The air in Davos this past week was so thick with gloom over the convulsing economy and Wall Street greed [$20 billion in bonuses paid out despite hefty bank bailouts and historic layoffs], that many CEOs leaving the World Economic Forum for home today "bore the harrowed looks of survivors of the Donner Party," according to Newsweek columnist Daniel Gross.
Quick, boys. It's time to dust off those old corporate social responsibility [CSR] initiatives and retool them into Web-driven programs that deliver—or your company may find its precious brands, recruitment efforts, and corporate culture worth zilch to Generation G (for Good). That's the name trendwatching.com gives—in a just-released report—to a growing segment of cause-wired, global consumers aged 40 or younger who consider "generosity" an important social and business mindset. "As consumers are disgusted with greed and its current dire consequences for the economy...has there ever been more urgency for corporations to ditch the greed and embrace generosity?" the February 2009 report asks in its introduction. "...Sharing is the new giving...In this business climate, can you really afford not to spend some time figuring out how to get a little closer to your customers?"
Compiled for business leaders in more than 120 countries from a global network of 8,000 trendspotters, the report lists various ways firms might use social media and other initiatives to create social responsibility programs that matter:
*Co-donate. Collaborate with customers about how often to donate—and to which causes. Use online and mobile technologies "to make the most of impulse-driven and networked fundraising."
*Be eco-generous. Don't just offset your company's impact on the environment; find ways to improve it .
*Engage in "free love"—in this case, give away some goods, like free coffees or free travel guides to consumers.
*Use brand butlers to help customers make the most of the company's products. IKEA, for example, loans out branded bikes with trailers to its customers in Denmark to help them transport their purchases home.
*Engage in "perkonomics." Offer perks like reserved parking to, say, owners of a specific automotive brand, or let preferred customers jump queues at busy events.
*Offer "tryvertising." Let customers try products before they purchase them to make their purchasing decisions based on their product experiences rather than corporate brand messages.
There's no question: with public trust in CEOs and corporations at rock-bottom and the change mantra out of Washington [and Davos] still freshly potent, cause-wired social entrepreneurs have never had a better opportunity to boost traction for their Web-powered ideas as they head into the start of their own summit season—first at the vaunted TED2009 conference in Long Beach on Wednesday and then at the Skoll Foundation's World Forum in Oxford in March.
In the months ahead, expect aggressive efforts by leaders of the social enterprise movement to track and compile the ROI of social media in for-profit and nonprofit enterprises. Says new media expert Clay Shirky, author of Here Comes Everybody: The Power of Organizing Without Organizations: "Design an environment where people can feel good at what they're doing...and they'll flock to your venture."
For more on designing initiatives for generosity that also work for the bottom line, see Shirky's talk at the recent Pop!Tech conference in Maine, below:
(Illustration by Miroslaw Pieprzyk)