Geoff Livingston, Richard Laermer and I were in a friendly discussion awhile ago about the Cartoon Avatar campaign on Facebook.
You may recall the campaign wherein everyone was encouraged to swap out their profile picture with their favorite cartoon character* to increase the awareness of the issue of child abuse.
We all agreed to post on the topic. Instead of posting my take on the Bad Pitch blog (in a timely manner), I’m responding here to leave some space for my co-author to do the same.
Geoff makes some great points, including the dark side of lightweight user actions – slacktivism. The first wave of this debate brought the movement’s leader, a volunteer named Jay, under intense scrutiny -- the likes of which is usually quickly (and anonymously) organized online.
As I’m late to the game I’ll make some broader observations as cause awareness raising efforts are fueling a backlash.
Ideas Iterate Online: In March of 2009, P&G brought in a fleet of uber nerds (including myself) to help them sell some t-shirts for a good cause while teaching some of their marketers that social media can move SKUs.
P&G went to great lengths to ensure complete disclosure was made throughout the four hour, Apprentice-like event. Not only was the money going to charity, the person donating got a nostalgic t-shirt in return. It seemed like the perfect scenario to avoid criticism.
Wrong. People complained we didn’t raise enough ($50,000 in 240 minutes which P&G then matched). People complained about a lot of things.To compare the flack P&G received to the attacks made on Jay is more than a bit of a reach. And to be clear, I do feel that there was a wildly unsuitable amount of scrutiny placed on Jay. But some of the more pragmatic voices obviously helped him improve his approach with the addition of a URL to his efforts. Ideas can iterate quickly online.
As Geoff notes: “The great promise of the Fifth Estate [is] the ability to discuss matters when the conventional press and establishment — isn’t doing it well.”
The takeaway is a well-worn phrase I use for internal communications: “give everyone a bar of gold and someone will complain it’s too heavy.” Expect criticism – especially when it can be given from the comfort of an anonymous keyboard. Jay’s critique unfortunately devolved into a mob mentality. But the smaller, quieter and more constructive piece of that critique helped him. Healthy debate can make a healthy impact.
Fewer Silos, More Mustaches: Jay brought a lot of attention to the cause of child abuse. That was his goal and he reached it. Comparing his effort to Movember may seem unfair. But if anyone wants to learn from Jay’s experience, remember when more than awareness is the goal, more than a single effort in a single media silo is required.
Since the concept was dreamed up over beers in 2003, Movember has raised more than $100 million to help find a cure for prostate cancer. That’s a lot of mustache growth in the month of November. Movember’s succeeding because it did not place all of its chips on a single, mass avatar flip. It started offline, it spread and it built out over time.
It Takes an iVillage: Malcom Gladwell noted in the New Yorker "weak ties seldom lead to high-risk activism.” Daniel Lally is quick to point out, as Geoff does, that weak ties are a start. These ties just usually shouldn’t be the finish too.
So perhaps before throwing our echo into the chamber next time, we consider the bigger picture and we ask if our “barbaric yawp” adds to the discussion or simply takes away by increasing the noise. It won't stop the real issue, but it can help the healthy debate stand out more easily.
*Is it cheating to list the Super Friends as my favorite cartoon character? In my defense I’ll note that one reason is the Cincinnati connection to their hangout.