Social media and charity: philanthropy or crass opportunism?

Summary:A few months ago I wrote about some issues surrounding the Twitter response to the tragic attacks in Mumbai. The social network activity around these attacks represented, in my opinion, a new maturation point of information sharing in social media, as I wrote:On one hand, social media shows the wisdom of crowds while at the same time demonstrates the reactionary failures of the crowd.

A few months ago I wrote about some issues surrounding the Twitter response to the tragic attacks in Mumbai. The social network activity around these attacks represented, in my opinion, a new maturation point of information sharing in social media, as I wrote:

On one hand, social media shows the wisdom of crowds while at the same time demonstrates the reactionary failures of the crowd.

It wasn't all good but it wasn't all bad, either. It was confusing -- and it was also shameful the way that Internet tricksters were trying to take advantage of tragedy to market their objectives. Well, yesterday, P&G hosted what was called P&G Digital Hack Night, in order to sell some Tide gear and raise money for Feed America. The thing is, to me, it this stinks of a very loud Internet marketing campaign with some charity thrown it to make it appear altruistic.

Before you start screaming at me about how this was for charity, hear me out. I think there is a very fine line between philanthropy and crass opportunism when it comes to brands or public figures pushing charity. It's kind of like how Paris Hilton "found God" during her stint in jail. It's just timed far too well. In this case, it was timed  when people are trusting their peers more than they are trusting corporate ad campaigns. Brian Morrissey of Adweek fame sums it up perfectly:

This was a marketing exercise, nothing more, yet I wonder if it’s going in the wrong direction. The optimistic view of all this is it’s a win-win-win for users, charities and marketers.  After all, users get to feel like they’re doing some good, charities get some needed cash and marketers get some nice buzz. Awesome. The problem is charities are being used to get people over the ickiness of marketing for gigantic corporations. As was pointed out yesterday, if people really want to help Feed America, they can donate to it directly. Why is P&G needed? (Only about $6 of the $20 for the t-shirt went to the charity, according to the Q&A on Logic + Emotion.) What's more, even as a marketing exercise, the lessons it is teaching the world's largest advertiser is social media is a great place to broadcast stuff, even if it's untargeted by going to people who couldn't  buy the t-shirts outside the U.S. Using charities as a guise for people to do marketing for enormous corporations gives me the creeps. Even among the tenuous relationship in Twitter, what happens when we commercialize those bonds? Do any of us want an avalanche of application requests and corporate-sponsored retweets? I take a dim view of these attempts to prey on people’s do-gooder instincts for some marketing exercise.

I'm not completely insensitive (nor is Morrissey, I believe). For a bit of a sanity check I spoke to my best friend, whose house in Gulfport, Mississippi, wsa nearly destroyed during Katrina's wrath, to do a sanity check on the issue. In the end she said that the victims don't care where the money is coming from, as long as the money comes. Corporations may be the ones to remind the people that relief is still needed. She also said, "Is anything really that altruistic anymore?"

Sadly, I think the answer to that is no. Especially when that comes to brands pushing charity through social media. Where do we draw the line?

Image by Guhmshoo

Topics: Social Enterprise

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