October is over (sob), and of course I was focused on spooky things all month long. However, on this first day of November, I was reading a case study in my marketing class about the breast cancer awareness meme that infiltrated Facebook, and it reminded me that October was also breast cancer awareness month. One of the things about taking this class in my forties is that I actually remember–and have sometimes participated in–the social media trends and memes that our text explores.
But not this one.
In case you weren’t around then, what happened was that people started writing statuses that had a bit of a sexual innuendo to them. Things like “I like it in the closet” or “I like it on the kitchen counter.” The first one I saw, I kind of thought that maybe my friend was having a laugh, but didn’t think too much of it. A few days later, more and more of these started popping up, with friends posting about all the places they “like it.” And by friends, I don’t mean my whacky, kinky, arty friends. Do you know how uncomfortable it is to see your aunt, or your mom’s friend, or someone who you don’t want to think of in a certain way post this sort of status?
I almost wish I hadn’t remembered this meme so clearly.
So, what was the deal?
If you, like me, are the sort of person who spends more time on social media than you should, then you can probably guess what happened next. A friend messaged me the secret code. It was a copy and paste paragraph that basically said we were all going to raise awareness for breast cancer by posting the location of our purse in the phrase “I like it on…”
Now, I’m as down for Internet shenanigans as the next Gen-X-er who is only slightly aware of what the most current shenanigans are, and can be relied on to use the hip new lingo about two weeks after it’s gone out of style. But, I’m also a communication scholar, and I had a very hard time looking at that paragraph and trying to connect it to any sort of potential tangible results.
For one thing, there was no call to action in this activist meme. In fact, it didn’t even reach for the basic objective of raising awareness, an objective that has been called “lazy” by those who would decry “slacktivism.” In fact, I stared at the secret paragraph and asked how, exactly, a secret code on Facebook would actually connect to people who weren’t aware of breast cancer and make them aware of it if what it looked like was that we were all talking about…well, not about breast cancer.
Get People Talking
I don’t think that this method of engaging with cancer activism is all wrong. Much of social media marketing, whether of your latest book release, a new pair of sneakers, or a cause near and dear to your heart, relies on starting and maintaining a conversation among people who are already familiar with the product or concept, as well as people who may be interested in it once they learn of it.
During the ALS ice bucket challenge, my sister Thea posted a video of her tossing ice cold water over her head. In the caption, she mentioned that she also donated money to the ALS foundation, and offered a link for others to do the same. I have several friends who post occasionally, often around the time of their yearly mammogram, about the need to go get one, as well as the need to do monthly checks. This word-of-mouth can help remind people to go do their self-checks as much as it can help influence them when they’re trying to decide what movie to go see on Friday night.
And Then Shorten the Distance
When the conversation is going strong, that is when people’s interest in doing stuff is at its peak. From experience, I can tell you that trying to get people to do something once the shine of novelty has worn off can be an exercise in frustration. For this reason, I never post book promo without an easily accessible buy link. I always recommend that anyone posting about an upcoming event includes location, date, time and POC in EVERY SINGLE POST. And finally, make it easy for people to do something about the topic they are talking about. Shorten the distance from Point A (Awareness) to Point B (Action).
When it comes to cancer awareness, I have a personal investment. I have lost family members to cancer, and others in my friend and family circle have fought it. Some are now cancer survivors. For me, participating in a vaguely sexualized meme that didn’t connect to action, let alone actually promote awareness, was not an attractive prospect.
Instead, I joined (a few years later when I found out about it) the FxCK Cancer Endurance Club. This organization uses a good deal of social media promotion and marketing, relying on its members to share photos and videos, as well as the link to their fundraising site. I like to share videos of me talking about training and racing, including post-race rundowns and thank yous to sponsors. I haven’t been training much since the plague took me out, but as I get back into it, so will my social media feeds start looking a little more purple and gold.
Anyway, this walk down memory lane has given me some good food for thought on how to start these sorts of conversations, but also how to sustain them and translate them into invitations to act–whether to donate to the Fuck Cancer organization, to follow the FC Endurance Club on Insta, to check out the latest Crone Girls Press anthology, or to go get that mammogram scheduled. And it also reminds me that I need to go for a run tomorrow. I’m interested to hear people’s thoughts on the topic, especially if they remember the breast cancer meme or the ALS ice bucket challenge. Did you participate? How did you participate? What made you decide to chime in one way or the other? Let me know!
I don’t remember the breast cancer meme. I do remember the ice bucket challenge AND what it was for. I’m not one to throw ice water over my head, but I am one to donate to good research.
I think that’s why the ALS challenge was so effective, actually. Pour ice water over your head OR donate a few dollars? Let me hit that fundraiser link, LOL. (I have to say, I honestly didn’t know my sister’s voice could reach that high!)
I love the humor that you included in this post! I actually also mentioned the Ice Bucket Challenge in my own blog post for this week. I think the fact that people were expected to declare in the caption of their video that they would also be donating to ALS research, it prompted more people to do so. Like you said, the breast cancer meme was entertaining, but it only made sense for people that were in the know. It was exclusionary, which could be fine for other memes and viral posts, but when the point of it was supposedly to raise awareness about breast cancer…you can’t raise awareness about anything if you’re not being clear about it!
“…you can’t raise awareness about anything if you’re not being clear about it!”
That was exactly it! It would be like me trying to sell a book by walking up to someone and saying “Werewolves, am I right?” I mean, nowadays, people are conversant enough in the language of memes that they would recognize that something was going on (and maybe that’s what the organizers had hoped to do–spur questions from people NOT in the know), but if you want to effect behavior change, then–like the text says–you have to strike in the moment when people are thinking about it, not later on when the original poster remembers to explain it.
Your Breast Cancer Awareness Meme blog post was very engaging. The post shared an appropriate original image that enhanced the blog content. The connections you used with the other viral social media charity events to how you physically have donated your time to a triathlon allows for “authentic, relevant to the audience, provide an emotional connection between members, and fulfill a narrative structure for and with audiences” (Mahoney & Tang, 2016, p.121). This narrative structure is important in building connections to establish brand communities.
Excellent blog post, Rachel!
Thank you. 😀
Awesome blog! You really did a great job illustrating the point. I think that the best way to maximize digital advocacy is to stop trying to make it “real-world” advocacy and treat it as a completely new organism with extended reach and a completely different set of capabilities. That is “Accessible to anyone with access to the internet/mobile
Can potentially reach many people
Quick and cheap” (voicesofyouth.org, 2021)
This fact makes it a potentially powerful way to advocate.
How to do digital advocacy. (n.d.). Voices of Youth. https://www.voicesofyouth.org/act/how-do-digital-advocacy