There are countless examples of powerful Twitter and Facebook campaigns that break records, shake up the social media world and perplex experts.  One that recently caught the eye of many was how J.J. Watt converted his name recognition into an online fund drive that raised over twenty million dollars for Hurricane Harvey victims in ten days, confounding even the most cynical skeptics.

The key to his success? Tweet. Post. Tweet. Repeat.

  • J. Watt did not embrace the “one and done” approach. He was relentless, unforgiving and in our faces – giving regular updates on progress, showing the immediate impact his fundraising was having on those that needed it most.
  • He posted a quick one-minute video to his Twitter account and the message was loud and clear: “The people of Houston need financial help and they need it now.”
  • He posted 13+ videos in order to keep his message current.
  • His celebrity followers helped to spread his urgent appeal, kicked off by Ellen DeGeneres who presented him with a check for one million dollars from Walmart via video chat during her show taping three days later, adding to her previous fifty-thousand-dollar donation.

It was a family affair with his mom using her proven business skills to start a mini campaign in their hometown in Wisconsin and helped organize the never ending flow of donations which included both cash and supplies.

We all know the back story.  On Sunday, August 27 at the beginning of the storm, Watt and his teammates were stranded following a layover in Dallas after a Saturday night preseason game in New Orleans.  Many players were concerned because they had families back in Houston.  Watt decided to take action then and there to help Houston and jumped on social media as the torrential rains pounded the Houston area.

Let the numbers do the talking:

  • Facebook followers: 1,967,600
  • Twitter followers: 4.04 million
  • Money raised: $27 million as of Thursday
  • Number of donors: Over 187,000 which include big names such as Ellen DeGeneres who presented Watt with one million dollar check courtesy of Walmart and Jimmy Fallon who contributed one million dollars.
  • A hefty food/supplies drive launched by Watt’s parents in Wisconsin collected 12 trucks of supplies and one cargo plane full of diapers and baby formula from four locations.

J.J.’s success is impressive, but you don’t have to be a football pro to leverage social media effectively. PR professionals may glean valuable lessons learned from this extremely effective social media campaign:

  • Utilize Existing Authentic Assets: With his celebrity status the 28-year-old three-time NFL Defensive Player of the Year and beloved member of the Houston Texans was the perfect personality for this task. He already had a strong following and knew how to make a personal connection with his audience.  Communication strategists should look for influencers that already have a following and have established credibility with the audience from which they receive great respect. J.J. is authentic.
  • Act Quickly and Urgently: J. acted quickly, posting the video while the country’s focus was consumed with the hurricane.  If he had waited to develop a fully baked fundraising strategy, it would have been too late.  Social campaigns need to be thoughtfully timed.  PR pros need to be able to move quickly and grasp opportunities to generate the best results.
  • Stay Visible and Provide Regular Updates with Meaningful Visuals: J.J. has not wavered in his emphasizing the urgency of this situation by sharing continued updates, keeping the flow of information constant, and remaining visible throughout the entire campaign. These kinds of social campaigns need to include a call to action with a sense of urgency.  While social media themed responses may not always be timed or appropriate around a national crisis, the more a campaign can align with an event or set timeline, the more powerful the persuasion. However, be careful and do not fall into the trap of “newsjacking.”

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J.J. Watt helps volunteers unload a truckload of donations.