Winning the Internet

Why the red HRC marriage equality campaign was a hit on Facebook

After a great run, the Winning the Internet blog has been retired. However, you can still keep in touch with New Media Mentors here.

HRC red logoIf you logged onto Facebook yesterday, odds are you saw a red version of the Human Rights Campaign’s logo in your feed. Or, if your friends are anything like mine, you saw a ton of them.

On Monday, HRC asked their supporters to change their profile pictures red, to show support for marriage equality while the U.S. Supreme Court heard arguments for and against DOMA and California’s Proposition 8. The campaign was a huge success and dramatically raised the visibility of the issue on social media.

According to CNN, about 10 million people saw the image on Facebook. 10 million. So, how the heck did HRC get millions of people to share their logo (of all things)? Here’s a breakdown of what made the campaign a success, and what we can learn from it:

1. HRC developed an idea and specifically asked people to take action.

The idea of “wearing” a color online (changing the color of an organization’s logo) isn’t entirely new. In the past GLAAD and other LGBT organizations have turned their logos purple on social media to show support for Spirit Day. However, HRC picked up this idea and made it their own by turning their logo red, in honor of love.

Not only did they change their own logo red, but they explicitly asked their supporters to do the same. The day before the court hearings began, HRC posted this to Facebook:

HRC Facebook Post Red Equality Symbol

Their request was clear and easy to do.

2. The ask was timed perfectly.

Not only was the ask clear, but it was timed perfectly. The Supreme Court hearings were the leading news story in the U.S., and HRC made the ask right before the hearings began, and again on the day they started. The organization did not choose an arbitrary day for folks to show their support for marriage equality—they chose the day everyone was already talking about it.

3. Celebrities seeded the campaign.

Sure, everything started with HRC’s own post to their Facebook page. However, things really took off when celebrity supporters with major followings changed their profile pictures. According to CNN, the logo was adopted and shared by celebrities Ricky Martin, Felicity Huffman, and George Takei (who has nearly 4 million Facebook fans), as well as Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley, Senator Mark Warner of Virginia, and other politicians. This both gave weight to the campaign, and made the campaign visible to millions.

4. The image’s symbolism resonated with people.

Finally, I really think the nature of HRC’s logo made this work. The red equal sign was easy for anyone to understand in the context of the court hearings. It also made sense for people to use as their own profile picture to show that they stand for equality. Had the organization used an image that said “Human Rights Campaign” in red instead of the equal symbol, the campaign would certainly not have taken off like it did. (Other LGBT organizations turned their logos red, but they didn’t take off like the HRC logo.)

How to apply this to your own work.

The success of this campaign is pretty much unprecedented and certainly will not be easily replicated by another organization. However, there’s a lot we can learn from this success.

All of the principles outlined above can be adopted by any organization launching their own campaigns. They may not get you 10 million views, but they will make your campaigns more powerful.

Sure, we may not all be able to call on George Takei to change his profile pic for us, but most of us do have supporters with large followings that we can tap into, and are certainly capable of making clear asks, timing them well, and choosing images that resonate with folks. So let’s use this not only as an opportunity to celebrate love and support equality, but also as inspiration for making our own campaigns stronger and more effective.


About Melissa Foley

Melissa is the Director of Training and Mentoring for Netroots Foundation and New Media Mentors. She aims to use her MBA + nonprofit background to teach organizations to use new media tools strategically.