James Mayes

Blog: Is it me… or is this just plain wrong?

In Community, Facebook, Personal, Social Media, SXSWi on March 13, 2011 at 3:29 pm

For the most part, I use this blog to share my thoughts on the evolution of social media and the tools we all use. I try to give useful hints and often learn from the thoughts of others via the comments.  On this occasion, I want to gauge whether or not I’m losing touch!

Annenberg foundation tweetI saw a tweet earlier today which filled me with disgust.  I’ve since found further detail and while my feelings have eased a little (due to the charitable nature of the organisations involved) it still feels very wrong.

So what happened: Simple. An organisation embarked on a campaign to get 100,000 likes on their Facebook page, in return for which their financial backer would donate $100,000 to send search and rescue dogs to Japan. The original tweet is here.

Why do I feel so strongly? Because people are dying.  If an organisation has $100,000 which it can donate in order to save lives, I find it spectacularly distasteful to make that help dependent on something so flippant as receiving a Facebook Like. Even more so for something like search and rescue dogs where timing is critical.

The only thing that in any way mitigates is that the financial backer (the Annenberg Foundation) is responsible for significant charitable acts.  I believe they’re trying to do something inherently good and that commercial aims are not at the root of this.

To me though, it’s seems tragically misguided.  You?

UPDATE 14/3/2011. Following a number of responses on Twitter this morning, it would appear Microsoft’s Bing tried something similar – then recanted quickly. Detail here if you’re interested.

  1. Yes James, I agree. It is misguided and I saw and heard of the same type of shananigans going on when Haiti needed help. This is capitalism at its worse.

  2. So effectively they are holding the $100,000 to ransom?

  3. Ughh, yes, that is quite terrible. I know this is wishful thinking (alongside world peace, end of hunger, and all those other global problems that currently look so unsolvable), but there really ought to be a neutral but massive pool of money set aside, contributed to by the more developed countries, which can be distributed fairly when disaster strikes. We shouldn’t have to depend on companies like this contributing a small dollop of funds in exchange for our buy-in and ‘likes’.

    Just sayin’…

    • Nice concept, but it’ll always be driven by wealthy individuals sponsoring charities or foundations tied to their own beliefs and interests. That’s not to say they can’t deliver great things, but it does suggest neutrality will be tough to achieve.

  4. Misguided!

    Would have been a better action to ave donated then tweeted and asked for people to ‘like’ instead of holding a paid for popularity contest

    • Absolutely. If they want to help, then shout about it afterwards, I have no problem with that at all – but to make saving lives dependent on a Facebook like? It’s just plain wrong.

  5. The thin line between charity and commercial charity. Sick …. but should we care if the money gets there? Whats with the “Dog Bless You” play on words…don’t like that much either.

  6. This is so interesting. I thought about it all the way into work today.

    Some general thoughts about this rather than about this specific case:

    I agree. It appears distasteful. But why?

    Is it the ‘ransom’ argument? Possibly. But how is this really different from those commercial organizations that offer to match your donation to charity x? Perhaps because it isn’t a graduated commitment but rather has the form ‘if we receive x we will take action y’ (and therefore conversely if we don’t we won’t). But we see this sort of charitable donation in exchange for market penetration often without it feeling so immediately wrong.

    So is it because it seems flippant? The ‘like’ is more often deployed after all by teenagers to express enthusiasm for some by the numbers MTV horror. Is it the juxtaposition that feels wrong? Again, possibly. But the annual Comic Relief event suggests not.

    Is it simply that we just don’t like to be reminded that, for some, suffering has a commercial value? That could be it but then I’ve been watching Sky News and frankly this thought is never far from the surface when you’re watching Sky News.

    All I could come up with was a thought about a kind of collaboration that is a feature of this sort of social network marketing. In other words I don’t mind if an organization makes me the end point of this sort of transaction. I give up some personal currency and they give up something in return. That’s my choice, and I can make it if I’m comfortable with it. It is a private transaction.

    But it feels different if I am made a kind of node in the transaction and it is my connections that are being exploited. In this model I participate in rather than absorb the organization’s commercial intentions, and the subsequent moral ambiguity belongs therefore in part to me.

    Wow. I really need to get back to work. Sorry for blathering on.


    • Thanks Booch – clearly, this one got the mind working. I mulled it over on a similar basis for a while before I wrote – and I think the thing that stood out most wasn’t necessarily the mechanism, the commercialisation or the personal exploitation via Social – it was the fact that to gather 100,000 Likes on a Facebook page takes time. The aid being offered is search and rescue dogs, so time is obviously of the essence and any reason for delay should be avoided. If they’d said “we’ll send the aid right now, but if you all show us some online love, we’ll keep funding the dogs for longer” it might have been more palatable.

      I don’t have a problem with social being an integral part of life today, nor the flippant or trivial nature of it. My network of friends on Facebook has been much reduced over the last year, whilst my interaction on LinkedIn & Twitter has exploded – that’s personal choice, but on those latter two platforms, my openness allows for easy exploitation as a node, and again, doesn’t bother me.

      Oh, and I forgot to mention when I wrote the piece – I did Like their page, in order to support getting the aid sent. As you can probably guess, I’ll be unliking that page soon enough.

  7. Hi James

    This definitely left a bad taste in my mouth when I read your blog. I don’t know anything about these organisations, but giving the benefit of the doubt, this Might have started out a great gesture which turned very wrong by bad managing and communication.

    I’m sure they would have had so many authentic ‘Likes’ (which would be worth so much more) if they’d done the right thing, and communicated it well. Dignity has gone out the window on this one.

  8. James,

    I agree with you. What has happened in Japan is sad and painful. Recently, I launched a campaign to donate $2 to my favorite charity, HeartLine for each sale of my book. My intentions are to help HeartLine certainly but we did launch a press release and several blog posts about my involvement. I did not ask people to fan me to donate money to a cause. It would be more appropriate to support the non-profit by donating an dollar amount for every fan the charity receives to support their cause. Companies need to be careful. Disaster and tragedy should not be a PR opportunity to increase your exposure like this.

    Maybe the company should announce that it is donating a $100,000 to the cause and then ask the community to like the company page if they support their efforts. A small change but the motivation looks different. Press releases and interviews can support this charitable donation.

    Thanks for talking about this!



    • Hi Jessica – thanks for the thoughts. I think your own example is different (and personally, I’d support it). The difference there for me is that you’re a small company who can’t afford to give until books are sold – so you’re clearly doing everything you can, within the limited means available. An important difference, imho.

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