The right to participate within the public dialogue has always come with responsibility. Television had its obligation to share the news. Radio and television participate in the Emergency Alert System. Newspapers have a self-enforced responsibility as the “fourth estate.”
As brands become more like publishers every day, we have to start asking ourselves if there is a higher level of responsibility for participating in the public discourse – a responsibility beyond that to shareholders and investors.
In the 1980s, independent dairies famously began showing missing pictures on the sides of milk cartons. It was an opportunity, and for some an obligation, the dairies felt obliged to take. More recently, in 2008, members of the Outdoor Advertising Association (aka Clear Channel, CBS Outdoor, etc.) started using their digital billboards to broadcast Amber Alerts.
Even more recently, we saw businesses of all shapes and sizes stepping up to help in the aftermath of Sandy.
However, much like healthy eating, the best success comes from consistency, not from occasional focus. Yet, how many social media editorial planning sessions include time for social responsibility integration?
I’d wager less than 1%.
I’m guilty. Sure, like most agencies, our agency tries to convince clients to incorporate cause marketing into most of our social programs. Beyond support of non-profits, what about information and advocacy we can provide to our audience? We often overlook this opportunity.
Imagine if, by law, you were required to incorporate social responsibility projects into your social editorial.
Speaking of Amber Alerts, imagine if geotargeting within social media was utilized to spread alerts of child abductions, weather warnings, major traffic incidents, etc. Could we expand national efforts like Amber Alerts and the Emergency Alert System to capitalize on the reach and usage of social networks?
Of course, it could be argued that this social responsibility goes beyond brands and businesses. Platforms like Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, et al could easily integrate systems like these to spread public service messages. These social platforms could become the next milk cartons or digital billboards.
I’ve seen more brands than not post social media messages like “Vote!” and “Thank you to our veterans!” While these messages are worthwhile, they are simply participatory. They are not messages that drive action.
Gamification is huge in social media. What if brands rewarded consumers for learning about important social information?
An automotive company could reward consumers for learning about safe driving habits. A data company could share metrics on important issues of the day. Any company could reward consumers for learning about the policies of both sides of an election. The more educated, the healthier, the more aware consumers become, the more it benefits socially responsible brands.
It would be amazing to see education ingrained into the American way.
As I’ve mentioned in a previous column, I’m in the middle of a 90-day fitness challenge, so healthy eating and fitness is top of mind. As a foodie, I thought I knew a lot about food. I didn’t know squat. It’s shocking how undereducated we are on how to fuel and care for ourselves. Through a lot of education and a little hard work, I’ve lost 25 pounds in seven weeks.
And, yet, it’s the simplest thing that can do the most good: encouragement. What if brands, on a consistent basis, used social media to encourage healthy lifestyle choices? What if brands educated the public on simple facts about eating and exercise?
A Cue From The ‘80s
My son is about to turn 4 years old. He’s the main reason I started the 90-day challenge. I look at him and then look in the mirror asking the question: How can I be a better role model? He’s the inspiration for many of my thoughts in this column and in day-to-day work.
I’m not sure if it’s the right move or not, but I recently introduced him to the cartoon “He-Man.” Like many ‘80s cartoons (see “GI Joe”), “He-Man” ended every episode with a moral lesson for the kids watching.
Just because we market to adults doesn’t mean the country doesn’t need businesses involved in social responsibility. After all, knowing is half the battle!