Dear Brands: Helping Veterans & Charities Isn’t About Getting Likes & Retweets For Yourselves

MetLife is running a social media campaign to raise money for Hiring Our Heroes today, an effort to help US veterans and spouses find jobs. Who could be upset about that? Me, when it’s yet another campaign — like those done by Heinz and Kelloggs — that feels more about getting social media attention than just doing the right thing because you believe it’s the right thing.

Retweet For MetLife, Er, Hiring Our Heroes

Here’s the MetLife tweet:

Like I said, sounds great. A retweet will give $5 to a program that helps veterans? That’s easy to do, so why not? Currently, about 1,400 people have done so, bringing the promised donation to … $7,000.

That’s the first part of where this goes wrong. MetLife is clearly willing to donate up to $75,000 to support this group. But to do that, it needs that tweet to get 15,000 retweets in total. What if it doesn’t go that high, which seems likely. Does a big chunk of the money MetLife was going to donate get held back?

If so, that’s wrong. The point of making a donation to any deserving group, to me, is that you’re trying to help the deserving group, not yourself. So you should give the full amount you planned, regardless of your social media take-up.

That leads to the second part of where this went wrong. There is some value in spreading the word about Hiring Our Heroes, in case others want to know about the group or help directly (it doesn’t seem to take individual donations, but it does want businesses to commit to hiring).

Donate Without A Social Media Bribe?

So just make the donation, without a social media bribe. Why not just say, “We’ve donated $75,000 to @HiringOurHeroes” to help US veterans. Learn more about the group here — and please retweet!”

There’s still an element of self-interest that some might see in that. Is the retweet really meant to spread the word about the group or about MetLife. Even better would be to just drop the donation amount entirely. “We’re proud supporters of @HiringOurHeroes — here’s how you can help, too.” Maybe that doesn’t get as many retweets, but it also might not leave some like myself feeling like the social media campaign has forgotten the actual purpose of donating.

If I’m worked up about this, that’s because of this:

See, I was at our local burger place in December and noticed that the back of the Heinz bottle said that if you thank a veteran, Heinz will donate $1.57. Curious, I painfully scanned the QR code, which resulted in the tweet above.

Then I explored the page that Heinz tweeted out to my followers and discovered that Heinz had reached the donation goal of $250,000.

Now, $250,000 is a big donation, so I can’t fault Heinz over that. But I found it odd that I didn’t get told the goal had been reached until after my tweet went out. I went back to look further at what the fine-print said on the back of the ketchup bottle:

Look down at the bottom right. Each QR code scan was worth $1. And if you shared that you did the scan, that’s an extra $0.57, prompting this from me:

Well, at least $0.57 is more than the $5 that’s the going rate for social media shares with MetLife. But it irked me. I felt like, in the end, I was helping Heinz more than the Wounded Warrior Project. More important, the idea of literally nickel-and-diming for social media shares felt wrong.

Will RT For Food

Kellogg’s UK learned a lesson about using retweets in the wrong way for to help charities, when it tweeted “1 RT = 1 breakfast for a vulnerable child,” last year:

kelloggs-tweet

As our story on the incident covered, Kellogg’s quickly apologized:

My goal with this post isn’t to rally pitchforks against MetLife or Heinz. Rather, I just think that brands sometimes need to more carefully consider the social media campaigns they do as part of helping deserving causes.

Everything should be done to ensure the cause is helped the most. The social media strategizing shouldn’t shift the focus to the brand or worse, prevent the cause from getting as much of a donation as possible.

Related Topics: Channel: Social Media Marketing | Features & Analysis | Social Media Marketing | Top News | Twitter

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About The Author: is Founding Editor of Marketing Land. He’s a widely cited authority on search marketing and internet marketing issues, who has covered the space since 1996. Danny also serves as Chief Content Officer for Third Door Media, which publishes Search Engine Land and produces the SMX: Search Marketing Expo conference series. He has a personal blog called Daggle (and keeps his disclosures page there). He can be found on Facebook, Google + and microblogs on Twitter as @dannysullivan.

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  • Guest

    Danny I don’t think there’s anything social in this world that’s not commericial promoting. FB has merely become one big advertisement

  • http://www.keshkesh.com/ Takeshi Young

    I also find this form of social begging distasteful, but there is an analog in the real world. Many companies give matching donations up to a certain amount, but only if the donation is matched. I suppose it encourages more people to donate, but I wonder if charities would benefit more if the company just donated a set amount.

  • http://referralcandy.com/ Samuel @ ReferralCandy

    Danny , I agree with your sentiments. I think it’s understandable that companies have to weigh between making contributions versus getting, say, social media shares. (Though then I’m unsure if the charity contributions are a primary goal, or just an excuse to start a social media sharing campaign?)

    Anyway, I do think they should try (as much as they can) to make the charity contributions a bigger priority than the social media sharing. The tweet sent by MetLife sort of undermines their good intentions for donating, since as you mentioned, they could’ve easily just donated and then tweet, “We’ve donated $75,000 to @HiringOurHeroes” to help US veterans. Learn more about the group here — and please retweet!”

    I think it’s very important to weigh our priorities before doing anything, and also understand how others might perceive the intentions behind those actions.

  • http://referralcandy.com/ Samuel @ ReferralCandy

    True, I guess their intentions might be to encourage their audience to “work for it”, which involves some form of participation, rather than the company simply donating that set amount.

    I think parallels can be drawn between social media contests and simple giveaways.

  • http://www.creativecatapps.co.uk/ Emma Kalson

    I think that social media is still in its infancy for business use, and big brands are busy either jumping on the bandwagon, or thinking too short-sightedly. Over time, I’m sure we’ll see campaigns such as these slowly disappear as digital media strategies evolve and businesses realise that social media is all about communicating with the consumer on the consumer’s terms and not theirs.

  • Pat Grady

    Company A gives nothing, Company B gives quietly, Company C gives loudly.
    All else equal, which one do consumers generally like better?
    A = B < C.

  • West Seattle Blog

    I’ve been ranting about this for a long time. Frankly, it’s appalling. The WORST are the companies that put schools and nonprofits into “contests” to see who can get the most “votes,” as in visits to the donor’s website. The schools/nonprofits could be spending their precious time doing something else but instead fall for this disgusting “do our marketing for us and maybe we’ll throw you a few crumbs” tactic. Luckily I’ve seen less of it lately, since we have told locals “we will support your direct fundraising or whatever but we will NOT promote ‘contests’ nor anything that requires people to opt into marketing such as signing up for mailing lists, ‘liking’ Facebook pages etc.”

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