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Archive for June, 2010|Monthly archive page

Taking On Harvard

In Kindness, Trends on June 15, 2010 at 7:20 pm

I’ve been following the growth of a new business model called social entrepreneurism. While it really isn’t new (remember all the “corporate citizenship” talk of the 80s and 90s?) there seems to be a renewed desire to use the free market for good, and a willingness to take the “doing well by doing good” model farther than before.

The standard-bearer for social entrepreneurism (or at least one of its most visible success stories) is Project 7. Tyler Merrick has used his run-of-the-mill company (he sells t-shirts and breath mints) to help thousands of hungry, poor and homeless. Tyler and others like him are proving out this new model with varying levels of success. A lot of that success, I suspect, depends on how little owners or investors are willing to accept in salary or return. And a good entrepreneur may be able to squeeze more efficiencies out of the business to deliver some level of both profit and philanthropy.

Today, I read an article in the Harvard Business Review that shocked me with its approach to this trend. While some schools (Clark University is a good example) are adding curricula and resources to stay abreast of these changes, HBR panned the idea and said, fundamentally, all entities have to fall into one of two categories. They’re either for profit or for good. Not both.

I couldn’t disagree more.

While I realize that profit and kindness are sometimes at odds in a capitalist market, I also reject the idea that entrepreneurs can’t use their business acumen to help those in need just as they use their spare time or personal resources. It comes down to heart. Companies have hearts – the collective souls of people who work there. And this issue, like any issue that matters, is about heart. It’s about motive. The article is right. We certainly don’t need any more corporations whose philanthropic goals don’t reach any higher than checking a box. If a company’s motive for supporting a charity is to generate some good PR and therefore increase revenue, then maybe they should rethink their business plan. There are more efficient ways to sell.

But outside the ivy-covered walls of Harvard there exist thousands of businesses whose people care as much about causes as they do about coin. And who’s to say that those companies aren’t just as legitimate resources for social change as any other forces? Who’s to say that capitalists can’t change the word? Much of the problem is that we just haven’t seen it. We’re used to seeing churches and the government help people. So we tend to think of charity (or welfare) as their bailiwick. But you know what churches and government are? They’re people. And I suspect (though I have zero research to back this up) that the groups of people who are most effective at helping others are not the ones who memorize catechisms or practice Lean Six Sigma. They are the ones who are most passionate about it. And the ones who most closely approach one-to-one relationship to those helped.

As an agency, we have recommended community and philanthropic initiatives to our clients in the past as a way to network with like-minded community members and grow a company’s influence while supporting worthy causes. But there have been companies we’ve worked where we didn’t pursue such an initiative because it didn’t fit their ethos. Some companies are only concerned with making money. I don’t find anything wrong with those companies. I appreciate their honesty in making that their primary goal and not pretending it is anything other. But there are companies who have both charity and profit in their core values, as crazy as that sounds. Harvard should look into it.

Getting In Our Facebook

In REACH News on June 3, 2010 at 9:31 pm

Nine months ago, when I was asked to speak on social media at a local business luncheon, one of the first pieces of news I brought to that crowd was this: there are no rules. It’s still true. When it comes to promoting your business via online networks like Facebook and Twitter, there is a mountain of potential and no trail maps. No proven methodologies. No best practices. None of the “click here to get started” pathways we’ve become accustomed to. It really is the Wild West out there. We really are making this up as we go. Therefore, every “policy” on social media is formed mostly on the basis of what makes sense at the time – what “seems like it should work.” Today, I’m announcing such a policy for REACH.

Many in our network may not notice or care how we approach Facebook, but we at REACH are firm believers in having a plan. The plan can be malleable, but it needs to exist. Plus, we work hard to be on the front lines of new media, tools, trends, etc. in marketing and communications. If anyone is writing company policies for social media – for themselves or clients – we want it to be us.

So with that background, here’s the announcement: REACH will not have a Facebook account. Here are the deets:

Actually, I have TWO Facebook accounts (don’t tell Facebook.) I have one attached to my personal email that I use often for updates on everything I’m involved with from my kids’ soccer games to church outings to REACH projects. That is as it should be. This is the account I created long ago when I first got sucked into the swirling vortex of time wasting that is Facebook.

But as social media continued to grow as a tool for sales, marketing and organizing customers, REACH began to offer more assistance to its clients in that area. At that time, I opened a second Facebook account – this one attached my my company email address. I did this because I needed an account to name as administrator of our clients’ fan pages and while I don’t mind confluence of my personal and professional life on my own wall, there’s no place for that in our clients’ updates. I needed to keep those separate. I don’t use this REACH account to connect with anyone personally or professionally. I only use it as an empty account from which to administer our clients’ Facebook ads, status updates, fan pages, contests, etc.

So that brought me to a crisis of organization: wouldn’t it make sense to separate my personal account from all things REACH and use the work account to only offer company news and updates? Wouldn’t it make sense for me to continually maintain two Facebook accounts and never cross their streams?

I asked friends about this. I asked colleagues in marketing. I even posted the question on my wall to see what my friends themselves thought. The results of that polling were not helpful. About a third of the people thought I should separate the two. A third thought I shouldn’t. And a third told me to get a life. But regardless of which course they recommended or how they expressed it, all of them gave ascent to one theme: it’s about people.

People don’t use Facebook to connect with companies – at least not primarily. People long to connect with other people. We are social creatures; relational to the core. That’s what made Facebook so successful in the first place. And for all their recent foibles, it’s something that Facebook has understood and protected pretty well. They sell ads on the side (literally). They allow fan pages and causes (created by people). But their primary function is to connect people.

So a company Facebook account that never gave my friends any news other than the company’s latest win or award would ultimately be a waste of time. On the other hand, my work is a big part of my life and stripping out any references to business or creative work would be leaving a hole in my Wall for those who really are interested in knowing and keeping up with me.

So until there’s a logical and relational reason to change our policy, REACH will not keep a company account separate from our personal accounts. We might tinker with a fan page eventually, but if you’re really interested ing getting to know REACH, then I suggest getting to know me, Jeremy, Mark and Amyjo. We’re fun people. I think you’d like us.