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The Social Media Approach to Sustainability & Philanthropy.
By Pauline Desforges & William Hoole, Paris
Thursday, 18th March 2010
 
On the 5th of January, H&M made headlines, denounced by a New York student for apparently destroying and throwing away unsold clothing rather than distributing it to those in need.

This single dissenting voice inspired a chorus of reproof almost instantly. How? Social Media. Soon after the student decried H&M on Twitter, a host of outraged twitterers commented, pushing the topic to number two on the list of "current topics" and spurring a reaction from the company. 

In the social media-ized world, one voice can make a difference. Fast.
 
The upshot for budding young activists and philanthropists is that support of environmental and social causes no longer requires the sacrifice of precious resources (i.e. time and money). It's as easy as....

Another case in point: Drew Olanoff, who was diagnosed with Hodgkin's Lymphoma in May 2009, decided to use Twitter to raise money for cancer research.

His proposition was simple: "blame anything you want on my cancer, and $1 will be donated to the Livestrong Foundation." After the effort took off, Drew decided to up the fundraising ante by auctioning off his Twitter name, @Drew.
 
Any takers? How about American TV presenter Drew Carey, who responded to his name twin's fundraiser by making a generous promise to donate one dollar to Livestrong for every tweet sent to blamedrewscancer.com.
 
It's an amazing story, and a remarkable reflection of the growing tendency to use social media to create mass awareness of a given cause. Citizen philanthropy now leverages an individual's social networks to rally supporters, and Donation by Action has become the hottest new business model for charities and NGOs.

Simply by offering a reward for helping to promote awareness and leveraging the power of the social media ripple effect (aka the power of compounding networks), people can galvanize rapid-fire support for a pet cause like never before.
 
Meanwhile, under increasing pressure from citizen-consumers, companies, too, are launching donation-by-action initiatives as an alternative to lump sum corporate donations and sponsorships, which are now a less attractive means of associating a brand with a particular cause. Instead, by giving consumers a way to engage in a brand-supported cause, companies can create a genuine sense of partnership with consumers and help them to feel that they are making a tangible difference.
 
Pepsi's move to reallocate funds from the traditional Superbowl adverts to the Pepsi Refresh project, which gives millions of dollars in grants to fund people's great ideas, or Orange's RockCorps, which rewarded 5,000 young volunteers with a private concert in exchange for donating four hours of time to a partner organization, are exciting examples of the new philanthropic model. (RockCorps now rewards volunteerism with a free downloadable album.)

And more recently, Coca-Cola and Skyrock (a new social network targeting youth in France) created KoHop, a platform which enables young people to engage in collaborative projects. All of these projects share a common mission: offer a simple, social, proactive, and inherently optimistic approach to sustainability and philanthropy.
 
The model works because of the power of social media to incite and channel momentum. So, instead of protesting at international negotiations where you will have little or no discernable effect on the outcome, trying tweeting instead. Beyond just forums for talk, new social media platforms have become powerful community organizers, giving people the means to amplify opinions, spur change and build a sustainable future all without leaving their desks.
 
Now, imagine what the more than 6 million citizens of Hopenhagen can now achieve…

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