The apology that Susan G. Komen for the Cure issued on Friday was the first step. The obligatory resignations are next. But if Komen is going to repair the damage done by its behavior last week, they have quite a few more steps in the process.
“What should Komen do next?” That’s the question many of you have asked me, and it was certainly the top question asked of me in my role as nonprofit marketing pundit last week.
Here’s what I think they need to do next:
Diversify the staff and board
The decision to defund Planned Parenthood ended up being extremely political — the topic itself is highly politically charged, not to mention the actual individuals involved. Even though Komen has apologized, supporters have little reason to trust that the current leadership team won’t make another political decision down the road, whether it involves Planned Parenthood or not (stem cell research, anyone?).
One way to help rebuild that trust, and to keep the promise about keeping politics out of it, is to openly and publicly diversify the board and senior staff so that politically progressive voices are represented, and supporters see those right-leaning and left-leaning people working together to find a cure. Except for a few leaks here and there, the Komen board has been conspicuously silent. Adding a well-known progressive (or two, or three) with some name recognition to the board (the real board, not all those advisory boards), would be a smart move.
Same goes for senior staff. This has largely been the Nancy Brinker Show, and I don’t think people are particularly fond of it right now. Might be time to switch up some of the voices, and maybe people will tune back in.
Listen to the substance of the backlash and “change your evil ways”
This isn’t Komen’s first brouhaha. If you look at all those social media comments (and Komen should be paying someone to read and categorize it all), you will see that was simply the last straw for a lot of people. They are tired of Komen bullying smaller charities and making every consumer product available pink (the pink handgun deal wasn’t sanctioned, apparently, but the fact that everyone believed it could be tells you all you need to know).
This ended up being about much more than just Planned Parenthood. And going back to the “old” Komen isn’t an option. So why not really learn from the substance of the backlash, and use it to create the “new” Komen — one that demonstrates that it can really listen to and learn from its supporters? That’s what good marketers do — they listen to supporters and critics alike, and bringing that knowledge back into the organization to make the services it provides even more valuable.
Learn how to use social media, especially Twitter
Whoever is managing the official @komenforthecure Twitter account doesn’t really get it. They keep doing these run-on tweets where they take a longer statement and break into a bunch of tweets that they send out all at once. If you read some of them independently, they don’t really make sense. Tweets need to stand on their own.
The majority of Komen’s tweets over the last week have been versions of the above, or @replies with corrections of what others are saying (No, we didn’t endorse the handgun. No, she doesn’t make that much.) It’s a very old-school PR approach to Twitter, and it doesn’t really work. Get conversational, Komen! And make a clear point in 140 characters without requiring surrounding tweets to be read.
One of my biggest criticisms of Komen at the height of the controversy was their complete silence on social media for almost 24 hours (longer on Twitter), followed by official statements only. Even if they had simply posted something like, “We are listening. We hear you. We are talking internally about our next steps, and will get back to you soon” it would have been infinitely better than the nothing, followed by official-speak, that we got.
Twitter and Facebook aren’t just fun and games anymore. I think that should be pretty obvious given what happened the past week. We all need to know how to use social media in various situations, including a crisis.
What else should Komen do?
What else should Komen be doing now, especially on the marketing/communications side, to rebuild trust with supporters?
Would love to hear your comments!