Leslie Barber (@LBarbs35) has 240 Twitter followers, but she probably knows more about social media than you do. She just leveraged the power of social media to change the life of a charming 6-year old girl who’s near and dear to her heart, giving her an amazing experience she’ll never forget.
Avalanna Routh has been fighting a rare and aggressive brain cancer called AT/RT (Atypical teratoid rhabdoid tumor) since she was nine months old, but she got the thrill of her young life thanks to Barber, family and friends who launched an aggressive social media campaign to help her meet her “future husband”, international music superstar Justin Bieber.
Barber, who met Avalanna after seeing her on NESN’s annual Jimmy Fund telethon and then having an informational interview with The Jimmy Fund in September, has spent the last few months babysitting Avalanna and knew all about her dream to meet Bieber. Two weeks ago, Barber decided to try to make Avalanna’s dream come true.
Amazingly, “#MrsBieber” trended all day on Monday, February 13. That’s because Avalanna spent the afternoon in New York City playing Candyland with Bieber, just two weeks after the campaign began in earnest.
“I don’t have a million dollars, I can’t donate a bunch of money, but I decided, ‘What else can I do for this girl?’ She just brightens my life,” Barber said Monday night, hours after Avalanna’s family met Bieber in a Manhattan hotel. “I said, ‘I’m going to get on Twitter and start tweeting about her.'”
Tweeting local athletes, celebrities and media outlets to raise awareness, Barber found little success, outside of support from WEEI’s Dennis and Callahan and local TV stations including FOX 25. She even had her account temporarily turned off for tweeting 1,000 times in a single day. Determined, Leslie spoke with her sister Lauren, who works in social media, and they asked the Routh family about starting a Facebook page to help get the word out. With permission granted, Leslie launched it and continued the campaign, inviting her 1,100 Facebook friends to like Avalanna’s page, and posting stories, pictures and video about her adorable young friend.
“It’s funny to think that a week ago I was thinking to myself, ‘We have 1,000 people who like our page.’ Who would have ever thought that a week later she was sitting down with Justin Bieber?”
Barber then continued her campaign on Twitter, and started getting strategic about reaching Bieber.
“You always see celebrities retweeting about someone’s sick friend, so I thought, ‘Maybe we can start getting some attention for her since everyone loves her.'” Barber established contact with a few minor celebrities, but found Twitter superstars like Lady Gaga, with millions of followers, largely unresponsive.
But rather than give up, Barber got resourceful. She started trying to reach people connected with the Bieber camp in a effort to reach Bieber’s manager, Scooter Braun. If Braun had tweeted directly at them, Barber targeted them with tweets of her own.
“I started tweeting to people that he knew through his own tweets. They have less people following them, so I figured the chances of them seeing my tweets were a lot greater than Justin or his manager, who have millions of people following them,” Barber said.
“I was trying to get creative. How do you possibly get a hold of someone who has 17 million followers on Twitter and 40 million fans on Facebook? It took a little stalking,” Barber said, joking about how much time and energy she put into the campaign.
She’s quick to point out that she had a lot of help and was reluctant to take credit when I spoke with her, but Barber’s techniques for getting Bieber’s attention displayed the ingenuity that your typical “social media guru” typically lacks. Twitter and Facebook may have facilitated the contact from a technology standpoint, but Barber’s determination and problem solving skills really seem to be the differentiator in taking the campaign from a pipe dream to an incredible story.
BEST PART OF MY DAY twitter.com/justinbieber/s…
— Justin Bieber (@justinbieber) February 14, 2012
“I’d read (Bieber’s) tweets, I knew he was in L.A., and he was recording with Timbaland. He’d tweet about how they record at night. So I’d stay up until 3 in the morning, because I knew a lot of people (on the East Coast) would be asleep, so I’d have less competition. When they started tweeting, that’s when I would tweet them, hoping they would retweet it and (Braun) would see it.”
Meanwhile, the Facebook page continued to grow, with friends and friends of friends volunteering to reach out to contacts in the entertainment business. As the audience grew, it became easier to coordinate efforts to reach Bieber by rallying around the original #getAv2Biebs hashtag.
— Leslie Barber (@LBarbs35) February 8, 2012
On Friday, February 10, Beiber’s manager Braun reached back out to the family after seeing a FOX 25 story about Avalanna’s campaign on Twitter, and he made contact with the TV station. FOX 25 connected Braun with Barber, who put the Bieber camp in contact with the Routh family. Braun told them that a meeting would happen “sooner than they think.”
just spoke to a mother who is selfless. really amazing person – cureatrt.org
— Scooter Braun (@scooterbraun) February 10, 2012
That meeting happened Monday, with Bieber’s camp flying the Routh family to New York City for the meeting. Bieber posted a photo of their afternoon to his 40 million Facebook followers today, with the caption, “hangin out with a special little girl. #MrsBieber”.
It’s a pretty amazing story, and Barber’s still in shock over the campaign’s success.
“I learned a lot about social media, but the biggest thing I learned is that anything is possible. We’re still looking for a cure for AT/RT. The survival rate is extremely low. It may seem impossible, but if we can get Avalanna to meet Justin Bieber, who is one of the biggest stars in the world right now, I really do think that anything is possible, and I won’t be giving up on any of my dreams any time soon.”
For all the hype around social media about viral campaigns and brands with millions of followers, it’s nice to hear a real world story about how regular people can use it to do incredible things.