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#Blogchat, Social Causes, and Responsibility (part 2)

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In the middle of writing about this topic, I realized that the post was MASSIVE, so I decided to break it into two parts. You can head to Part 1 to read about cause fatigue and branding in relation to using new media and blogs to promote social causes. In this part, I want to talk about hypocrisy and responsibility.

As I’ve noted on the first post, I do realize that this is a highly emotional topic and not everyone agrees with me. In fact, my opinion does not necessarily reflect the opinions of any other members of the BlogWorld team or BlogWorld as a whole. I welcome comments on this topic, even if you don’t agree with me, because I think there is merit to many facets of this topic.

Hypocrisy

How many people retweeted a link to some social cause out there? Almost all of us have at some point or another. Now, how many people have actually donated? That number will likely be much smaller. Does that mean that we’re a society of hypocrites? Maybe…but not necessarily.

We all have our causes, causes that are close to our hearts. For me, it’s TWLOHA, an organization that helps people struggling with depression, addiction, self-injury, and suicidal thoughts. When I have extra money to donate somewhere, that’s where it goes 99 percent of the time. That doesn’t mean that I don’t care about other causes. There are some great charities out there. Even if they are causes close to my heart, I can definitely appreciate movements like #sxswcares, for example.

So, I pass on the link, just once, to followers who might be interested. I don’t want to get to the point where I hit cause fatigue for my followers, so unless I’m passionate about the cause, I don’t send multiple tweets about it. But I don’t think I’m a hypocrite for passing on the link even if I don’t donate myself. One of my followers might be passionate about the cause and wouldn’t otherwise know where to donate. (I’d like to note that I do think that if you want to support a cause, you at least need to explain it by passing on a link. I talked about the whole “changing your avatar” thing before – it doesn’t make sense to me to follow a trend without actually being vocal about the cause.)

Responsibility

I personally grapple most with the concept of a responsibility to use social media or your blog to promote causes. On one hand, if you’re someone who carries some kind of clout on Twitter or Facebook or wherever, it seems like the least you can do to promote a good cause. On the other hand, why should anyone be responsible for anyone else? It’s a very Ayn Rand way of thinking, and I’m definitely not her hugest fan…but this is a concept that definitely makes sense to me. I work hard for my money and I don’t like being guilted into thinking that I have to give it away to those less fortunate.

Not that there’s not something to be said for karma. Whether or not you believe in karmic forces, I think we can all agree that it’s a pretty scummy thing to rely on the charity of others when you’re dealing with a tough time in life, but then refuse to contribute to others when you’re in a position to do so. I’m just suggesting that it is okay to keep the money you make or spend it on yourself and your family. I don’t believe that anyone has a responsibility to donate to charity or even promote a cause, no matter how influential they are. Choosing to do so (or not) does not dictate whether or not you are a good person and it definitely does not dictate whether or not you do anything of value.

In other words, whether or not someone donates to charity does not tell me much about how good they are at their job. At the same time (I told you, I grapple with this issue), I like giving my money to someone who is a philanthropist, since it means that some of the profits they made from me will go toward something good in the world. So, even if we don’t have a responsibility per se, that doesn’t mean it isn’t a good business decision.

Which brings me back to the “profiting from tragedy” issue. If you’re only donating because you want to look good to your fans, is that a bad thing?

Maybe…but does the charity really care? A dollar is a dollar, whether you gave it just to feel good about yourself and didn’t even tell your followers or you gave it to help build your brand in some way.

Is there an easy way to wrap up these two posts? I don’t know. I struggle with how to best use my new media accounts and the small amount of online influence that I have. I like how it make me feel to promote great causes, but I always want to make good business decisions and use my money wisely. One thing is certain – I do not like how so many people lump others into groups when it comes to causes. The “if you don’t donate, you’re a bad person” argument doesn’t sit well with me. Nor does that “the least you can do is promote this cause” argument. We all have our reasons for supporting or not supporting causes, and it usually isn’t black and white.

#Blogchat, Social Causes, and Responsibility (part 1)

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On Sunday nights or Monday mornings, I usually post “Overheard on #Blogchat,” a weekly feature that pulls some of the best tweets from a popular Twitter chat where people share blog tips. This week, I wanted to do a special edition of Overheard on #Blogchat because I have more to say than usual…and some questions that are not easily answered and require all of us to do a little soul-searching.

Also, before talking about this topic more, I wanted to make something exceedingly clear: My opinions do not necessarily reflect the opinions of anyone else working for BlogWorld Expo or BlogWorld Expo as a whole. One of the awesome things about Rick and Dave (the duo behind BlogWorld) is that they encourage people writing here to voice varying opinions. People on the BlogWorld team often disagree, and I think that’s awesome. The BlogWorld blog also loves posting guest posts from people who don’t always agree with the opinions of writers here – and I’d definitely love your comments on this topic whether or agree or not!

Last night, the theme of #blogchat was using your blog and social media accounts to do good. With the recent natural disasters and nuclear meltdown in Japan, there have been pushes across Twitter, Facebook, blogs, and more to donate to the Red Cross or other organizations. One of our own, Deb Ng, got heavily involved with fundraising efforts at SxSW, and what they did was nothing short of amazing (I think totals are over $100,000 raised at this point). This isn’t the first time we’ve seen people come together on social media sites to promote donating money or use their blogs, even in unrelated niches, as a way to filter news and pass on relevant links.

I struggle with this concept, though, using blogs and social media to promote causes so others donate money. Part of me thinks it’s great. Another part of me thinks that it is problematic at best.

Cause Fatigue

At any given time, there’s some tragedy somewhere that needs help. Whether it’s a one-time disastrous event (like what happened in Japan) or a cause like breast cancer or autism, there’s always a hashtag for you to learn more about a cause that’s close to someone’s heart. There are just not enough hours in the day to promote everything, and there are definitely not enough dollars in my bank account to send money to everyone.

But I think a more important problem is that it starts to become white noise to your followers. People (hopefully) follow you because they are interested in your blog, your projects, your life, and while promoting a cause occasionally can easily fit into that, if you promote every cause out there, you start to lose relevance to your fans and readers. I’ve unfollowed people in the past because it seemed like all they did was hit me up for me (albeit, for causes, but it’s still someone asking for money all the time without providing much value).

Causes and Branding

I’ve seen a lot of people complaining about companies using a tragedy to promote a brand, to somehow profit off of the situation. The idea that someone is making money from what’s happening in Japan right now creates a knee-jerk feeling of disgust for me, and I bet it does for you too. But thinking critically, looking at the bigger picture, just because something bad happens in the world doesn’t mean that your business should stop. It’s ok to consider your brand in this context, in my opinion.

Here’s an example of what I mean: Let’s say that you’re a day care facility. One month, two high school groups approach you at the same time asking for money. The first group asks for $100 to support the local food bank. The second group asks for $100 to go toward renovating your community’s children’s library. As a small business owner, you only have enough money to give to one group – which do you choose?

Clearly, the library project fits more closely with your brand. Both are excellent causes, but one just fits more with what you’re doing. If you were a restaurant, it would make more sense to donate to the food bank.

Or, let’s say that you’re a hair salon and two high schools groups approach you with these requests for me. Except with Group B, you’d get your name on a plaque at the library if you donate. It just makes more sense to go with that cause. You’re technically “profiting” from the situation, but you’re not a bad person. You just haven’t turned your business mind off for the sake of a cause or tragedy. That’s different than saying that you’re collecting donations for a cause but actually pocketing most of the money for yourself. Yet, so many people don’t really draw a line in the sand between the two. If you profit or consider your brand in any way, you’re automatically bad – something I think is a problem.

Head to Part 2 to read more. (This post was just getting too massive to be a single post!)

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