Nelly Liu is a New Media Associate at Cirrus Media, a Boston-based search engine marketing agency. Prior to joining Cirrus, Nelly earned a MS degree in PR from Boston University, College of Communication.
You helped run a campaign that saved the life of a student’s mother. Can you tell us a little bit about this campaign ?
Back in the winter of 2005, the news struck me that one of my classmate Zhang’s mom was diagnosed with cancer, and their family had no money for her treatment. Zhang’s mother had to sell blood multiple times to pay for his tuition, and he was devastated knowing that his mom would be gone before he could even pay her back. On hearing the news, I knew that I had to help. My mom was also diagnosed with cancer when I was 13, and our family wouldn’t have survived without the help from other people. (China’s medicare system doesn’t have insurance so patients have to pay everything or at least 80 percent of their treatment.) I always told myself from the age of 13 that one day I would pay back the society — and that was my time.
Different from other classmates who also wanted to help, I realized the news value of the event. It is a story happening to a top student at the best university in Shanghai, and this story can trigger people’s empathy and sympathy because of how much he loves his mom and how much his mom has done for him. It is emotional and sensational, and it will make people donate. My classmates didn’t really believe me then that I could make this thing big even Zhang doubted it, saying “you sure we can do that?” But I did it.
I held a meeting in our department, and everybody started to help. We first raised funds in our own department, and then we held a three-day fund-raising event at Fudan. We rented table/vendors in front of all the canteens, we made flyers and posters ourselves to spread the news. We used blogging and forums to reach out to people on various social networking sites. And we also contacted news outlet to get the news published.
Then the news just went viral. Every media outlet in Shanghai featured the story, news was all over the Internet. Even Paris Post published the story. We raised enough money for her treatment! Although Zhang’s mom passed away one year ago, our campaign extended her life, and made it possible for her to see her son graduate from college and get a great job. It was a great cause, the most meaningful thing I have ever done.
How did you utilize social media in order to reach a worldwide audience ?
That was back to 2005 before the invention of Twitter and the popularity of Facebook, so mostly we used blogs and forums. Blogs are extremely popular in Chinese colleges so almost every of the broad member of that campaign had one. I started the first blog, and so many classmates followed up. Our blog posts were then shared by people we knew and later, people we didn’t know. It went viral. Forum is another extremely popular social networking tool in China. We basically posted the news on all the forums we knew. Forums made the words spread all over the world, at least in the Chinese community. I have received emails and calls from the US and Canada asking to donate. Social media definitely contributed hugely to the success of the campaign. My undergrad major was Literature, but I just had the gut feeling that to save his mom going viral was the only way.
What role did networking play in spreading the word about the campaign ?
Huge. Without WOM, our campaign wouldn’t have been successful. Some of my classmates personally knew a few journalists, and they hooked me up with them. These relationships became key to the news coverage from the traditional media.
Can you describe your strategy for this campaign in 30 words or less ?
Find the news value, understand the human psychology, target the right media, and make it go viral!
How have you been able to implement your knowledge from this campaign into other PR campaigns ?
I was a college student without any knowledge or experience in communication, but I made it happen when nobody else believed so. What that campaign really taught me is that nothing is impossible. I started to believe that you can really shake the world if you try hard. So later when I designed PR campaigns or tried to acheive a particular goal, I always told myself that nothing is impossible as long as you sell it right. The other great lesson I learned from this campaign is the power of social media. You know how sometimes we have to explain to clients the ROI of social media, I knew from the campaign that social media really works.