The American Heart Association Harnesses the Power of Social Media Through Innovative Display

The American Heart Association (AHA) hardly wants for recognition. Founded in 1924, the national nonprofit is the leading organization behind building better lives through scientific research and education in cardiovascular health and stroke prevention. They’ve grown into fundraising gurus, always looking for the next innovative way to increase awareness and increase funds. On a national level, The American Heart Association is a household name, but what about the individual chapters? This is a story of how the little ol’ Kansas City AHA branch thought out of the box to create an impactful social media display hub to complement their website that led to not only reaching their fundraising goal but caused their Heart & Stroke Walk to trend on Twitter for hours during an event. They harnessed the power of social media to reach their goals and surpass their expectations of how fruitful the digital world could be when brought to life.

KC HeartWalk Social WallKC HeartWalk Social Wall

Ciara O’Brien Murray, Communications Director of Kansas City and the Social Media Lead for the AHA’s Midwest Affiliate in Overland Park, saw an opportunity to stoke enthusiasm and draw donations by putting social media front and center at the 2014 Kansas City Heart & Stroke Walk. “I wanted to do something different and cool to make a statement,” recalls Murray.

Murray’s first steps to success began barely three weeks before the May 31 event during a monthly social media conference call with other AHA affiliates. Relating the success she’d had with a live Twitter feed at a previous fundraising event, Murray mentioned her hopes to raise the bar for the Heart Walk. “I realized a Twitter feed wasn’t going to be enough, but I wasn’t sure we had the means to go any further with a larger, wide-reaching campaign. That’s when somebody piped up that our national office had been working with Tint, a visual tool to tell an organization’s social story.

From Murray: “All of a sudden I had this great social media platform that could integrate Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and more.”

Murray still needed a dynamic backdrop to display the social media posts. Angie Galindo, AHA’s Executive Director, went to a contractor sponsor to see if they could build a large Tribute Wall as an in-kind donation. The donor introduced her to a high-tech architectural firm located in Shawnee Mission, Kansas who wanted to take the social hub design to the “next level.” The firm offered to create a three-dimensional live social media center for the Heart Walk to make their social wall come to life. AHA was grateful for so much support and is excited to continue working with their sponsors for future events.

But what of the social media content itself? Knowing there would be a lot of eyes on her efforts, Murray shot for the stars. “Our national headquarters had picked three cities to pilot this for the AHA. I promised to knock one out of the park.”

The visual tool and display enabled any Heart Walk participant with a smart phone to post to Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram throughout the five-hour event. By employing the dedicated hashtag #KCHeartWalk, Heart Walk participants were able to see their Tweets, messages and imagery pop up onscreen at the social hub. “People would post and then snap a selfie with their Tweet on the social wall in the background,” Murray recalls. “The social media center became a photo-op stop!”

There was much in the way of positive results to report as well:

  • #KCHeartWalk trended in Kansas City for 9 hours on the day of the Heart Walk
  • Over the 2nd and 3rd hours of the Walk, #KCHeartWalk ranked No. 2 and No. 1 in Kansas City, respectively
  • More than 260,000 people received #KCHeartWalk messaging during operating hours for the live social media center. According to Twitter, potentially 400,000 people were reached.
  • Almost 900 posts were made during the #KCHeartWalk live social media feed, including more than 600 from Twitter alone
  • There were 70 new Twitter followers and 40 new Facebook likes during the event

Meanwhile, the 2014 Kansas City Heart & Stroke Walk brought in over $850,000.

Looking back – and forward – Murray sees many benefits for the use of this type of display by the nonprofit sector. Noting that her own last-minute rush limited results for the May 31st event, she believes there is potential for great integration with a social wall for fundraising, particularly “if every picture on the wall had said, ‘Donate Now!’ and directed people to our fundraising page (like!”  She also thinks it could be used to provide company-specific hashtags, setting up friendly competition between sponsors or departments within the same company. “We’re very excited to try something like that in 2015.” The social media success at this year’s Heart Walk set the Kansas City branch up as a leader. AHA will use this same type of social hub at the New York City Heart Walk on June 18th and many more AHA events throughout the year.

Tim Sae Koo
Tim Sae Koo is CEO of Tint, a social engagement platform that enables users to aggregate, moderate, and curate social media feeds from a wide array of sources for display on everything from mobile apps to event-sized jumbotrons. Tim founded Tint in 2013 with two other University of Southern California graduates. Constant innovation, transparency, and authenticity are key attributes that have enabled Tint to prosper in the crowded social media arena.