Cover Story: New Media … Same Strategy
Profiles, tweets, widgets, avatars, oh my! Social networking has created a wild new world. Given that newness, it’s easy for organizations to get caught up in the notion that they need to reinvent the wheel when it comes to engaging with constituents.
But social networking is really just community organizing, taken online. Which explains why the American Cancer Society, an organization that’s been using grassroots methods to raise awareness about cancer for nearly 100 years, has been able to embrace social networks so thoroughly — most recently to help with a major brand revitalization.
Originally called the American Society for the Control of Cancer, ACS was founded in 1913 by 15 well-known doctors and business leaders in New York City to raise public awareness of cancer, which then claimed 75,000 lives a year in the U.S. alone and was rarely mentioned in public, as it was steeped in a climate of fear and denial. The founders began writing articles for magazines and professional journals, published a monthly bulletin of cancer information, and recruited doctors throughout the country to help educate the public about cancer.
In 1936, thanks to a suggestion by Marjorie G. Illig, an ACS field representative and chair of the General Federation of Women’s Clubs Committee on Public Health, the organization created a legion of khaki-clad volunteers called the Women’s Field Army, who canvassed the streets to raise money for ACS and help educate the public. This “all hands on deck” spirit has continued within the organization, with a volunteer force now totaling more than 3 million that helps plan fundraising events (Relay For Life, bike-a-thons, golf tournaments), legislative advocacy and awareness-raisers throughout the country. But now the venue for organizing and educating the public has moved from the streets to the Web.
Now, 96 years after its founding, ACS again faces the challenge of raising awareness about its cause, as research it recently conducted showed that the public has little understanding about all it specifically does. To combat this, it recently launched a major brand revitalization effort focused on helping people better connect with the organization and understand all it has to offer in the battle against cancer.