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Don’t react. Act. (My Thoughts on #WhyWeNeedFrat and the Ice Bucket Challenge)

If you only ever play the role of the reactionary, don’t expect to get the attention you want. In fact, you may undermine the very momentum you’re looking to create.

While I was traipsing around parts of British Columbia last week trying not to get attacked by black bears, a marketing initiative was begun by a less-than-exemplary organization in the world of student affairs. Total Frat Move launched an online campaign designed to draw attention to their site while continuing to play up the worst part of the fraternal system.

Admittedly, I do a lot of speaking, helping students understand that their Greek experience can be about so much more than dangerous stereotypes and reckless behavior. Groups like Total Frat Move showcase the very worst of systems that I - and many others - think can be incredibly beneficial to our national landscape.

But I know why they exist (to make money) and how they operate (to get your attention so they can make more money). Sure - it sucks they do what they do and thereby call attention to the worst of our natures (like many other vice-related industries). They seek to appeal to a particular demographic with humor and crude content. But this tactic is not new. Nor will they be the last group to operate in such a manner.

When TFM launched their new campaign, it immediately was panned by friends and colleagues in the student affairs world, and appropriately so. But instead of decrying the attempt, ignoring it from then on out, and getting on with work, many decided to try and kidnap the hashtag and spin it in a positive direction. And while well meaning, I’m afraid this strategy does more harm than good.

Reaction rarely gets the attention that action does. Therefore, in work or life, in business or in your passionate pursuits, I highly advocate acting. Entrepreneur-ing. Being original. Establishing the conversation you want to be leading. Being a first mover gets you out ahead of the game, the noise, and the crowd.

Being the actor - instead of the reactor - showcases originality. It shows your target audience your novel idea, the newness of it, and your ability to deliver something they’ve never seen before. It sets the stage while the audience shows up so that once they’re in the room, you’ll be able to say what you want to say.

Because if there is one thing people like more than crass humor, it’s an original and compelling idea or story, told well and in a fresh way. We may - to our own detriment - often eschew the old in favor of the flashy. But why not use this deep-seeded instinct for good?

Contrast the reaction to the TFM campaign with the Ice Bucket Challenge. Certainly by now your Facebook or Instagram feed has been clogged with people dumping icy cold water on themselves to raise awareness and money to fight ALS. What was funny and compelling at first has now gone viral, all for a good cause.

And then, as if on cue, the movement has its reactors. People began to question if this act was serving any point or if people were duping themselves into thinking a cure for ALS would be found by the very slactivist step of being doused. 

But while the critics criticize, awareness is through the roof. Before, ALS was known to those of us who recognize the name Lou Gehrig or who have had a family member succumb to this tragic disease. Better yet: donations to the cause have spiked up 1000% since last year. That's real money that can be used for real research in the fight.

Reactors, please step aside. (Or, keep fueling the fire. Your call, really.)

When you react - and use the same medium to do so - you actually are giving one giant shoutout to the very movement you want to stop. You stoke the fire with fresh kindling when ignoring the old altogether would eventually deprive it of oxygen.

This theory isn’t related to just the latest #WhyWeNeedFrat or Ice Bucket Challenge campaigns. It happens in politics, in the nonprofit world, in pop culture, in business, and in your community. The co-opting of ideas always delivers so much less than opting to generate a new idea in the first place does.

Reaction can feel like the right move because it’s natural and maybe it’s natural because it’s easy. But remember: natural and optimal are not synonyms.

Coming up with a bold new idea and executing a plan to launch it is difficult. I’ll happily admit that I don’t have something new and fresh to combat what is happening with #WhyWeNeedFrat. But I know that keeping my head down and pitching ideas until one sticks is a better use of time than all well-meaning effort used to hijack something that’s already getting so many eyeballs.

Maybe, if instead of reacting, waiting and ignoring it all until we have a better, original idea is a smart plan. Ignoring the thing you hate will make it eventually go away. Just ask the Macarena. 

Sam DavidsonComment