A Digital DOA for Alicia Keyes’ New Social Media Campaign

Dec 06

A new celebrity-fueled social media campaign has been labeled by “dead on arrival” based on its slow-to-start performance last week.

Songstress Alicia Keyes solicited nearly 20 celebrities to commit to a “Digital Death” in which they are forbidden from using Facebook or Twitter until $1 million has been raised for Keyes’ AIDS charity, Keep a Child Alive. Fans can bring their favorite celebrity “back to life” by donating through the campaign’s website. Organizers promised that when the campaign’s $1 million goal is reached, “everyone will be back online and tweeting in no time.”

As of 10:30 a.m. today, the campaign had raised only $298,718 of its $1 million goal, suggesting that a digital blackout by celebrities isn’t a strong motivator for Americans to open their checkbooks. News of the campaign’s own “digital death” seems to have eclipsed its fundraising goal, and the mission of a worthy organization. (Although nearly $140,000 has been raised since the campaign was labeled “DOA” on Friday.)

Celebrity-watchers expressed surprise that the effort hasn’t been more of an out-of-the-gate success, given participation from A-listers such as Justin Timberlake, Lady Gaga, Ryan Seacrest, and Serena Williams.

So where did the “Digital Death” campaign go wrong? Should celebrities leverage social media for social causes?

Margaret Lyons of Entertainment Weekly believes that Keyes’ campaign may have fallen short in one key area – rewarding its supporters.  Lyons points to Stephen Colbert’s efforts to raise more than $500,000 for Donors Choose by promising Reddit users that, if they raised the money, he’d answer their questions on the site. This “fund-and-reward-your-fans model,” Lyons notes, may be more effective than threats of a “digital death.”

The problems don’t end there.

According to Yahoo! News, organizers put a $10 minimum on donations. While that may not seem like a large sum, it can be a hefty price to pay during tough economic times, particularly for younger fans. Also, if the celebrities had been kept online during the donation process, as Yahoo! celebrity writer Dylan Stableford suggests, more money may have been raised. Stableford recommended approaching the campaign from the angle of “if fans [don’t] meet the stated goal, then kill [the celebrities] off, one by one.”

Ultimately, the “Digital Death” campaign presents a number of important lessons for social marketers interested in engaging celebrities for a good cause:

Don’t silence your most effective spokespersons during the height of a campaign. Social media is about spreading the message, not suppressing it. Digital spokespersons are often what keep your target audiences interested and engaged throughout the lifecycle of a campaign, and silencing their voices or limiting their presence can be extremely detrimental in the short- and long-term.

Understand the limits of your target audience. Given that nearly all of the celebrities involved in the “Digital Death” campaign appeal to teen and millennial audiences, there should not have been a minimum donation requirement. During tough economic times, even small donations can be significant.

Don’t overestimate the value of your “reward.”  Clearly, bringing Alicia Keyes and her celebrity contemporaries “back to life” on Twitter and Facebook wasn’t a large enough incentive or “reward” for fans to donate. When creating a reward for a campaign, it’s important to have a clear sense of how valuable that reward is in the minds of your potential funders. Will it improve their day-to-day lives? Provide them with information that’s not available elsewhere? These are all important considerations.

What do you think of Keyes’ campaign? How long do you think it will take to “resurrect” all of the celebrities?

This entry was posted on Monday, December 6th, 2010 at 11:57 am and is filed under Social Marketing. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. Both comments and pings are currently closed.

2 Responses to “A Digital DOA for Alicia Keyes’ New Social Media Campaign”

  1. Shakirah Hill-Holley says:

    These are really great insights Alex. I knew from the start that this campaign was not going to do well. I echo your sentiment that you don’t silence your biggest spokesperson. I would also like to add that it is a bit narcissistic to presume that people value celebrities on social media so much that they are willing to buy them back. Further, how does buying back the life of Kim Kardashian relate to the devastating effects AIDs has on children? Good idea in theory but in practice not so much. Thanks for sharing!

  2. Alex Hughes says:

    Thanks for your comments Shakirah! Based on my research, I think quite a few people agree with your sentiment that buying back the “life” of a celebrity doesn’t relate to the devastating effects of AIDs.