View a full range of our ebooks

View full library

Explore

Our Location

The PHA Group
117 Wardour Street,
Hammer House,
London,
W1F 0UN

0207 0251 350
info@thephagroup.com
PHA Digital Studio
Fourth Floor,
47 Dean St,
Soho,
London,
W1D 5BE

0207 0251 350
info@thephagroup.com
PHA Finance Department
117 Wardour Street,
Hammer House,
London,
W1F 0UN

0207 0251 350
info@thephagroup.com

The Power of Social Media: The case of Alan Barnes

The Power of Social Media: The case of Alan Barnes

Alan Barnes - GoFundMe page

Alan Barnes – GoFundMe page

The #NoMakeUpSelfie and #IceBucketChallenge are examples of two of the most high profile campaigns of 2014. Arguably both were great PR ideas that allowed people to engage, whilst self-indulgently sharing an important message. However, it was social media that played the fundamental role of starting the online conversations that spread the word globally and created an international buzz.

The most recent example to illustrate this is the national news story of Alan Barnes. When the disabled pensioner was mugged in his garden whilst putting out his bins, sympathiser Katie Cutler set up a GoFundMe page to raise £500 to help him. In just three days, over £250,000 in donations had been generated. People flocked to support the cause with some as far away as New Zealand and Canada; but what prompted the unprecedented success of this fundraising campaign?

The very nature of social media allowed for the sheer volume of supporters, from far and wide, to generate hundreds of thousands of pounds in a matter of days. The immediacy and accessibility of Facebook and Twitter provided the vehicle to ensure the desired message went viral and its limitless nature spurred on this frenzy of interest. Every time the story was/is shared, another opportunity for engagement is created and support continues to grow.

Since the page was set up on January 28th, the Alan Barnes fund has received nearly 30,000 shares on social media – 26k on Facebook and 3k Tweets. The story has been all over the national newspapers and the fund has now been halted at £329,000 by his grateful family. Attention is now turning to young mother Katie who is being described as a hero. A new Facebook page named ‘Katie Cutler For An OBE’ has already gathered over 300 likes and another fund has been set up to thank her for her kindness.

Alan Barnes’ story not only demonstrates the growing influence of social media, it displays the way it can unite people and be a force for good. Despite all the negative stories we read, in the right hands, this snowball effect can yield positive results and perpetuate goodwill and generosity. Alan’s story culminated in unbelievable results and encompassed an online community spirit – millions of people working together in a way that has almost made us forget the tragic reason the page was set up in the first place.

Why I’m not doing the Ice Bucket Challenge

If you’ve managed to avoid all social media, and indeed online media, recently then I congratulate you. If not, your Facebook feed and internet trawling has no doubt been saturated with video of friends and celebs dousing themselves with buckets of water for the ‘ice bucket challenge’. The aim of this is to encourage donations to research for ALS (in the US) and Motor Neurone Disease (in the UK) and to raise awareness of this disease.

There is no doubt that the ice bucket challenge has been a tour de force from a PR point of view, raising millions in donations, and engaging people with the disease. It is easy to see where the campaign’s success lies – it’s engaging and funny, giving everyone a laugh whilst watching friends shriek and dance around. However, I myself would not take part if I were nominated.

More: Top ten charity PR campaigns of all time

Pr behind Ice Bucket Challenge

I’m not being boorish or taking a stance for the sake of it, and I’m sure that I will receive criticism, as indeed several people have already, for not taking part. The word ‘spoilsport’ may come to mind, and others would argue that huge amounts are being raised for this underfunded disease and why would I not want to contribute to any of this. I ask, however, whether someone’s donations to another cause or charity are any less worthwhile? They may not be making a song and dance about it but they are no less worthy or valued, perhaps even more so if they are not merely one-off donations. It’s fantastic that so much money has been raised but it is certainly not sustainable, and many other charities will never have nearly as much money raised.

Countless celebs from Victoria Beckham to George Bush have undertaken the ice bucket challenge, and it has become a fantastic opportunity for them to cash in on a bit of free PR. All they have to do it douse themselves in water and they are viewed as charity heroes, delighted to be seen throwing themselves behind a good cause. This is narcissistic, and I am not just talking about celebs. Anyone filming themselves doing the challenge and posting it to their social media is always partly doing so for public approval, an occasion to look charitable whilst essentially posting a video selfie.

The charitable aspect is almost an afterthought, and very few of the videos actually contain any information about the disease or why the money is needed. I dare add that some people taking part in the challenge don’t have any clearer an idea of the disease than they did prior to soaking themselves with a bucket of water.  The US state department has even banned diplomats from taking part in the challenge, as they are not allowed to use their positions for private gain. They are of course welcome to quietly donate to any charity; they are simply not allowed to cash in on it for their reputation.

Aside from everything else, there are severe droughts all over the world and I can only say that throwing a bucket of clear water over yourself is surely a rather tactless thing to do. If you feel strongly for a cause there should be no need to make donating a self-congratulatory, attention–seeking act.