But Microsoft has only been the largest and most notable transgressor, not the only one. A number of companies have tied a response to earthquake and tsunami relief to getting a specific social media response, whether in the form of passing on a message over Twitter or getting people to friend them on Facebook. In doing so, they have crossed the boundary into a perception of only offering help to get attention.
The potential problems of connecting social media to international events became clear when Kenneth Cole tried to joke that people in Egypt were rising up over a fashion collection. The backlash of popular criticism and mockery was severe.
Microsoft didn't display such obvious bad taste, but made the mistake of only offering to donate to a Japan relief fund if its audience would take some action. The classic version of this is to donate a certain sum for each product purchased, up to a certain point. Today's version is to tie donations to social media actions that in theory build the company's brand. Microsoft wasn't the only offender:
- Mobile accessory company AViiQ promised to donate a dollar for each Facebook like.
- Spark Energy in Houston said that it would donate $5,000 plus an additional dollar for each new like of any of its Facebook pages, up to $25,000.
- Social network gaming company Zygna, partnering with Save the Children, pledged 100 percent of the purchase price of specific virtual goods in eight of its games.
- Amazon (AMZN) is taking donations to the Red Cross, but no mention of whether it will itself donate.
- The company can come across as primarily interested in getting attention. If you do something for it, it will do something for the cause. Essentially, the corporation uses sympathy and guilt to turn people into mercenaries.
- The company puts the onus for donation on the customer or prospect. In Zygna's case, literally all the donations come from the users, as the company essentially acts as a financial transfer station. Zygna did not say that it would part with even one dime of its own. Amazon explicitly says that it is just collection, even though the Red Cross can take its own donations directly.
- The caps are often low, given that the average value of a Facebook fan is supposedly more than $136. Really, Microsoft can't part with more than $100,000 without feeling pain?
Microsoft, Amazon, Zygna, Spark Energy, and AViiQ all could have done better by stating what they would donate and then using social networks to spread information on how individuals could further help. Not only will the attempts to buy attention look sordid, but they are at best temporary, as there is no real connection between the consumers and the corporations.
Google (GOOG) showed a more useful, effective, and intelligent approach. Although it didn't mention making a donation, it gave a link to the Japanese Red Cross and provided extensive resources as well as tools for displaced persons to make their whereabouts known and for friends and loved ones to find them. Now there's the way to make a name for yourself by being helpful, not by asking to be loved.
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