Facebook Memes: Unmet Potential — Why “Raising Awareness” is not Enough

I am participating in a Facebook Meme.

What’s a “meme” you might ask?  According to Wikipedia (and yes, I LOVE THAT SITE):

“A meme (play /ˈmm/, rhyming with “cream”[1]) is a postulated unit of cultural ideas, symbols or practices, which can be transmitted from one mind to another through writing, speech, gestures, rituals or other imitable phenomena” (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Meme)

So what meme am I participating in at the moment?  Well the photo should be a clue (although she is NOT from the 80s and 90s as the meme is about CHILDHOOD).  The following articles are also great hints (hey I wouldn’t be a college prof, if I didn’t send you to other sources to READ stuff!):

I think that is enough to give you the gist, which is basically people are changing their facebook profile pic to “Raise Awareness”  against child abuse.  The idea being if we remember good things from our childhood (such as ISIS, my 70s childhood favorite Saturday morning show) we will remember what it is like to be a child.

As you can tell from the articles above, there is much “scoffage” (yeah I just made that up) about this meme and others.  That somehow they are silly, don’t actually do anything and are an insipid waste of time.

And yet one has to wonder if it was such a waste, why is it when there is a Facebook meme that news outlets including the Washington Post, ABC News and others, in their blogs and in their stories always cover it?  Did not the people who have made the changes to their profile just make their point?  Haven’t they indeed “raised awareness”?

How about all the people worldwide who are searching for “childhood cartoons”?

Frankly if the goal is to “Raise Awareness” then I would say any Facebook meme regardless of where it starts is going to be successful.  When people start talking about something they are, by default raising awareness.  The real question I believe we should be asking, however is, how does something like this help end child abuse?

As I tell my students in our Non-profit and Social Marketing class where I have in the past declared a BAN on the words “RAISING AWARENESS”…


This may seem like a difficult thing to swallow, but let’s look at the truth of this for a moment.

I am aware of the many problems in the world — from starving children, to homeless people, to abused pets, to wars, famine, global warming, over fishing, bad food, obesity, energy consumption…and the list goes on and on and on and on and I am now overwhelmed, curled up in a ball, unable to comprehend how I can do ANYTHING about ANY of it.

Social Marketing is all about moving individuals to take ACTION.  Notice I did not write SOCIAL MEDIA MARKETING which is very different. Social Marketing is a part of the marketing field that is dedicated to getting people to change behaviors. For more on this check out the consulting site for Nedra Kline Weinreich.

When you have an IMPOSSIBLE problem it is the social marketer who can break that problem down into simple, doable steps — things that the average person can do to feel like they CAN make a difference.  Worried about trash? Then YOU can recycle your cans, bottles and paper. Concerned about animals? Then YOU can volunteer at an animal shelter for a day a month. Overwhelmed by the ravages of war? Send a care package to our troops.

The Facebook profile meme works because it is SIMPLE, EASY TO DO and makes me feel like I’m contributing to something.  But, truly as others have shown IT IS NOT ENOUGH.

This is why when I posted my ISIS picture on my Facebook profile I included this on my wall:

Change your profile picture, then consider making a donation!

It’s a link to one of the most influential Children’s organizations I know of, The Children’s Defense Fund whose mission is:

The Children’s Defense Fund Leave No Child Behind® mission is to ensure every child a Healthy Start, a Head Start, a Fair Start, a Safe Start and a Moral Start in life and successful passage to adulthood with the help of caring families and communities.

CDF provides a strong, effective and independent voice for all the children of America who cannot vote, lobby or speak for themselves. We pay particular attention to the needs of poor and minority children and those with disabilities. CDF educates the nation about the needs of children and encourages preventive investments before they get sick, drop out of school, get into trouble or suffer family breakdown.

CDF began in 1973 and is a private, nonprofit organization supported by foundation and corporate grants and individual donations. We have never taken government funds.

Imagine if the meme went just one step further. POST your favorite childhood cartoon and as you think about what it was like to be a child post a link to YOUR favorite charity that is helping children every day and encourage your friends to donate or volunteer to help make a difference.

See, now I’m not only feeling good because I’m all nostalgic and stuff, I’ve given my friends and others access to an organization they might not know about whose mission it is EVERY DAY to help children.  Now that is a meme worth sharing.

News organizations, instead of just reporting on the meme and scoffing at it, how about you provide a service and list out the international organizations that are helping children every day and link to them, so you too, can move this meme from “meaningless” to “making a difference”?

Tags: , ,

  • TJ Dimacali

    Thanks for linking to my article 🙂

  • What? There’s such a thing as child abuse? Well if it weren’t for me seeing a FB friend’s post and explanation I would have never known (*snark*) or been inspired to change my profile pic to be a good sport. Sure posting a link to donate something adds a little more incentive to do something, but how will you know – especially for an org that you have no stake in and won’t have access to click/action data coming from your link?

    What CAN happen is more than just benign ‘awareness’ but a wake up call and possible global movement – not unlike when we all added a green overlay to our Twitter avs during Iran’s presidential elections in ’09. Wasn’t anything most of us could do but watch and listen. And hundreds of millions of us did. Alternatively with child abuse, we CAN do something, at least domestically.

    The staggering numbers of people reached via twitter, facebook and youtube with a seemingly flimsy meme like a cartoon profile pic vastly increase the opportunities for social orgs (like Children’s Defense Fund) to take the reigns and run with it while the spotlight shines on them. All it takes is something silly like changing your av or profile pic for a few days and spreading the word as to why.

    Thought provoking post, Elaine. Funny that people actually Googled ‘childhood cartoons’ as if they had to be reminded of their favorite 🙂

  • Excellent post, Elaine. Timely, for me, as well. I was just debating if I would change my picture to “Wonder Woman” and determined that I would not as it was not going to change a behavior in my immediate Facebook group – i.e. no donations would be made, no one would sign up to volunteer for an organization working against child abuse etc.

    In social media, and especially working in social good, unless you can influence a behavior (get someone to “like” a page, make a donation, etc.) you only get the benefit of brand building – and in this case no specific non profit is identified (that I know of — or it is not easily sussed out). And from there – you have to look at the numbers. Like direct mail marketing, there is a percentage of people you influence in social… there is some math to be done, especially if you are looking to motivate someone to TAKE ACTION.

    It’s a great cause – to raise awareness about child abuse prevention… but I am not sure that there are less children being beaten today (incredibly sad) as a result of profile pictures being swapped out. Cynical? Maybe.

    • Agreed — but since it is a meme which is created by a person or group of people that is spread from one to another and another, why not change your profile picture and identify your organization that you want people to donate to or volunteer for? Isn’t that the point of a meme? An organization can’t really “start” an authentic meme — it comes from individuals. And if each of us IDs an organization and adds that call to action, doesn’t that in some way begin to make a difference?

      • I agree with you, Elaine. I guess where I get hung up – is how many people will actually act on moving beyond changing their profile picture? Then there is the measurement to consider (in for profit business and non profit business you have to live and die by the numbers – imo) – if people post the link of how to get involved, how many will? And will the beneficiary be ready on the other end to receive in volume. Sentiment is great — but lacking a solid strategy. (Arguably, a meme does not need a strategy, I know 😉

        Oh – and I changed my favorite — WONDER TWINS!!