Lessons to Be Learned from a Bullied Bus Monitor

The recent videos of 68-year-old bus monitor Karen Klein being bullied by tweens and teens have generated a lot of talk across media outlets. What started as a YouTube video pulled from Facebook has transformed into a powerful online community, leveraging the power of online crowdsourcing to help rectify the wrong doing towards Klein with emotional and financial support.Although normally our news headlines are filled with intense issues such as violence, war, missing people and politics; this made people pause, listen and act. These same key lessons can also be applied when developing a cause campaign.

Relatable issues work: This story first caught the public’s eye because bullying is a highly relatable and seemingly universal issue. It is especially cruel and attention-grabbing to see young kids bullying an elder – it’s not the “typical” bullying scenario, and it goes against traditional social norms. Bullying has become a timely issue in our society today, with many organizations and key opinion leaders such as Lady Gaga and President Obama seeking to address it on institutional and cultural levels. This story not only reinforces the need to address the problem, but it expands the issue to include bullying at different ages as well.

Application to cause marketing: A deep and drab issue isn’t necessary in order to grab people’s attention. Addressing an issue that is relatable to your target audience is what will inspire action and drive awareness.

Power of social media: The instant relay of this story across various communications channels was based on a grassroots level via social media. Quickly being pulled from Facebook and uploaded to YouTube, the video went viral. The “happy ending” to this story is largely a result of Max Sidorov’s quick thinking to leverage the growing momentum of people’s interest and compassion. Sidorov created a project page on a crowdsourcing website, indiegogo.com, to serve as an easy way for people to show support.

Application to cause marketing: Not all marketing requires deep pockets, which is especiallyencouraging for smaller nonprofits with limited budgets. Sidorov clearly defined the intention of the fundraiser, how the money would be used and did not ask for much effort from the consumers aside from an electronic donation. Similarly, compelling storytelling allows the masses to spread stories and raise awareness for you, furthering support.

The need for transparency: Although the project page on indiegogo.com was easy to support, people quickly began to question the transparency in the back-end of the donation – was it going to the PayPal account indicated on the page, which was linked to Sidorov’s business, and therefore not being forwarded to Klein? The problem was corrected in a timely manner, with the interim solution of removing the PayPal link and having indiegogo.com hold the money until Klein’s PayPal account could be connected.

Application to cause marketing: Transparency is an issue that is critical to maintain the integrity of your campaign and the loyalty of your supporters. Big campaigns such as (Product)RED have undergone serious scrutiny and felt the associated ramifications by not being 100% honest about how donors' money is used. As noted above, the power of social media also allows the masses to demand accountability and responsibility – especially when it comes to money.

Scratching the surface or making a mark? It is uplifting to see so many people rally behind the experience of one person - and a stranger at that. Raising funds to give Klein a vacation and the potential option for early retirement will certainly be a relief to Klein moving forward. What about the source of the problem though? Bullying is a timeless issue, crossing eras and continents, but now with the power of technology (and particularly social media, which generated a lot of good in this situation), it has become much more acute and led to too many devastating outcomes. Some are asking if the current generation is being raised with a proper sense of civility. Punishing bullies is not the long-term answer. Do we need better education on what it means to be an upstanding citizen? Have we lost our manners? Do we need to be addressing such issues from a more structured approach?

Application to cause marketing: Aim for a holistic approach - put a Band-Aid on the wound, but also look to what caused the injury in order to reduce the chance of it happening again. A monetary donation helps, but it is not always the answer for social concerns. Consider this when developing cause campaigns - is it education, awareness and first-hand experience that you can add to your program to really make an impact?

Rachel Swirsky is an Account Executive in Cone Communications’ Cause Branding group.

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