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.
Olivia Khalili created Cause Capitalism to show businesses how to grow by incorporating a social mission.