How a Powerful Social Campaign Went Viral Around the World

 In Hootsuite

Earlier this year, UN Women launched a bold social media campaign that received international attention, with millions of views and thousands of participants from around the globe.

In this episode of the Hootsuite podcast, we chat with UN Women’s Dhatri Navanayagam on the strategy behind the campaign that the world could not ignore.

In this podcast you’ll learn:

  • The inspiration behind a viral campaign
  • How to use compelling content to start a global conversation
  • Why you should always use data to build your story

Press play to hear the show in its entirety, or if you don’t have a set of earbuds handy, read the transcription of our conversation below.

Q&A with UN Women’s Dhatri Navanayagam

Stop the Robbery is a powerful campaign that raises awareness about the gender pay gap. Can you give us an overview of this campaign?

Globally, women still make 23 percent less than men, and at the current rate it will take 70 years to close the pay gap. We really wanted to raise awareness about this issue and spark a global conversation on this topic in a way that would affect change.

To provide some background to the #StopTheRobbery campaign. This campaign was launched during the 61st Commission on the Status of Women this year on March 13th, and it was in direct support of an initiative that was launched by UN Women. The idea was to expose the pay gap in a way that the world couldn’t ignore, that being the biggest robbery in history.

We decided to stage a robbery in the center of all conversation in 2017: Twitter. We created a website called the from which users could tweet from and show the world what it really felt like to be robbed. So every one of those tweets generated had 23 percent of its characters blacked out, basically creating a visceral visual reminder of how the pay gap affects women every day.

Each blacked out tweet was accompanied by a message stating how UN Women had robbed this tweet of 23 percent in recognition of the 23 percent global gender pay gap.

What was your inspiration for the hashtag #StopTheRobbery? Why did you choose the word robbery?

We really wanted to elevate the conversation around equal pay by changing the vernacular around the issue. And for the world to really sit up and pay attention, we reframed the gender pay gap as the biggest robbery in history, essentially giving it an identity that the world couldn’t ignore. We wanted to make a bold statement and pull no punches in terms of highlighting the reality of the unfair income inequality that exists between men and women.

And the hashtag itself, #StopTheRobbery, is a clear call to action. And so we wanted a hashtag that was actionable and sent out a clear message that the gender pay gap must be closed.

So the idea was to use language that would make people sit up and pay attention, and provide a clear call to action on how to spread the message.


That strategy was super effective. Can you speak to some of your social tactics that supported this strategy? I know you’ve touched on it a little bit already.

So the three main social tactics used all spoke centrally to that 23 percent global pay gap and were aimed at bringing that to life. So number one, you had the redacted tweets, which came from the website, and number two was the social experiment film, and number three was the social media profile filters.

At the same time, the website also had infographics, which had striking facts and figures about the pay gap, which members of the public could also share on social media. So again the idea was very much thinking about how can people share this information and spread it to their friends, family, work colleagues, and start having a productive conversation on this.

You mention a social experiment video. Could you tell us a little bit more about what that looked like?

So this was a stunt that was filmed outside Madison Square Park here in New York, and it invited members of the public to have their shoes polished by either a male or a female shoe shiner whose wages reflected the global gender pay gap. It was one dollar for the male shoe shiner and 77 cents for the female shoe shiner.

The video highlighted the public’s reaction to the gender pay gap. And if you’ve seen the video you can tell how many were not even aware of the gender pay gap, and secondly who felt that it was very unfair and wanted to take a stance on the issue.

And so this video was distributed on the website,, across UN women’s social media channels, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and YouTube, as well as across prominent media outlets like Refinery29. Again very much with the idea of having people share the video, engage with the video, comment on the video, and again start that conversation that needs to be had.

It sounds like from the content of the video and some of the tactics you’ve been talking about, this is definitely an issue that requires education.

Like you said, there are a lot of people who are not aware of the gender pay gap or informed as to the reasons why the gender pay gap exists and what measures we can take to help close the gap.

So for us, the #StopTheRobbery campaign was really a starting point for making people aware of that gender pay gap and encouraging a dialogue on this issue.

What has the response been like on social? What type of reach did you see from this campaign?

Let me start off by saying that one of the many comments that we received on social media was in response to the Secretary General’s tweet. He took part in the campaign and tweeted out a redacted tweet. He got a lot of comments saying that this was one of the most creative tweets they’d seen all year. So that was absolutely wonderful to hear.

And in terms of people engaging with the campaign across social media, the campaign generated in total 14,700 tweets by more than 7,000 users, which had a potential reach of 55 million Twitter users. And in terms of the #StopTheRobbery video itself, we reached nearly 1.1 million unique users and received close to 540,000 views across UN Women-owned social media channels and some media outlets like Refinery29.

And so to give you a sense of the momentum, within two hours of the video being launched on Refinery29’s Facebook page, it had received close to 30,000 views.
In terms of the UN Women global’s Facebook pages alone, 35 posts about the campaign in English, Spanish and French reached 1.4 million and engaged 49,000 users who either commented, shared, liked or clicked on the posts. So there was very much a sense of engagement with our users.

That’s an amazing reach that you had in a very short period of time.

What also helped to further amplify this campaign and really bring out that global reach—because once again this is about having a global conversation—was the widespread coverage that we got. So we had at least 40 media outlets here in the USA who covered it from Refinery29 to Mashable, Huffington Post, and we had huge attraction from international media as well. So that was fantastic to see.

Yeah, that is fantastic. And I think that ties back to the idea of your super tight messaging and your theme, which makes this campaign so unique and interesting in terms of representing this problem in a creative way.

We mentioned before that this is a topic that definitely requires education and awareness, and a lot of people may not be informed on the issue or why the gap exists. Did you get any pushback from people on social saying, you know, “This isn’t the case” or fighting back? And if so did you use those opportunities to education them, and how did you do that?

We actually didn’t get any pushback on social media at all. But to your point about people not necessarily being informed on the issue and therefore having different points of view, once again I think the gender pay gap is a topic that a lot of people are not necessarily aware of or informed about. And I think this campaign was very much a starting point for raising awareness and encouraging a dialogue on it.

And at the same time, from the website, we drove people directly from there to our Equal Pay page on the UN Women’s website, where they can learn much more about the issue.

By leading with facts your argument was indisputable.


This is such an inspirational campaign and we love seeing brands and organizations using social to encourage dialogue and engage people and have important conversations. So do you have any advice for how brands or organizations can take a stance on important issues in a meaningful way?

I think the number one piece of advice that I would give drawing the #StopTheRobbery campaign is really thinking about how can you reframe the conversation in a new and original manner which gets people sitting up and paying attention.

We reframed the gender pay gap as the biggest robbery in history on purpose to give it an identity that the world couldn’t ignore. We wanted to make a bold statement. We wanted to have a clear call to action and say, “This must stop.” And through our activation on Twitter we wanted to really show what it felt like to be robbed and to bring that alive in a very visual and visceral manner.

So I think thinking about how can you reframe these types of conversations in different, meaningful ways that resonate with people is the first step to taking a stance on important issues in a meaningful way.

And I think that for people that may not have understood the issue, you really helped to educate in a way that wasn’t just fact based but also emotion based, which is so important.

Completely, I think the emotive aspect of it is incredibly important.

Is there anything that we can do to support this cause?

I think there’s two things that you can do. The first thing is to take part in the campaign and use your voice to raise awareness of the gender pay gap by tweeting out messages in support of income equality, and you can do that by visiting the website and tweeting directly from there.

And second of all, take it upon yourself to learn more about the gender pay gap and start conversations with friends, family, work colleagues on this topic. The first step to bringing about change is we need to raise awareness of the issue and to have a productive dialogue.

Awesome, thanks so much. And for those of you who want to get involved, we will provide links to all of the things that Dhatri mentioned in the show notes. So you can just click and check them out and start the conversation with people that you know, because it’s super important.

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This post was originally published on Hootsuite

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