Is This A Viable Alternative To Crowdsourced Social Good Campaigns?

I’m not the first to make the case that crowdsourced social good contests should retreat quickly into the night.

  • They’re inefficient at creating change;
  • Their current popularity has diminished the value they bring to companies and brands;
  • Consumers are fed up with them (how many vote-for-me solicitations do you get a week that make you feel more like a brand pusher than a change agent?); and
  • For the money and hoopla they involve, they should accomplish more than marketing the company and channeling money to (often unvetted and under-qualified) projects.

Whether you agree or not, the next question is, What’s the alternative?

First, it’s helpful to understand what these contests do offer. They’re big and loud. They attract participants, voters, supporters, media and millions of tweets, blogs and Facebook likes. Through this lens, they do provide bang for their buck.  And they only require what many companies excel at–assembling the resources to design and run a colorful marketing campaign and to write checks to the winners. Deep-root partnerships, familiarization with target communities and evaluation and reporting on the awarded funds aren’t required.

So the new question becomes What’s an alternative that can offer companies the same level of virality and visibility without skimping on substance?

Looking for an alternative campaign format is too myopic. Instead, companies should look at a broader level of engagement that supports social responsibility as a business (not just a marketing) strategy.  Admittedly, this sounds obvious, but how can companies do this and still get their marketing kick?

I suggest that companies focus on developing long-term partnership that support a social enterprise abroad. Transferring energies from internal competitions to external investments* allows companies to explore and develop for new markets (BoP populations offer significant market opportunities), test new products, improve resource efficiency and ensure ethical supply lines.  Even thought these partnerships take place outside of the United States, companies still have ample opportunity to relay their work with these communities to American consumers.

P&G’s Children’s Safe Drinking Water program, led by P&G employee Dr. Greg Allgood, is a strong example of a corporate initiative focused on external impact that’s successfully connected American consumers to its work in developing communities. An education portal and upcoming social media campaign to fund clean drinking water for its partner communities and veteran organizations tackling this cause are two storytelling mechanisms.

*This post is the current culmination of several conversations I’ve had with leaders in social enterprise and CSR over the past few weeks, as well as Tim Ogden’s evocative article, in which he talks about external investment vs. internal competitions.

What do you think? Maybe I’m biting off something too big to chew, but there’s something bigger and better than crowdsourced contests that needs to be wrestled down.

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  1. Gordon Mattey August 5, 2010 at 12:33 am #

    Is a partnership abroad really any different? It seems like the pattern of investment is the same, i.e., money being channelled into a project.

    I suggest there needs to be a shift in the way we think about investment, to overcome all the shortcomings you listed.

    How do we give people a voice to enact change in companies earlier rather than later?

    If you think about something like Pepsi Refresh, it’s a single firm investing in change, but after the fact. “Let’s solve societies problems now that they have been created”.

    But, could we enable people to tell companies what problems they care about, before they happen? locally, nationally and even globally.

    Taking an example from the Pepsi Refresh projects list, there is a project to “Clean up the Mississippi river”.

    So how can we prevent this issue? How can people challenge the three largest, or the three smallest companies who dump into the river, to dump less? One company acting is an interesting story. Three companies, would be a significant improvement.

    To gain the interest of companies in participating in any cause marketing or socially responsible behaviour, the challenge is in amplifying the good, and amplifying the change, and amplifying the reputation of the companies involved.

    I think there’s plenty of demand from people to shape change, these crowd sourcing initiatives prove it. The challenge is how to amplify the smallest change, and enable all companies to participate.

  2. Olivia Khalili August 5, 2010 at 10:26 am #

    Gordon, thanks for your thoughts. I agree–and like the idea of gearing efforts toward what the public (consumers) want. But, I see a long-term partnership with a community and social enterprise as much more than a financial investment. But I take your larger point and appreciate you sharing another idea. It would be interesting to see company coalitions very publicly driving the behavior of other companies. Do you have any examples of this? I’ve seen Seventh Generation do something similar with palm oil, but it wasn’t consumer/public driven. It came from the company’s exercise of its mission.

    Thanks again,

  3. Olivia Khalili August 10, 2010 at 5:21 pm #

    This comment is from Jeff Mowatt of People-Centered Economic Development: He was having difficulty posting, so I posted for him.

    Yes indeed. We want to present real plans with social and economic returns and not jump through hoops for taken handounts. We’re adults tackling serious social issues, expecting to be treated as such.

    All I’ve experienced from doing things in the public domain is having someone attempt to take ownership under their own brand.

    We’d managed to demonstrate this in leveraging microfinance for the Rissian city of Tomsk and have gone on into Ukraine . I blogged today about how our UK government have followed us there and might make use of our expertise which could fund further social outcome by means of our profit-for-purpose operational model

    Behind this is something dark and relates to some pretty hideous human rightss abuse which some don’t want us to talk about.

    Too bad, Even if Google has decided to stand against us.

    Big Society BTW is about government putting power into the hands of community, at least the rhetoric of doing that.