Susan G. Komen for the Cure took hits left and right in the media, from both donors and the public, after the world’s largest breast cancer charity announced it would no longer fund grants to Planned Parenthood, currently under government investigation for possible misuse of public funds for abortions. In an effort to “fix” the situation and prevent further loss of support, Susan G. Komen for the Cure executives reversed its decision, stating that it would no longer bar organizations that are under government investigation, including Planned Parenthood, from applying for grants.
Regardless of one’s position, the situation is a reminder and case study on the importance of establishing a crisis communications plan with a strong emphasis on social media.

When the news that Komen was withdrawing funding from Planned Parenthood, donors and the public used Facebook and Twitter to air their opinions, engaging in a “viral protest”. Social media has clearly been the forefront vehicle for the public to share its opinions in the Komen situation. But, rather than taking a reactionary stance, how can an organization get ahead of the buzz?

1.) Establish a plan: Whether a crisis comes in the form of a surprise, or is in response to a planned decision such as a policy change, establishing a crisis communication plan is a must-have for organizations and businesses. In this case, Komen’s decision was part of a policy change that had been in the works over time, giving the charity ample time to craft messaging, prepare its member organizations, donors and engage the media in advance.

2.) Lead the conversation: By incorporating a social media plan into its communications, Komen might have led the conversation, rather than reacted to it. In reality, it took Komen two days to respond to negative feedback on Facebook and Twitter which is a lifetime on the Internet. However, Komen Founder Nancy Brinker aims to set the record straight, using You Tube to address donors, critics and the public to reinforce its mission and brand. Taking responsibility and being responsive is the recommended approach to managing reactionary crisis communications. It’s also important to disseminate positive news about an organization, so followers get an infusion of positive messages, in the midst of criticism.

3.) Engage the media: By involving the media in advance, Komen could have controlled the message, explaining its rationale, rather than trying to defend it. This involves media preparation, talking points and scripting of participants on the corporate level as well as the affiliate level to be sure the messaging is consistent throughout the organization. Reacting to media reports, Komen found itself waffling on its reasons for the policy change which only further damages an organization’s credibility.

While Komen has received criticism for its handling of the situation, and it remains to be seen how the issue will ultimately affect public opinion, this case study is one worth following.

If you’d like more information about developing or updating your organization’s crisis communication plan, including the use of social media, turn to the experts at Priority Marketing.