Why We Give to Karen the Bullied Bus Monitor

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If you haven’t seen the video yet, it’s a heartbreaker. A school bus monitor bullied for over 10 minutes by teens that are eerily unaware of the horror of their actions. The proceeding events are a 21st century media marvel that of course only the Internet could facilitate.

Events like: the unconscious derision, pride and technological facility it takes for teens to record this episode and post it without a care; the viral match lit by Reddit; the crowd-sourced funding wonder that are sites like indiegogo; the storytelling; the authentic content; the incentive for people to be on the good side, and the micro-donation made to feel like a little brick in the restoration of humanity.

That last part– the fundraising– is what I’ll focus on. These are the kind of campaign results nonprofits strive for— $150,000 raised in a day and counting, superb content placement and a viral video with 1 million plus views. And it does happen for nonprofits, much like KONY 2012. Yet this particular online gathering of mass support is not headed for an institution that has been working to stop bullying for years and is trusted to ensure the appropriate use of large donations. All the things we know about building trust with the consumer and messaging them over time to then have them open their wallet feels like it’s out the window. People are giving instantly to one dude on indiegogo.

So why is everyone giving to Karen? A 2010 Standford study offers some insight. People are more likely to give to an identifiable victim, like Karen, than a statistical one. Simply put, appeals to the heart work best in fundraising.

Yet I think it’s mostly that Karen the Bullied Bus Monitor became an instant brand. A brand that is human, close to home and one that gained instant meaning. A brand campaign people connected with and wanted to help because to be a part of this brand is setting them apart. It’s casting their vote on the side of the good guys. It’s worth it to the consumer because they desperately don’t want to live in the world they just saw on the Internet, and their micro-donation was the price of admission to make them feel like they don’t live in that world. With that calculus, it seems like a small price to pay. Even if the goal has been met, and even if this guy on indiegogo could be suspect.

Although there is a lot to discuss here, I don’t think this latest viral phenomenon brings any new lessons to the social marketing table. All of the above points about good content and placement are known and belabored. My aim here is to make observations about the right human interest story at the right place at the right time. That could be what people love about this story too– the luck factor. They could be giving to the personal story and to the luck story. After all, if you sponsor the life of luck then it’s still out there for you to hope for.

Karen, I hope you have the vacation of your dreams.


@AmandaLehner is a contributor for the  Social Media Week Global Editorial Team based in New York, NY. She is the Director of Interactive Services @AdCouncil. 



Amanda Lehner

Digital Strategist, HelpsGood


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