Lessons Learned from the #beatcancer Social Media Event

Social Media

The #beatcancer experiment was initiated by some social media experts who met at BlogWorld Expo 2009 and decided to set a Guinness World Record, and in so doing ostensibly do something  good for humankind too.

“Thanks to all of you who have tweeted, put up Facebook Posts & mentioned #BeatCancer in your blogs. In the end, you helped raise more than a penny per tweet. In all, these four cancer organizations have earned over $70,000. Thanks to our sponsors: MillerCoors, eBay/PayPal and Genesis Today. ”

Although a successful campaign, that proved that we live in a giving, altruistic society after all, #beatcancer raised a lot of questions and controversy.

“This smells like a hoax, maybe even fraud” – was the reaction of a commentator who identified himself as David on our previous coverage of the news. “There is no mention of this on either the Paypal, eBay or MillerCoors websites. Knowing how fussy they are about public perception, this can only be someone playing games. Just because bloggers THINK it’s real doesn’t make it so. Do your research first!!” he continued, basically accusing our author of publishing news without research. This perception was obviously wrong.

While the author did not contact Paypal, eBay and MillerCoors, she did research who the people behind the campaign were – and this was enough to establish the basis for credibility. What the commentator seemed to ignore is that a sponsor rarely blows its own horn for getting involved in charitable activities (at least those with any class). Of course, donating for a good cause is good PR, but the best way to “promote” altruism is to be modest, to keep quiet and let the world praise you instead of praising yourself. This is called passive involvement – where the organizers (not the sponsor) of such a project are in charge of PR, marketing, etc.

Everything PR and Mashable were the only two news outlets covering #beatcancer – which means that the initiators of the campaign did not see fit to promote their efforts via traditional media. After all, the purpose was to engage  social media – Twitter, Facebook, and blogs. But this approach, although achieving its purpose in the end, and bringing a Guinness World Record for the largest social mass media message distributed in a 24 hour period home, proves that anybody with a little influence and an appealing idea could abuse the good nature of the people using social networks, and have them involved in any campaigns, even those of less altruistic nature.

During the days that followed the #beatcancer announcement I tried to reach Tamara Knechtel (Everywhere’s managing partner and cancer survivor, main organizer of the #beatcancer campaign) via phone, email and Twitter – and although she finally replied on Twitter, confirming her availability for an interview, she never responded to my follow-up email. After all, the moment of glory was featured by CNN (by Don Lemon, who was also one of the initiators of the #beatcancer campaign), so answering to a few questions from an independent journalist didn’t seem to matter much anymore?

But in the light of the comments we received, and some other occurrences I will mention below, there are a few lessons that could serve future social media campaigns like this one.

  • Monitor the reactions of the public and address their concerns. While we did our best to “defend” the good nature of the campaign, a word from the organizers could have saved a lot of time for all parties involved, and shed more credibility over the whole issue.
  • Communicate clearly. A few hours after the campaign ended, Mashable published a follow-up that requested people to continue using the hashtag, which generated even more confusion. #beatcancer continued to be used after the 24 hours period, and many tweeps still don’t know that the campaign is over as I write this. Responsible for this mess are the folks from Everywhere, who only updated their corporate blog with the Guinness announcement, but not the #beatcancer site. Now the official site has all updates too, but they come more than 48 hours after the fact.
  • Be transparent. There were at least four comments here accusing Everywhere that this campaign was a hoax. Now all these comments, instead of being professionally addressed, are deleted.
  • Be available for questions. I watched this campaign closely, and I am amazed how difficult it was to get in touch with these people. It’s unprofessional, and it’s credibility daunting to place contact details on a charity-based campaign page and never to pick up the phone or answer to an email. Below a screenshot of the contact information provided on
    tamara's contact details from the beatcancereverywhere about page.

The list could continue, but the main point is clear: this was a successful campaign, yes, but poorly organized and followed up on. I have the feeling that the people who bragged on CNN about #beatcancer’s success were in it just for this: a moment of glory, a moment of fame. This was not our original assessment of this outreach, but given the “flash in the pan” outcome, it is easier now to see why some people were skeptical. Skepticism arises when there is a lack of transparency, or when “red flags” appear as a result of poor communication. Regardless of whether the campaign was completely handled in the right way or not, obviously many people benefited on the receiving end. But, now those who doubted, and our publication in particular (seeing that we vehemently supported the “idea”), deserve some answers. So, where is Tamara when she is needed? There is such a thing as professional courtesy. Or is being mentioned in the Guinness Book Of World Records an end justified by any means?

Editor’s Note: the validity of this campaign with regard to actually helping people with cancer was never in question after our research. Perhaps this is the right time to question the motivation and end value proposition as some of our commenters aptly suggested. For those readers, we can only apologize for (what we could not know) leaning forward against some very appropriate questions. Our only explanation in these cases is that some were questioning this as some sort of hoax. In the end, if it was a publicity stunt with only marginal contribution compared to real engagement, then some of our discourse with readers ended up being wrong.

We are sorry for that aspect if it turns out to be true, but obviously no one could have known the character of the people organizing this so well as to have been able to predict this.

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