingly for what we need." Heiferman cited the emerging group of networked services like airbnb and Parker from Streetline. "Thanks to social media," he said, "people in social networks are starting to sell or rent or buy from each other. They're renting their excess parking spaces to each other and insuring each other. That might not sound like a lot, but it is no small thing when people have in these tools the power to start creating an economy outside the prevailing system."

Heiferman called this new economy a "do-it-ourselves" economy -- "something between our everyday social interactions on Facebook and our activism in movements like Occupy" that is enabling people to "turn to each other to get what they need" outside the traditional system.

Andrew Rasiej, the founder of the Personal Democracy Forum, followed Heiferman, saying the market trends are reflective of broader changes across society. "...We live in an era of a new currency" of friends and family and relationships we can trust, he said tonight. Government, for example, "will not get fixed. It is going to get redesigned and rebuilt" by wired citizens demanding faster, more responsive and transparent institutions and social systems.

"...We should not wait to fix the 20th century political system or wait for the 21st century democracy to get built," Rasiej said. "The 21st century democracy and economy will be built by us, by activists, by engineers who understand that the power of technology is not based in the hallways of Congress but in the streets all over the world."

For more on this week's Social Media Week panels, see the schedule and collection of livestreams.

-- Marcia Stepanek

(Photograph of torn poster of deposed Tunisian President Ben Ali by Murat Sarica-2011)

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Monday, February 6, 2012


Okay, so everyone is talking about Pinterest. Or sending you invitations to check out the crazy virtual pinboards there. And so now you're thinking, 'Is this really another social network I need to know about?'

Here's the thing: Pinterest is one of the Web's fastest-growing social networks. Though it's been around for two years, it has experienced a meteoric rise in popularity over the past couple of months. Pinterest now ranks among the Web's Top 10 social networks, among the likes of Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and Tumblr. But the biggest take-away about Pinterest? It is becoming one of the highest referral traffic sources out there. Shareaholic's February report on referral traffic from social networks says Pinterest can drive more people to your Website than Google+, LinkedIn and YouTube. Combined. And now it's starting to gain on Twitter.

So what's the appeal? Pinterest lets you organize and share images and videos you discover on the Web about pretty much anything -- whether a collection of favorite typefaces or our friend Lina Srivastava's collection of images that each represent a different multimedia campaign for social good. Her pinboard is called "narrative design for social action." [My pinboard, on the other hand, is a starter's collection of just a few of my favorite cause videos, here. I have another pinboard, a collection of info-graphics used in advocacy. Social Media consultant and blogger Beth Kanter, has 20 Pinterest boards that mix her personal interests with her work on social media.

Just like other social networks, Pinterest lets you build a list of people and organizations to follow. A number of nonprofit organizations already have a presence on Pinterest -- either on pinboards which they have created themselves (the Humane Society of New York) or on pinboards their fans have created in appreciation, such as this one made about the American Red Cross. Another page for good, Help Japan, had (at this posting) 421,600 followers. [For a wide array of other boards on other subjects, see Mashable's recent post, 21 Must-Follow Pinterest Users. And see this infographic suggesting Pinterest may be "the next social commerce game-changer."]

A few other things to know about Pinterest: It's not just about checking out somebody's collection of wedding gown images or their most favorite album covers from the '60s. Pinterest can be a promotional engine for brands and a way to help drum up support for an activist cause or action. It also is a form of content marketing. If you run a bakery, say, you might want to think about sharing some special cookie recipes for your Pinterest followers. Or if you're a photographer, it's a great place to show off your latest work. Pinterest also is a good way to build authority around a topic. Select a couple of topics related to your industry and create boards to share unique related content about them. Or take it to the next level. If you're showcasing products on specific boards, try running exclusive content and promotions for Pinners, or use it to complement existing campaigns.

It's not yet clear how Pinterest enthusiasts will develop the network over time. [Many social network platforms begin with one purpose in mind and then get reinvented by users to meet a wider need. This past week's controversy over the Susan G. Komen Foundation's decision (later reversed) to cut funding to Planned Parenthood, for example, spawned another use of Pinterest, which Kanter labeled "pinactivism."] But one thing about Pinterest is already fairly obvious. It can help raise awareness for a cause and a brand and build followers. And if Help Japan proves able to raise money on Pinterest, many more nonprofits will be sure to get pinned.

-- Marcia Stepanek

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Sunday, February 5, 2012

Super Bowl Social

The Komen controversy spills into the Super Bowl today, with nonprofit tech activists launching a #takebackthepink Twitter campaign they say is intended to "redirect all of the emotion" that arose this past week against the Susan G. Komen for the Cure nonprofit -- and redirect it "in a positive way, back into the fight to end cancer." [According to Nielsen, the percentage of women watching the Super Bowl between the ages of 18 and 54 has increased by 8 percent since 2002.]

While #takebackthepink is targeting anyone who is tracking their social sites while they're watching the game, organizers hope especially to reach and encourage donors who dropped their support of Komen this week and persuade them to back other breast cancer organizations -- rather than walk away from the cause altogether. "This is an effort to make sure that Komen's donors don't walk away from breast cancer -- that we help harness their passion to give and volunteer -- even if that means participating with other organizations," organizers said in eblasts last night to their followers.

#takebackthepink organizers include popular social media consultants and bloggers Beth Kanter, Allison Fine and Lucy Bernholz -- all critics of Komen's move to politicize the issue of breast cancer with its decision, reversed Friday, to cut funds to Planned Parenthood for breast cancer screenings because of PP's support for abortion. The women say their #takebackthepink campaign is not an attack on Komen but rather a push to promote the importance of women's health, the importance of organizational transparency and "to keep politics out of women's health."

"We are interested in leading people to the many paths that will bring an eradication of cancer while educating on the importance of transparency and integrity," they say on their wiki promoting the effort. They also are hoping activists will flood Komen's #supercure Super Bowl hashtag during the game with retweets that include the #takebackthepink hashtag. The idea, according to the group's eblast, is to "'blitz the hashtag' and engage millions of football fans for women's health."

Back in July, Komen entered a partnership between the NFL's Indiana Super Bowl Host Committee and the Susan G. Komen for the Cure Tissue Bank at Indiana University's Simon Cancer Center, and according to an item on Komen's Web site last July announcing that partnership, Komen will be promoting the #supercure hashtag during today's game "to merge the fight against breast cancer with one of the largest and widely watched events in the country." After last week's brouhaha, Komen -- the marketing juggernaut and creator of the famous pink ribbon campaign -- also will be using #supercure to rebuild some of the support it lost this week in the controversy.

Will the two Twitter campaigns help expand last week's controversy or serve as a way to help ease the social swarming against Komen? Post your own thoughts here, and watch this space for updates.

For more on the story, see Friday's post here, When Communities Revolt. See also New York Times writer Jennifer Preston's blog post about Komen's reversal Friday and Kanter's "Komen Can Kiss My Mammagram" pinboard on Pinterest, which is tracking and archiving some of the anti-Komen backlash.

-- Marcia Stepanek

[Illustration, with permission, by Matthew Hollister for The New Yorker]

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Friday, February 3, 2012

When Communities Revolt

There are two kinds of digital swarms in today's nonprofit world -- groups of people who self-organize rapidly on the Web to achieve an urgent, common goal (to help Haiti quake victims, change a law or oust a politician, for starters.) And now, as this week's Komen for the Cure controversy has made clear, there are also the kinds of swarms that can form when an organization's most influential fans and followers on Facebook, Twitter and other social networking platforms start feeling that the organizations they support are ignoring them -- or betraying their trust by doing something controversial without their input or prior knowledge.

This week's Komen swarm acted swiftly -- "with head-snapping speed," according to Jennifer Preston of The New York Times. It began forming on Twitter and Facebook minutes after The Associated Press Tuesday broke a news "exclusive" exposing a decision by the Komen board to stop funding Planned Parenthood's breast cancer screening programs because of its support for abortion. Within hours, criticism of the action on the organization's social sites had turned into an angry buzz. According to blogger Kivi Leroux Miller, who was closely monitoring the reaction on Komen's social sites at the time of the decision, "anti-Komen posts were outnumbering pro-Komen posts at the rate of 80-1."

The swarm intensified throughout the day into Wednesday, fueled by a decision Komen made to remain silent, even as the size of the swarm had become nearly overwhelming in its speed and ferocity. "It was as if they were trying to ignore us," one #komen supporter tweeted Wednesday. But the uproar didn't reach critical mass until cause-wired fans caught Komen starting to remove from its social media sites some of their most passionate criticisms. [Komen supporter Mary Anne Van Develde wrote on Komen's Facebook page Wednesday that"...the post I made here yesterday knocking your decision is now gone. Please, no matter how you try to spin it, you have to know this is just wrong."] The swarm ended when its target, the Susan G. Komen for the Cure Foundation, said tonight that it would reverse its Planned Parenthood decision, three days after the uproar began.

But for Komen, is it too little, too late? It hasn't been only abortion rights activists denouncing Komen but also some of Komen's long-time supporters, furious that the fight against breast cancer has been pulled into partisan battles over the abortion issue. As of this post, ardent protest continues online, with some activists eyeing Sunday's Superbowl for possible further action. Planned Parenthood, meanwhile, says it was able to raise some $3 million from the new fundraising drive it began right after the AP story broke, to compensate for the cutbacks Komen now says won't be necessary. That's money soliticited from many of Komen's old donors that won't ever be going back. Bloomberg, who pledged $250,000 to Planned Parenthood yesterday, lauded the Komen reversal but says he will not withdraw his gift to Planned Parenthood. "Politics have no place in health care," Bloomberg said, echoing the complaints of protesters. "Breast cancer screening saves lives, and hundreds of thousands of women rely on Planned Parenthood for access to care."

Some take-aways:

1. Don't underestimate the power of your fan networks. They are following your activities closely. They are likely to be more engaged with you than you realize and the most influential of them are always ready to engage further. Ignoring them or removing their posts from your media streams and walls signals censorship. Chastising them for expressing their opinions, even if you don't agree, "is one of the worst things you can do to your community," says care2 blogger Allyson Kapin. "It also riles them up even more."

2. Don't underestimate the power of social media to harness rapid protest. Angry fans have the power to hold even your most headstrong, high-profile leaders accountable, especially when they attempt to shift course abruptly or act controversially. Your fans on social networks also don't like surprises. Give them a head's up before announcing a big decision. [According to the Times, Twitter users have so far sent more than 1 million posts mentioning Planned Parenthood, Komen and related terms and hashtags. On Thursday alone, the Times says, there were more than 460,000 Tweets.]

3. Social media can help people to create a broad, shared awareness of a problem and accelerate the speed at which those problems get resolved. The 2011 Arab spring protests, the citizen's campaign to recall Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, the Occupy movement and dozens of other protests all have used social media successfully to create full-blown assaults on the status quo -- and, at least for a short while, to exhibit widespread support for mass action.

4. Nonprofits, governments and other establishment organizations tend to overestimate people's access to informaton and underestimate their access to each other. Komen's decision to end Planned Parenthood grants may have been just as unpopular if announced last December but at least supporters would have heard the news first from Komen -- not from a news organization breaking "a scoop" based on an inside tip.

5. Don't wait to communicate. Komen waited more than 48 hours after the AP story ran to post a video of Komen Founder and CEO Nancy G. Brinker defending the organization on Web site and on YouTube. According to The New York Times, the video drew more than 2,800 comments and was been viewed more than 39,000 times but did little to reverse the sentiments of the swarm. According to Bloomberg News, meanwhile, Planned Parenthood was able to raise $3 million from people in reaction to Komen's decision, reversed earlier today, to end its grants. "Women feel betrayed," says Anika Rahman, president of the feminist group Ms. Foundation for Women. She told San Francisco Chronicle reporter Victoria Colliver on Friday the flap -- and the way it was handled by Komen -- "will be something that will have long-term implications."

6. And finally, social networks decentralize leadership. Networks do not need permission to act and they want a head's up on the big decisions. The Komen case serves as a reminder of what nonprofit marketing coach Kivi Leroux Miller called earlier this week the power of social media to "accidentally rebrand" any organization that fails to create new communications strategies aimed at transparently and authentically engaging its digital communities. Sure, Komen has its own Facebook page and Twitter stream. But using them to build ongoing and transparent engagement with fans is a challenge few organizations do well. The Komen brouhaha, Miller wrote this past week, "is what can happen when a leading organization with thousands of fans decides to jump into a highly controversial area of public policy without a communications strategy, stays silent and lets others take over the public dialogue." Ironically, the very same Komen marketing juggernaut that brought the world the ubiquitous pink-ribbon campaign to fight breast cancer ended up portraying itself as being clueless about social media.

Bottom line? Don't mess with your Facebook fans and social media followers. As Wendy Harman, the Director of Social Media Strategy at the American Red Cross told my social media strategy students at New York University last Wednesday: "Transparency is not about vulnerability so much as it is about having the institutional ability to hear what people are saying and to respond in a really human, honest and compassionate way -- in real time."

Just weeks after Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak was forced from power last spring, friend and former PopTech /NYU colleague Kristin Taylor suggested that many institutions today risk "getting Mubaraked." The definition? Said Taylor: "Failing to engage on social media with your stakeholders to such a degree that they eventually render you irrelevant."

Don't let it happen to you.

-- Marcia Stepanek

(Illustration by Christoph Kadur for

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