Lessons from Japan

Devastation in JapanIn the wake of the natural disaster in Japan, many of us are asking ourselves: how can I help? Aside from the issue of how to donate to Japan, it’s important to look at the multitude of ways in which organizations and companies have approached Japan relief. Stand With Japan, for example, was started by a small group of students who wanted to help. The site gives people who make a donation a red Relief Ribbon on their Facebook profile picture, with all donations going to DirectRelief International.

Empowering others to take action is critical to enabling people to exert themselves and to make the transition beyond being interested by what you have to say to actually doing something about it. In this post, I hope to break down a few examples of who is doing what and come to some conclusions about why some organizations have been more successful than others in fundraising for Japan relief.

Starbucks: a multi-tiered approach

According to a Starbucks press release:

“In response to the devastating earthquake and tsunami that struck Japan, Starbucks Coffee Company (Nasdaq: SBUX) and Starbucks Coffee Japan today committed support and funding to the relief effort in partnership with the American Red Cross and Japan Red Cross. The Starbucks Foundation and Starbucks Coffee Japan will contribute ¥100 million (approx. USD$1.2 million) to aid immediate humanitarian and relief efforts.”

Starbucks later announced that they would match employee donations to the Red Cross or other emergency relief organizations. In addition, Customers can donate to support relief efforts in Japan through their local Starbucks stores in the U.S., Canada, the U.K., Ireland, Germany and France, with 100 percent of the donated amount going directly to the Red Cross. Starbucks posted this information on their Facebook Fan Page in addition to a direct link to donate to the Red Cross.

Your campaign is more likely to succeed if people understand what you need and can take immediate action. Starbucks is making it as easy as possible for their customers to donate to the Red Cross through Facebook or in stores. By making a direct donation, matching employee donations, and making it easy for customers to donate, Starbucks is effectively getting involved with Japan relief on multiple levels.

Zynga: the gamification approach

As the San Francisco Business Times reports, Zynga’s players have sent $1.35 million for Japanese earthquake and tsunami relief by buying special virtual goods and by donating directly to Save the Children. Players have been able to donate by buying virtual goods in nine Zynga Game Network games, such as sweet potatoes in CityVille, radishes in FarmVille or kobe cows in FrontierVille.

In addition, Zynga created a dedicated landing page for making donations to Japan, and players of its games used Twitter to send more than 28 million tweets and re-tweets directing people to that page. The fundraising effort is just Zynga’s latest. The company previously raised more than $6.8 million for causes such as relief in Haiti following the earthquake there.

To motivate people to act on behalf of your cause, you need to match their skills, talents, or interests with your needs. By making donations to Japan part of playing their games, Zynga has made donating a part of what their customers already love to do: play games. Game play itself is a great strategy for attracting people to your cause. Consequently, Zynga hit a home run by matching their existing customers’ interests and making donating fun for them.

Microsoft: the dark side of social media

As AdAge reported earlier this week: On Saturday morning, the following was sent out from the feed for Microsoft’s search engine, Bing:

“How you can #SupportJapan – http://binged.it/fEh7iT. For every retweet, @bing will give $1 to Japan quake victims, up to $100K.”

It wasn’t long before hundreds of people on Twitter began to criticize the company for being “tasteless” and accuse Microsoft of using the tragedy as a tool for marketing. Comedian Michael Ian Black harshly criticized the company from his Twitter account, and soon hundreds of others were using the hashtag #fuckyoubing.

Here’s a few sample tweets in response to Bing’s $1 per retweet campaign:

@ckhopkar: See @Bing? U don’t have 2 force folks 2 promote brand 2 do good: Hulu gives $50K of revenue frm Japanese content 2 Japan relief #fuckyoubing

@domcaruso: Great lesson in Bing bung-up: there’s marketing and there’s human tragedy. Keep them separate. #fuckyoubing

@jspwilliams: Dear Microsoft, that’s not how it works, you’re supposed to do something good first, then you get good publicity from it. #fuckyoubing

@TerenceAaron: Soon the word bing will become a verb for exploiting a disaster. #fuckyoubing

@convexmirror: Hey, remember how Google set up a people finder to help Japanese find loved ones and didn’t brag about it? #fuckyoubing

@daspringate: Coming soon! Microsoft branded Tsunami commemorative mugs and T-shirts. 20% of every sale goes to good causes! #fuckyoubing

Later that day, Microsoft tweeted this:

“We apologize the tweet was negatively perceived. Intent was to provide an easy way for people to help Japan. We have donated $100K.”

Although I’m sure that Microsoft had the best of intentions when the company decided to donate $1 for ever retweet, the dark side of social media is that the very same technology that gives companies the ability to gain exposure on a large scale also makes them much more vulnerable to public criticism. While the occasional screw-up is unavoidable, companies need to remain transparent about their efforts and be ready to apologize when necessary. Despite the fact Bing apologized immediately and donated the $100,000 to Japan relief, this story is a great reminder to all organizations that linking up with a cause will only be perceived positively when it is viewed as authentic.