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I don't have any examples for you yet but am in the process of developing a social contest philosophy for us to use in deciding if and when we will participate. It might turn out to be a flow chart.

As always once it's complete I'll share it with you. My goal is not only to make it easier on us - a large org with lots of local chapters - but also to inform the space (voters, supporters, donors, coporations, media, etc) how our internal decision making processes work so that they can think about how to structure crowdsourcing good deeds within the social media framework to make the biggest actual impact.

Robin Mohr

Why do you call it "lethal" generosity? To my ears, that means deadly. Like killing someone with kindness, or overwatering my plants, or destroying a country's farms with international food donations, it sounds like trying to do something helpful that ends up hurting them. This seems like the opposite of what you are describing.

Scott Anderson PhD

Like Robin, my thoughts jumped to "killing them with kindness." "Lethal generosity" is just a fancy way of saying that. The approach, as a business strategy, however is noteworthy. I believe this is so precisely because it is counter-intuitive and totally unexpected. Branding and selling has for a long time been about "how do we squash the competition." As a result, consumers and competitors alike have developed an innate, automatic defensive response to corporate pitches and marketing. Many have been bombarded for so long that they immediately feel the need to be en garde and to push back with equal or greater counter-force.

Enter the non-defensive strategy of "lethal generosity." Consumers and competitors are expecting the next "shove it down my throat" approach. But when genuine goodwill is offered in place of marketing grenades, consumers and competitors are caught off guard. They have no cognitive schema or mental map to tell them how they "should" respond. In such a state, they are vulnerable, and are then forced to move out of their defensive stance. And this is where the term "lethal" becomes very apt. Unexpected generosity can create vulnerability, and when individuals or institutions are vulnerable, they can be more damaged then when they keep their defenses up. Pardon my crude analogy, but that's how predators in society work: "No, I'd love to give you a ride home...let me help you carry that inside...want a piece of candy?" And then they take advantage...

One of the keys to determine the propriety of lethal generosity, then, needs to be a commitment to strong ethical behaviors and sincere desires to promote genuine goodwill. Generosity given with the expectation of a return on investment is not genuine generosity, but Marketing 101 and a false pretense of likability and an exploitation of the norm of reciprocity. If generosity is to be truly generous, it must have NO intent of taking advantage of another individual or institution. Generosity must do kind things simply for the sake of doing kind things, and then let the outcomes follow as they will (or won't) and be genuinely okay with it.

Interestingly, would the organizations you mentioned continue to do these kind things and engage in civic goodwill if they saw no financial return on their investment? That is, would they continue the "generosity" portion if the "lethal" part weren't present? The answer to that question, in my mind, is the true measure of genuine generosity (or the epitome of deceptive, facade marketing, as the case may be).

Will lethal generosity work as a marketing tool? Yes, it will. Should it be used as a marketing tool? That, I believe, is debatable on ethical grounds.

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Like killing someone with kindness, or overwatering my plants, or destroying a country's farms with international food donations, it sounds like trying to do something helpful that ends up hurting them.

Robin Mohr

I think, upon re-reading the post and the comments, that "lethal" applies to the competition for a company, not the recipients of the generosity. At a basic level: if our company is/is perceived as more generous, people will buy our stuff instead of from a less generous company. In what way is this new? It seems to me that the only thing new in the cases you are looking at is that they involve social media. In your definition, is social media participation a requirement for lethal generosity or are you just looking for social media related examples of lethal generosity?

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