#BlameDrewsCancer for this Case Study

Welcome back from a US Bank Holiday, Labor Day! TwiTip took the 4-day weekend off, and we’re proud to present today’s post. It takes a closeup look at a really great thing happening on Twitter surrounding one man’s idea to blame his cancer for all the problems in his life. Read about how the story’s unfolded to mean so much more for many others fighting the battle.

By Neal Wiser (follow him @nealwiser) and Peter Marinari (follow him @krisis)(http://twitter.com/krisis).

First in a series of brief case studies about using Twitter for social good.


Drew Olanoff has Cancer

Sure, you can use Twitter to tell people about your literal and metaphorical dirty laundry (you really shouldn’t), or you can use Twitter to try to overthrow governments such as Iran and Moldavia (please be careful), but personally, I believe that one of the best uses for Twitter is to rally people around good causes.

And despite the annoyances that can sometimes result when people misuse and abuse Twitter, except for television there has probably never been a technology that can spread the news about events faster than Twitter. As a result, Twitter may just be the perfect platform for charitable causes and institutions.

Getting the Word Out

While some may argue that anything you do to raise awareness of your cause is a good thing, what you really want is to have people take a desired action and actively participate. Otherwise, your cause is just an idea, not a movement, and it’s movements that drive change.

Enter Twitter and its unique ability to instantly disseminate any idea to thousands or even tens of thousands (if not more) people across the globe with just a few clicks. Of course, that’s only part of the equation. Because of how Twitter works, in order to receive any given message, your followers have to be online and reading your tweets at the same time you send them. Or they could subscribe to your Profile page via RSS (or another alert system) so they can catch up on your updates later. Otherwise, they’ll miss the message.

Regardless how you send your messages, we are fortunate that there are many groups who are using Twitter effectively. One of the more interesting and successful examples is BlameDrewsCancer.

What is #BlameDrewsCancer and What am I Blaming it for?

#BlameDrewsCancer is rare for a charitable organization because it’s also a meme.

As a charitable organization, BlameDrewsCancer was founded by Drew Olanoff (@drew), who was recently diagnosed with Stage 3 Hodgkins Lymphoma. Blame Drew’s Cancer’s mission is to support and raise the hopes of people battling and surviving cancer through the use of humor to erase the stigma behind cancer and by inspiring frank discussions of the impact it can have on the lives of those fighting it, as well as those who love and support them.

firstblame_mikedemersThe #BlameDrewsCancer meme was born when, as a coping mechanism, Drew thought it would be funny to blame his cancer on, well, anything he could. He blamed his cancer for lost keys, the Phillies losing, Twitter going down, and whatever else he could think of.

Then a funny thing happened; thousands of people all over the world starting blaming things on Drew’s cancer too. From “self-inflicted dehydration” to “blinding migraines” to “annoying trance-y techno-y music,” Drew’s cancer got the blame (you too can blame Drew’s cancer. Just click here to automatically insert the Hash Tag #BlameDrewsCancer into your tweets. Then you can blame whatever you want on Drew’s Cancer).

Happy Accidents; Using Twitter as a Tactic

In one context, Drew got lucky; the humor of the #blamedrewscancer Hash Tag was contagious. It also coincided with heavy media coverage of Twitter from Larry King to the local news. The result; the meme went viral. In less than 100 days, over 11,000 people have blamed more than 25,000 things on Drew’s Cancer, and Drew and his team have raised thousands of dollars for cancer-related charities.

Of course, not every charity movement is lucky enough to have a catchy meme. Fortunately, Drew didn’t depend on luck. Realizing that a mere Hash Tag wouldn’t be enough to capture the attention of the general public, Drew turned to developer Mike Demers to create a web site, blamedrewscancer.com. The web site takes advantage of Twitter’s open API to dynamically track tweets with the #blamedrewscancer hash tag and displays them on animated picket signs.

With the web site generating additional buzz and media attention, Drew leveraged Twitter to build a grassroots team of supporters. He solicited volunteers from active twitter users who frequented the Philadelphia Tweetup scene and used team-building techniques, such as an extensively live-tweeted, blogged, and photographed skydiving expedition to establish an esprit de corps. Drew also empowers the entire team to tweet, blog, reach out to sponsors and even appear on panels on his behalf.

Drews Avatar

Drew’s Twibbon Avatar

But Twitter had even more to offer. While his team actively blogs, supporters branded their Twitter avatars with LiveStrong bands and Blame Drew’s Cancer logos via Twibbon.com to help spread the word even when they were tweeting about other things (click here to add the Drew’s Cancer logo to your Twitter avatar).

How Successful has Twitter been for Drew?

The combination of Drew’s compelling story, his Hash Tag and his newly launched domain quickly garnered the attention of the media. In the months following his diagnosis, Drew had appeared on CNN, AOLHealth, Philadelphia’s Fox29 and in numerous blogs and print outlets.

twitter-armstrongAnd celebrities are even participating with Lance Armstrong blaming a shoulder injury on Drew’s Cancer. This tweet ultimately led to LiveStrong, The Lance Armstrong Foundation taking notice of Drew by inviting him to sign on as an official spokesperson and partnering with Blame Drew’s Cancer to provide a meaningful cause for Drew’s supporters to donate towards.

Since its inception about 100 days ago, and thanks to the media coverage and to Twitter, BlameDrewsCancer has been visited over 85,000 times. Additionally, three well-attended fundraising events have generated over $3,000 in donations with a fourth, Drew’s Blame-a-Thon, a 24-hour, marathon benefit concert and film screening held in two locations and live-streamed globally via the internet, is scheduled for Wednesday, 9/9/09. Drew’s Blame-a-Thon represents the culmination of a summer of raising awareness and donations for the fight against cancer. A sellout crowd would raise as much as $10,000 for LiveStrong.

A Good Meme Travels Far and Wide

In addition to the successes listed above, gene research company 23andMe has joined as an official sponsor, contributing $1 each for 500 unique blamers to LiveStrong and helping with costs for the Blame-a-Thon. Taco Bell has also offered an unsolicited $1,000 to LiveStrong for the next set of unique users who blame Drew’s cancer and are planning to send social-media-driven Taco Bell Truck to the Blame-a-Thon.

Meanwhile, Drew continues his fight against cancer (he has had a chemotherapy treatment the week of each fundraising event and Blame-a-Thon will not be an exception) and plans on continuing to raise money for LiveStrong by using the awareness generated by Blame Drew’s Cancer to help other young people fighting cancer find support both online and locally via social networks.

How to Use Twitter for Charity

While there are no hard and firm rules for using Twitter to promote and organize your charity, organizers should keep the following in mind:

  • Use Twitter as the foundation of a viral strategy. It’s the fastest, best way to virally spread word-of-mouth.
  • Augment Twitter with other social networks and tools. Twitter is great, but don’t limit yourself to only Twitter’s audience.
  • Make sure your virtual strategy is realistic. Setting goals too high will result in disappointments instead of surprisingly exceeding expectations.
  • Legitimized by partnering with established brands. Many brands like to partner with good causes organized by smart people.
  • Advertise in the medium your users communicate on. In other words; be where your “customers” or likely followers are.
  • Don’t focus on top-down advertising. It’s slow and hard to build momentum.
  • And if you can launch a catchy meme, do that too.

Good luck.

For More Information

Blame Drew’s Cancer Web Site: http://blamedrewscancer.com
Drew’s Blog: http://www.drewolanoff.com
Blame-a-Thon: http://www.blame-a-thon.com
Follow Drew on Twitter: http://twitter.com/drew
LiveStrong Foundation http://www.livestrong.org
American Cancer Society http://www.cancer.org
Make a Wish Foundation http://www.wish.org
Tweetup scene in Philadelphia http://www.phillytweetup.com
Mike Demers http://mikedemers.net
LiveStrong bands http://www.livestrongaction.org/avatar
Blame Drew’s Cancer Twibbon Logos http://twibbon.com/Search?searchQuery=blamedrewscancer

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  • September 9, 2009

    I must admit I started off reading this post thinking #blamedrewscancer seemed in bad taste, but after reading more and investigating further I wasn’t sure whether to laugh or cry. The story is both uplifting and sad – best of luck to Drew.

  • September 9, 2009

    I #BlameDrewsCancer for having such a great read. :D
    I was like laughing in the beginning but I really respect the cause of the organization. I pray to God he recovers from his sickness and his organization makes plenty of money to reach its goals. :)

  • September 10, 2009

    On what did you #BlameDrewsCancer ? I voted Guilty on Drew’s Cancer in AllRise court http://bit.ly/AllRise254

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