VIRAL AWARENESS – Working the Crowd


If you want success, it’s a good idea to think about network effects. People tend to congregate where their friends are, they buy what their friends recommend and they use the products that their friends use. This effect is known as the cluster effect, and social network applications need to be designed with these clusters in mind.

In early January 2010, when most of the news channels were reporting how the UK was paralysed under a blanket of snow, a ripple effect started to occur on Facebook. Facebook started to display status updates containing only one word (or occasionally two): ‘lemon‘, ‘nude‘, ‘black‘, ‘tartan‘, ‘dirty grey‘. These updates caused speculation amongst male users before word got out that this was all about underwear and the colour we were wearing that day. These status updates had a knock-on effect in raising awareness about breast cancer. Facebook groups dedicated to breast cancer awareness gathered over 40,000 fans supporting the cause, with some fans posting images of them wearing bras on the group pages. The Susan G. Komen for the Cure breast cancer foundation reported that, due to the Facebook status updates, their Facebook fans jumped in number from 134,000 to 154,000.51‘We‘re so delighted,‘ said spokeswoman Andrea Rader. ‘We think this is just a phenomenal example of how powerful the Internet can be in getting this message out.‘

Another example of a Facebook group being used to raise awareness and get help quickly was for Philip Pain, a student.52 Philip fell from a seventh-floor balcony in Mazatlán, Mexico, crushing his internal organs and breaking his legs and back. The local hospital didnát have enough supplies of his rare blood type, O-negative, to operate and save his life. Less than 6% of the population have O-negative blood, so shortages can be expected. His parents set up a Facebook group asking for blood, and within hours 12 pints of blood were flown in from Florida. A further 8 pints were donated at the hospital in Mazatlán and other O-negative donors signed up to an emergency blood list ready to donate if needed. Facebook notified enough people so that there were sufficient supplies of blood available quickly, which meant that doctors were able to start the operation to save his life.

These are amazing examples of how individual voices can be magnified and used with the network effect in order to create a viral effect for good causes.

Awareness grows about the cause, people become mobilised into action and you can reach millions of people by using a site like Facebook.