You are not logged in. LOG IN NOW >

How Planned Parenthood Supporters Took Charge in Advocating for Womens Health

BY Miranda Neubauer | Tuesday, April 3 2012

On a March 29 Personal Democracy Plus call, Heather Holdridge, digital director of Planned Parenthood, and social media expert Deanna Zandt discussed how advocacy for womens' health is now no longer just defined by large advocacy organizations, but also the social-media fueled networked communities that influence them.

Micah Sifry moderated the call. Personal Democracy Plus subscribers can access the audio archive here.

At Planned Parenthood, Holdridge said, as at other organizations, "the e-mail presence has historically been the anchor with which the organization has communicated with supporters."

But in a fight last year over legislation that would have cut federal funding from the organization, Planned Parenthood realized how the increasing power of social media could help the organization in achieving its political goals by tapping its six million supporters.

Now, on social media on a daily basis, "what we try to do early in the day, we are able to put out our own marker, our own message/priority for the day," Holdridge said. " But we also recognize the necessity of reflecting our community back."

She said she wanted supporters to know that the organization was paying attention to them.

Planned Parenthood, like the online presences of many other advocacy or government organizations, is now also influenced by initially unaffiliated movements in a symbiotic way.

That phenomenon was most recently illustrated during the outcry over Susan G. Komen for the Cure's decision to enact an internal rule change that would have cut its funding of Planned Parenthood breast cancer screening programs. Zandt started the high-profile protest site Planned Parenthood Saved Me in response, which became one of the most widely recognized indications that Komen had angered people who had traditionally been its supporters.

Zandt said her project grew from a Facebook discussion she was having with others who were upset at the decision and wanted to register their opposition. While the conversation was initially focused on fundraising for Planned Parenthood or withholding money from the Komen foundation, Zandt wanted to give low-income women a voice who might not be able to raise money but are the most reliant on Planned Parenthood's services. In addition, with the importance of personal stories in such an effort, she wanted to provide an outlet for the affected women to tell their own.

After she had sent it out, the response soon went beyond the group of women she'd had in mind, those whose cancer had been diagnosed by Planned Parenthood, to all kinds of women for whom Planned Parenthood had made a difference in their lives. After being started on a Wednesday morning, the Tumblr was featured on Rachel Maddow's show on MSNBC that Thursday night.

The viral distribution of such a project is not about the number of Facebook or Twitter followers, Zandt said.

"It's not just posting once to Twitter, it was going through my address book," she said. "I could have sent it to a major outlet, or somebody who had billions of followers. I chose instead people influential on the topic, to spread it quickly."

When Zandt analyzed the analytics of her page, after 300 stories had been posted within a few days, she found that more half of the 28,000 visits came before the big media coverage, and that all of them had been referred by Facebook, Twitter or Tumblr.

"Not only did we love [the Tumblr], we promoted it on our Facebook page and Twitter," Holdridge from Planned Parenthood said, adding, however, that the organization was selective and strategic about the voices it amplified. At the same time, both Holdridge and Zandt agreed that the Tumblr was more powerful because it came from outside an established advocacy organization.