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From the Trenches

Who Needs Feminism: A Social Media Strategy Case Study

Right Source | April 24, 2012

I’ve been keeping a marketing strategist’s eye on a recent campaign, Who Needs Feminism, which was staged by a class of students from Duke University (my alma mater!). Inspired by a class discussion in their “Women in the Public Sphere” course, these students launched a campaign to battle the stigma around the word “feminism.”

Marketers can learn from this campaign, so I thought I’d break it down. This post is not a comment on feminism, or the meaning of the campaign. Rather, it’s a story about the strategy behind the campaign, which never could have been this successful with the technology available a decade ago.

Here’s how it worked:

"Who Needs Feminism?" poster

Online and Offline Integration

The campaign was community driven from the start. The students collected photos of their classmates displaying their personal reasons for feminism—see below. They then turned the photos into posters, and distributed the posters all around campus. The posters, of course, had links to the Facebook page for the campaign, where the entire collection of images was uploaded.

Online Reactions

News of the campaign spread fast. The page launched on April 6th, and according to the group’s post, grew by 1500 fans on April 11th alone. The campaign spread to Tumblr and Twitter, and was covered by sites ranging from Mashable to FeministsIndia.

Yet with such a controversial topic, some of the discussions occurring on the group’s Facebook page were more contentious than constructive. Initially, the group allowed the debate to rage—personal attacks flying, counter arguments descending into insults.

Offline Reactions

From a marketing standpoint, this is what I find most interesting about this campaign. Not only was the campaign fielding controversy online, students were vandalizing posters around campus with very anti-feminist notes, such as “I Need Feminism Because Sandwiches Won’t Make Themselves.” See one of the pictures here.

The marketing takeaway: people can wreak havoc with your offline branding efforts too. You just might not notice it unless you happen to walk by.

Online Course Reversal

Initially, the students behind the campaign posted the vandalized posters on the Facebook page. However, the posters have now been removed. I can understand why—when I looked through the comments below the pictures of vandalized posters on the Facebook wall (I saw them when they were still up), the commentary was more juvenile insults than lively conversation.

Posting the vandalized pictures originally was the right move, because the vandalism gave the campaign legitimacy, and showed that there was indeed a battle to be fought.

Yet the way the students reversed course after the comments got too nasty was also smart (if somewhat hastily typed). They took down the vandalized posters from the page and posted the below message on the wall:

"Who Needs Feminism?" comments

After this initial post, the students continuously posted about their comment policy, and now have an explanation of the comment policy in their “About Us,” as well as pinned to the top of the wall.

What You Can Learn From This

There are many lessons you can learn from this campaign as a marketer. Three quick main takeaways:

  1. Sticking to offline marketing doesn’t mean your brand is safe.
  2. Integrate online and offline marketing for maximum success.
  3. Have a comment plan, and if you have a large audience, publicly post a comment policy.

Throwing it back to you—what do you think the Who Needs Feminism campaign did right? Could have done better? What lessons have you learned from their example?

Related Resources

About Right Source:

The Marketing Trenches blog provides thought leadership from actual marketing practitioners, not from professional thought leaders. Designed to help business leaders make more educated marketing decisions, our insights come directly from our experience in the trenches. You can find more from Right Source on Facebook, X (formerly Twitter), and LinkedIn.