April 08, 2013

Inside the Human Rights Campaign's Social-Media Success

Human Rights Campaign

The Human Rights Campaign created this collage of supporter-created logos and displayed it on the organization's Facebook page during the campaign.

If the Supreme Court Justices pay attention to Twitter, Facebook, and other social networks as they get ready to decide two major legal cases involving same-sex marriage, they will see a swell of support organized by the Human Rights Campaign, an advocacy group that promotes gay and lesbian causes.

Just a day before the Supreme Court held arguments from lawyers in the high-profile cases last month, the Human Rights Campaign released a pink-and-red version of its logo, which is normally blue and yellow, and sent out messages urging supporters of same-sex marriage to use it in place of their profile pictures on social networks. It was an instant hit.

“It was taking over my Facebook newsfeed at times throughout the day, where you’d see multiple friends with the icon,” says Timothy Macafee, a doctoral candidate at the University of Wisconsin who researches activism through social media.

Although the logo release had been carefully planned, the group was surprised by its popularity, said Anastasia Khoo, marketing director for the Human Rights Campaign. In the first 24 hours after its release, the logo had been reposted 10,000 times and had attracted 10 million page views. The group also recorded 200,000 new Facebook fans and 10,000 new Twitter followers.

The campaign’s success was helped along by experimenting with new technologies, techniques that any nonprofit can apply to its own social-media marketing, Ms. Khoo says.

It promoted more than the organization. The group’s supporters and other same-sex-marriage proponents were able to customize the image to represent their own views.

Some combined the logo with their own profile picture. Others changed the two lines of the equal sign to pieces of bacon, pairs of pants, lines of heart symbols, unicorns, dogs, and more.

The organization made a slide show of some of the variations for its Web site and made them into a collage and posted it at the top of its Facebook page.

Ms. Khoo says the group was glad to see the adaptations because that meant people were paying attention to the issue of same-sex marriage, not just promoting an organization.

It used new tools. While the variation of the group’s logo was the most visible part of the campaign, the nonprofit also tried two new online tools to call attention to the Supreme Court arguments.

It paid Twitter for “promoted Tweets” so that Human Rights Campaign messages would show up at the top of searches about the Supreme Court case. One of those messages was retweeted 14,000 times, the most retweets on a single message in the organization’s history.

The group also paid to ensure that ads on smartphones used near the Supreme Court would display messages about support for legalizing same-sex marriage.

Those ads, which showed up on smartphone browsers within a half-mile radius of the Supreme Court building, recorded 490,000 views, with about 0.51 percent of people clicking on them, Ms. Khoo said—significantly higher than the average rate of 0.3 to 0.4 percent.

It prepared carefully. In the two weeks before the Supreme Court heard the cases, the organization enlisted celebrities to post messages about same-sex marriage during the hearings and to change their profile pictures to the red and pink logo.

“For us, the most exciting part of this entire campaign was that we demonstrated widespread support,” Ms. Khoo said. “What was really important to us is that people were having conversations.”

As for the long-term effects of the campaign, Mr. Macafee said that the widespread nature of the profile image changes could have exposed people to attitudes and opinions that they may not have seen otherwise.

“It’s another example of something that can proliferate on social media when people are passionate about an issue,” he says.

The Human Rights Campaign is already planning for the ruling of the Supreme Court cases, Ms. Khoo says, though she wouldn’t share specifics about what to expect next. But it will likely use the color scheme again relating to the topic of same-sex marriage.

Send an e-mail to Cody Switzer.