I have the honor of collaborating with fellow Zoetica founder, Kami Huyse, on our Society for New Communications Research Fellowship research on the concept of Lethal Generosity - a way that for-profits can leverage social media for social change outcomes. What I love about this project is that it is giving a different lens and context to think about social media for social good.
Lethal Generosity: The Context and CoinageKami and I have been working on fine-tuning a definition for lethal generosity. I first encountered the term when I read Shel Israel's, Twitterville (pp110-111). I literally gasped! Shel defines it elegantly as “Generosity attached to a branding strategy. He has also used the term to describe individuals who are the most generous members of any social media company who are the most credible and influential. As a result, they can devastate their competition in the marketplace.
In Twitterville, Shel describes how Molson Coors Canada uses generosity as a key part of its branding and social media strategy. It’s corporate social responsibility program invests more in responsible drinking education than on alcohol-centered events. Molson reaches out to the community to find ways to spread the responsible drinking message, including supporting the TaxiGuy program and covering the cost of free public transit on New Year's eve.
Shel tells the story of the holiday season 2008, when the city of Toronto Transit Authority canceled its New Year's eve free-ride transportation due to budget pressures. Molson launched a campaign to replace the public funding with private sector donations, starting with its own $20K donation. According to Twitterville, Molson publicly invited competitor Labatt Breweries to join the campaign.
Shel describes how Molson adds the use of social media to the mix to create lethal generosity. Molson has a small social media team, lead by Ferg Devins @molsonferg who is not only responsible for selling bear, but he also believes in supporting the communities who need the most help. The team uses social media, twitter to initiate community generosity projects.
Also in 2008, Daily Bread Food Bank, a local organization, announced that contributions had been sparse and unless something changed, homeless people would go hungry. Several Twitter social change users started to urge others in the community to do something. Almost immediately a small group started to raise money through Twitter. @hohoto. They planned and started promoting a fundraising event.
Molson's social media team, who were well known to the social media community, discovered it and offered to help. The Molson Team spread the word, using Twitter to urge a wider audience to attend and donate. 600 people attended and they raised $25,000 for the Food Bank.
Refining the Definition
Kami and I have been honing the refining the definition as a starting point for our research:
Lethal Generosity is when a corporation applies its core competencies to advance social change in a way that contributes to business results and gives it a competitive advantage.
A Hybrid of Cause Marketing and Corporate Social Responsibility
As we started to look at different examples of "social media for social good" on the corporate side, we found ourselves asking "What isn't lethal generosity?" We think it is a hybrid between cause marketing and Corporate Social Responsibility Programs. Let's unpack these two definitions:
- Cause Marketing is marketing involving the cooperative efforts of a for profit business and a non-profit organization for mutual benefit. Cause marketing differs from corporate giving (philanthropy) as the latter generally involves a specific donation while cause marketing is a marketing relationship generally not based on a donation. (See Cause Marketing Forum for more)
- Corporate Social Responsibility Programs:Corporate social responsibility (CSR) is a form of corporate self-regulation integrated into a business model. The corporation mitigates the impact of its activities on the environment, consumers, employees, communities, stakeholders and all other members of the public sphere. Furthermore, CSR promotes the public interest by encouraging community growth and development, and voluntarily eliminating practices that harm the public sphere. CSR is the deliberate inclusion of public interest into corporate decision-making. (See CSR Wire for more)
We see it a hybrid between the two that uses integrated social media effectively to help power the strategy. It also requires a cross-functional team to manage the effort. The effort doesn't reside in a silo or a single department. It isn't a single campaign, but ongoing activities that smartly integrate social media.Lethal Generosity: A Framework for Strategy
Credit: Diagram from Geoff Livingston’s Authenticity in Social Media
- Mission and Values are at the top of the diagram because we believe that lethal generosity strategies should be aligned with mission and values of the company. When they are it harnesses the core competency, (or superpower) of the company. How does your lethal generosity strategy ladder up to your organization's missions and values?
- Stakeholders: Social good programs that are employee or stakeholder driven have more impact. These programs also help to retain employees, customers and other stakeholders by driving enthusiasm and a sense of belonging. How does your lethal generosity strategy engage stakeholders in the design and execution?
- Problem: All companies have potential problems (safety, health, etc) that could be caused by its product or activities. How does your lethal generosity strategy help solve or mitigate a problem?
Engagement and Community
Lethal generosity is more than a bill board or promotional campaign To achieve tangible business results, it requires interacting and building relationships with an engaged community.
Kami said it best over in her post. "It takes a dialog with the community to make it work, and a commitment on the part of a company to make real social change. The non-profit community calls this the Theory of Change and it requires an expected outcome and a road map to get to that social change outcome."
Once you have a lethal generosity strategy, an engaged community, and have leveraged a corporate competency (see Kami's points on this), you can begin to look at tactics that use an integrated social media approach:
- Donations: Cash, product, or employee volunteer time.
- Sponsorship and Awareness: Events, education or awareness campaigns, etc.
- Contests/Challenges: Directly involve stakeholders in social change project or program
We've been reviewing examples for case studies in our research and some use more than one tactic. And, while these tactics have been around for many years, integrating the use of social media to deploy them - the best practices and tangible results are still evolving.
Take for example contests. Contests have been a marketing tactic for years. More recently, they've been used by the nonprofit and philanthropic sector to encourage nonprofits to adopt social media tools to leverage fund raising. The Case Foundation's America's Giving Challenge, was one of the first large scale contests launching in 2007 and giving away $500,000 to spur citizen philanthropy and nonprofit adoption of social networking sites.
The Case Foundation's pioneering work in online challenges has been replicated by many in the philanthropic sector and now contests. We've seen corporate giving programs, like Target, run variations on these contests and spurring much discussion amongst nonprofits (and their supporters) about cause-fatigue.
Last November, Chase Bank hosted "Chase Giving Program," a contest on Facebook where nonprofit competed for $5 million in prizes on Facebook. There's still a lot of learning in how to design contest rules
so they support a specific social outcome. In December, Pepsi launched a bold experiment in the form of a contest that will give away over $20 million in monthly challenges over 2010. Pepsi is also learning many valuable lessons in contest design so that the crowd picks the best social change solution, not the best vote getter.
Looking for Case Studies
The next step of our research is identifying social media programs and campaigns that meet these criteria and studying their efforts in detail, including interviewing them to find commonalities that spur success.
We will then publish our findings in the SNCR Journal of New Communications Research, which will inform the survey research to determine if CSR programs delivered through online social media do indeed provide better results.
If you have a case study that you think embodies the research we are undertaking, please let us know. We have a short list already, but your thoughts on this are important to both Kami and I as we design the survey.
Preview of our session from Tekrati
Socialbrite suggests that lethal generosity is nothing more than CSR done right.