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The Power of Social Media: The case of Alan Barnes

Alan Barnes - GoFundMe page

Alan Barnes – GoFundMe page

The #NoMakeUpSelfie and #IceBucketChallenge are examples of two of the most high profile campaigns of 2014. Arguably both were great PR ideas that allowed people to engage, whilst self-indulgently sharing an important message. However, it was social media that played the fundamental role of starting the online conversations that spread the word globally and created an international buzz.

The most recent example to illustrate this is the national news story of Alan Barnes. When the disabled pensioner was mugged in his garden whilst putting out his bins, sympathiser Katie Cutler set up a GoFundMe page to raise £500 to help him. In just three days, over £250,000 in donations had been generated. People flocked to support the cause with some as far away as New Zealand and Canada; but what prompted the unprecedented success of this fundraising campaign?

The very nature of social media allowed for the sheer volume of supporters, from far and wide, to generate hundreds of thousands of pounds in a matter of days. The immediacy and accessibility of Facebook and Twitter provided the vehicle to ensure the desired message went viral and its limitless nature spurred on this frenzy of interest. Every time the story was/is shared, another opportunity for engagement is created and support continues to grow.

Since the page was set up on January 28th, the Alan Barnes fund has received nearly 30,000 shares on social media – 26k on Facebook and 3k Tweets. The story has been all over the national newspapers and the fund has now been halted at £329,000 by his grateful family. Attention is now turning to young mother Katie who is being described as a hero. A new Facebook page named ‘Katie Cutler For An OBE’ has already gathered over 300 likes and another fund has been set up to thank her for her kindness.

Alan Barnes’ story not only demonstrates the growing influence of social media, it displays the way it can unite people and be a force for good. Despite all the negative stories we read, in the right hands, this snowball effect can yield positive results and perpetuate goodwill and generosity. Alan’s story culminated in unbelievable results and encompassed an online community spirit – millions of people working together in a way that has almost made us forget the tragic reason the page was set up in the first place.

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