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Charity For Fans – Is It Ethical?

Facebook Fan Pages are becoming the social media platform for most clients today. It solves most of the problems that blogging, podcasting, youtubing and what other web2.0 thingy you can think off. This, however, made the race for fans an inevitable KPI.

Sony Ericsson Singapore recently launched their Fan Page and their drive for fans was unique. Their pull was that for every ten fans who join their Fan Page, Sony Ericsson Singapore will donate SGD1 to the Singapore Children’s Society. Just click a button to join the Fan Page and you do your bit for charity.

Effortless.

At the back of my head, there was a lingering thought asking myself if this is an ethical thing to do. Is one joining this Fan Page because they are supporting charity or is it to support Sony Ericsson? Will we also see an influx of brands going for the same approach for fans?

I tweeted about Sony Ericsson Singapore’s approach and also added that we should get 1 million fans for Singapore Children’s Society to get SGD100,000. As I tweeted about this approach, Jimmy Tang, a friend on Facebook, commented, “$100k for a database of 1 million names. But is it ethical to use charity for commercial benefit? I rather just donate $1 to them directly. It's more than what SE would pay anyway. Scam!”

I explained to Jimmy that Sony Ericsson Singapore was not my client, but it did resonate whether it was right to use charity for commercial benefit.

I asked that question to two PR veterans and their replies were rather interesting.

Said John Kerr, Director at Edelman, “It is ok, but with caveats. Only if there is super-over-the-top transparency that the brand is doing this, that the charity agrees (i.e. there is endorsement on materials and support on their web presence) and it is done in a spirit of fun, whereby SE even says things like ‘you can unsubscribe after 1 April, but we’re expecting to offer lots of goodies and exciting content exclusively to our FB fans – and we promise not to spam.’”

Tom Burgess, Group CEO Bond PR, said “Yes, I think it is OK  to use a charity. If it assists the charity in raising awareness for its cause, generating funds and providing its service, then this is useful for the charity.

“But it has to be genuine, there needs to be more than just a monetary link, Sony Ericsson needs to be associated with the Charity and show more involvement. Eg their staff may give time or they may have run other fund raising events or have history of related cooperation.  If the fans don’t want to continue to be members because they don’t like the stance then they can leave. Similarly the charity needs to feel comfortable with the brand that is donating.”

I Googled Sony Ericsson and their involvement with Singapore Children’s Society. The mobile phone vendor, indeed, was quite active with the Singapore Children’s Society over the years, but information is quite scattered.

Maybe they should make use of this Fan Page to create awareness of their CSR activities with the Singapore Children’s Society to share with their fans that their involvement is not a one-time act of goodness.

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