Facebook and Twitter, take a bow. The head of Planned Parenthood on Friday credited the two social media platforms with forcing Susan G. Komen for the Cure to reverse course on its plan to withhold funding earmarked for breast health screenings.
Facebook and Twitter were the first to catch wind of the controversy -- and that led the mainstream media to sit up and take notice, said Cecile Richards, president of Planned Parenthood Federation of America. The social media giants then led the online world in delivering a furious barrage of criticism over a move that many saw as trying to politicize women's health.
"It's been incredible; we're still sifting through the numbers," Richards said in a media conference call Friday morning. In addition to picking up $3 million in donations in just three days -- directly related to the awareness raised by social media -- Planned Parenthood's Facebook "likes" and Twitter followers increased by thousands upon thousands. Facebook alone picked up more than 10,000 "likes."
By contrast, Komen -- an organization accustomed to accumulating accolades and messages of support on its Facebook page -- was drowning in thousands upon thousands of critical comments.
"I absolutely believe the exposure on Facebook and Twitter really drove a lot of coverage by mainstream media," Richards said. "I've never seen anything catch fire [like this.]"
The uproar eventually led to Friday's dramatic conclusion (of a sorts), when Komen apologized and said it would change the internal guidelines that led the organization to strip funding in the first place.
Richards said that people used social media to tell stories about how they, or someone they loved, had used Planned Parenthood for basic health services. And they expressed outrage that politics may have played a role in the decision. (Many believe Komen was under pressure from conservatives and "political bullies" trying to undermine Planned Parenthood because it offers a variety of reproductive health services, including abortion. Komen denies politics had anything to do with the move.)
Social media attention also helped create new relationships, Richards noted, saying that she had been contacted by a representative of Livestrong, the nonprofit charity started by cyclist and cancer survivor Lance Armstrong.
The immediacy of the social media reaction struck a nerve, she said, calling it an "incredible expression" of the nation's compassion for, and commitment to, women's health. It was "the authenticity of the response that carried the day," she said.
All that said, Komen still wins in both Facebook and Twitter's most common measurements of success: At last check, Komen's Facebook page had 545,365 "likes" compared to 235,796 "likes" for Planned Parenthood. And Komen's Facebook page also had many "shares" and comments supporting Komen's decision to strip funding.
Over on Twitter, Komen's official account has 39,086 followers at last check, while Planned Parenthood has 41,295.
-- Rene Lynch
Twitter / renelynch
Photo: Peter Foley / Bloomberg