Big Social Media Oops!

Social media opens a ton of possibilities and new ways to share and connect with customers. Many organizations have discovered its incredible power at mobilizing support and political change. We've seen it's impact in:

  • 2008 Presidential Campaign electing Barak Obama
  • Revolution in Egypt
  • Getting Betty White on SNL

At Spartan, we're strong supporters of using Social Media for communication, business development and engaging and rallying people online. While a few years ago, many organizations assumed that simply hiring a young kid out of college who "understands this stuff" was a way to capitalize on this medium, it is no longer the case. No matter the campaign, there are always potential hiccups that can arise. These absolutely require the expertise of a business professional with the ability to foresee all possible results.

This is the tale of one social media campaign gone horribly, horribly wrong...

(We should note, our opinions about this situation are unrelated to the political and personal issues attached to the issue it surrounds).

The campaign was started by NARAL, with the goal of creating an online petition. Their campaign announcement can be found on their site (

The plans to mobilize support are summarized as:

  • Print a page from their website
  • Take a picture of yourself with it
  • Send that picture via email to an address
  • That picture with automatically be posted to the flickr account

I can almost see the conversation in the conference room in planning this.

Marketing Person: We need a way to use this social media thing!

Bright-Eyed Intern: We could start a facebook page.

Marketing Person: But won't we have to constantly fill the page with content and info?

Bright-Eyed Intern: Yes, but doing that would get people to "like" us on facebook.

Marketing Person: Sure, but we'd have to pay someone to constantly monitor the site, add pictures, news, etc. We're not going to spend that kind of money. There's got to be a way we can just let people share their voice themselves.

Bright-Eyed Intern: Sorry, I wasn't paying attention, just saw something on my smartphone... Oohh, I know, here's what we can do. We can let people post pictures of themselves directly to our page on Flickr. So, we just get an announcement to everyone to send a picture to our account - with just an email address - we can have the pictures automatically appear.

Marketing Person: Well, I'll let you sort out the details - but since other people can just post what they want and we don't have to pay someone to monitor it, it sounds good. Plus, we can tell the execs that we're using Social Media!

Bright-Eyed Intern: Great - I'll have it up by lunch!

The mock-conversation is clearly fictional, but we can all probably relate to many of the sentiments it satirically portrays.

There are some good elements to the plan:

  • Makes the barrier to entry low - it is incredibly easy to participate
  • There was no cost - it uses widely used and free tools

Unfortunately, some very important elements that would have been obvious to an expert in the field or any seasoned business professional were missed.

  • The photos are immediately loaded to the page they control
  • The viral nature of the program means everyone - including the "opposition" - know about it
  • Opposing groups can mobilize their Social Media audience and flood the page

So, what happened so far?

  1. The campaign was reported on an opposing organization's website (
  2. Another group- one started and run by a youthful organization - caught wind of the campaign.
  3. This group urged their fans and followers to flood the campaign with their own support and campaign images (Facebook-LiveAction

When it first began, there were a few thousand images posted by supporters of NARAL - roughly under 3,500. When the above action was started, the manager of the Flickr Page spent a few hours trying to keep up with deleting the images that weren't in line with their goal. As far as we can tell, at about 5:00 PM, the deletions stopped - either because the person when home or realized the onslaught wasn't going to stop.

As of this morning, at 9 AM Eastern, there were over 40,000 images in the photostream. A quick scan shows that almost all of the additions were not the intended type of images. As of 9:45 AM Eastern, there were around 36,000 images, meaning someone must be trying to delete them once more.

In addition, the page announcing the campaign by NARAL (linked above) has an automatic stream of the Flickr account - meaning there are thousands of Pro-Life images streaming through their page...

What everyone can learn from this

  • Be ready for anyone to post on your social media presence, and have a plan to address it
  • Weigh the things that could happen along with what should happen
  • If your plan is to delete/remove things you don't want - be ready to stay late at the office
  • Just because something can be done "automatically" doesn't mean it always should.

We're interested to see how this continues. As a Social Media expert, there is no good way out of this situation for NARAL, and I am glad to not have to solve this problem now. At Spartan, we would have solved it by foreseeing this and having proper plans in place to prevent the issue.