We hear all day that millennials are glued to their phones; always posting on Instagram, sending pictures on Snapchat, and scrolling through Facebook. Perceptions such as this one, normally accompanied by an eye roll, have garnered Web2.0 quite the negative reputation. Yet, every now and then, a refreshing story reminds us that social media can be used as a platform for good in the world. Coming off the new year, the social network Facebook made the news as it became a source of joy for a teenage boy undergoing chemotherapy.

The Campaign

Roberta Lucero-Koron created the “Photo Doggies for Anthony” campaign back in December to raise the spirits of Anthony, the son of her friend, who was undergoing treatment for lymphoblastic leukemia. At his hospital, Anthony was forced to spend time away from his three pets. They were at home and he had infrequent visits from them at the hospital. When they did visit, it really lifted his spirits. After noticing this connection, the Facebook page was created as a location for others to post pictures of their furry friends so that Anthony could enjoy the presence of animals from afar.

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The page was first sent to friends and family, but word spread quickly, and the page soon went viral. People from all over the country were posting pictures to the Facebook page, and were also reading updates about Anthony’s treatment. More than 1.6 million people joined the page. Anthony has received more than 500,000 photos, some coming in from as far as Australia. Many photos included get-well wishes and words of encouragement.

The Reaction

Anthony’s family was shocked at the response and the reach of the Facebook page. Anthony’s mother was blown away by how large and fast the page grew and posted, “I want to thank each and every one of you for sending your doggie and occasional kitty pictures. We have laughed, “ohhhed,” and “ahhed” at every single photo and video so far it has really been a joy and I appreciate everyone sharing their pets with us and the personal messages to Anthony are truly awesome.”

While this Facebook page certainly is worthy of the attention it has received, it adds to the mystery that marketers have been pondering for the last few years. Is there formula for going viral?

It may seem like just luck, but the New York Times reported that good news actually spreads faster than bad news. Social psychologist Jonah Berger discusses that when you share a story with your friends and peers, your main concern is how they react. You probably want online friends to react positively to your postings, thus you want to share content that brings about these positive emotions. Anthony’s page exemplifies this research, since it acts as a hub for positivity and inspiration, two qualities that likely increased the probability of sharing.

Beyond Cyberspace

Anthony’s Facebook page transcends digital barriers by eliciting gestures in the real world. Many of his friends mailed him stuffed animals, and someone even offered him New York Yankees tickets. While these actions are substantial, the pictures really gave Anthony a distraction and a new purpose. The family said, “It’s given us something to do besides lay around and wait for the next ‘sick’ thing to happen.”

I think this is the most powerful aspect of this campaign. It has created something for Anthony to check every day, and a support system that spans geographical boundaries. Dedicating much of his day to commenting on and liking the pictures sure beats hospital television and video games.

What do you think? Did you contribute to Anthony’s page or do you plan to?