Jerry Lewis: social media pioneer?

As we head into Labour Day and the annual Jerry Lewis Telethon, it’s a question that popped into my head.

Not because MDA was one of the early organizations to live stream a broadcast. Nor because their website features Facebook, emotional videos, Twitter and a tote board with a live countdown to the show.

No, this goes back further than that – to the way slapschtick comic Jerry Lewis took on a cause that was close to his heart and lent his celebrity, energy and time to build an engaged community around it. And the approach he used reminds me a lot of social media.

Here’s why:

  1. He started small and built a community – the telethon began in 1955 and raised $600,000 (I got that from the MDA twitter feed). From there it grew to a ‘Love Network’ that spanned North America.
  2. He’s in it for the long haul – Lewis says he’ll keep raising money till they find a cure – and 55 years later no one would question his commitment.
  3. He understands relationships – look at the way he kibbitzes with the doctors and researchers, sponsors and celebrities. And more importantly, look at the respect he gives the folks (mostly kids and their famillies) who are affected by neuromuscular disease.
  4. He interweaves local and global –  whether it’s a grassroots fundraising event or a high profile charity concert, a small business donation or a corporation’s big cheque, hometown TV personalities or Vegas stars – everyone feels a part of the story.

The organization has grown, created ambassadors and helped many people. And it’s not surprising they’ve embraced social media too. In many ways, they were there from the start. I hope they beat their goal again and find a cure for muscular dystrophy. So tune in, laugh, cry and think about giving to this worthy cause. And follow the conversation #MDATelethon.

By the way, the telethon is also one of my favourite TV experiences. You can read about that here.


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