Pat Burns, Facebook and the Hockey Hall of Fame

If oil spills and tainted medicines have you feeling down, here's something a little more uplifting. On March 26, a friend emailed me a news story about former NHL coach Pat Burns. I was shocked by the appearance of the man.

Burns, who has terminal lung cancer, looked frail and weak. In his comments to the media, he reflected on his life and admitted he doesn't have much time left. He's just 58 years old. I sent my friend an email saying that it would be great if Pat could be inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame while he was still alive (his accomplishments certainly warrant it). My buddy's response? "So how are we going to make this happen?"

His challenge got me thinking. Within a few minutes, I had created a Facebook group called 'Let's get Pat Burns into the Hockey Hall of Fame - NOW!'. We use social media to help our clients tell their stories all the time. It seemed like a no-brainer. To help spread the word about the group, we employed a combination of traditional and social media tools, including email, Facebook, Twitter, a few news releases and some old fashioned word of mouth marketing. On day one, we had a few dozen people in the group. On day two, we had 1,500. In less than two weeks, more than 50,000 people had joined. Today, the number is approaching 70,000 members.

We started this group because we're hockey fans and because it seemed like the right thing to do. In the process, however, we got to witness what it's like on the inside of a viral social media campaign. In its first two weeks, the group generated more than a million dollars' worth of media coverage, from outlets including: The Montreal Gazette, The Toronto Sun, The Globe and Mail, The Toronto Star, Hockey Night in Canada, TSN, the New York Times,, ESPN, Sports Illustrated, Yahoo Sports, The Edmonton Sun, The Ottawa Citizen, the Vancouver Province, the FAN 590, AM 640, WEII in Boston, Team 990 in Montreal, the Windsor Star, North, CHCH TV,, CBC Radio Montreal, Coast-to-Coast with Don Cherry and many more. Wayne Gretzky tweeted about it. NHL coaches talked about it on TV. And was fodder for dinnertime conversations around Canada.

On Easter Sunday, Pat Burns' son Jason posted a message on the group's page thanking everyone for their support. It turns out their family was aware of the group and was enjoying reading the thousands of messages of encouragement from people around the world for Pat, his career and his life. One of my clients suggested to me that this was the real accomplishment -- not the Hall of Fame, but rather the spontaneous celebration of this man's life that he was able to witness from his computer screen.

The Hockey Hall of Fame vote takes place on June 22. That's the day the public will find out if Pat Burns will be inducted into the 2010 class. Here's hoping his health allows him to witness that day. We encourage you to join our group and show your support at