Credit: Flickr Photo by FunkYah
One of the things I was really excited about when I started Zoetica with partners Beth Kanter and Geoff Livingston this year was the opportunity to join forces with some of my most respected collaborators on truly innovative and interesting projects.
One I am working on right now with Beth is our Society for New Communications Research Fellowship research on the concept of Lethal Generosity as it relates to the disciplines of Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) and cause marketing.
The term was first coined by Shel Israel in his book, Twitterville (pp
110-111), who defined it simply as “Generosity attached to a branding strategy. And earlier in a blog post where he defined it as, “the concept that the most generous members of any social media company are the most credible and influential and as such, they can devastate their competition in the marketplace.”
Beth and I have been playing around with a more nuanced definition:
“Lethal Generosity is when a corporation applies its core competencies to advance social change in a way that contributes to business results and gives it a competitive advantage.”
Where to Focus Lethal Generosity Efforts
Furthermore we feel that lethal generosity efforts that are closely aligned with the fundamental mission and values of the business, the interests of stakeholders or if it mitigates against potential negative impact to society will will lead to better results.
Credit: Diagram from Geoff Livingston’s Authenticity in Social Media
Mission and Values are at the top of the diagram because we believe that CSR and cause-marketing programs should be aligned with mission and values of the company. When they are it harnesses the core competency, (or superpower) of the company.
Stakeholders: Social good programs that are employee or stakeholder driven have more impact. These programs also help to retain employees, customers and other stakeholders by driving enthusiasm and a sense of belonging.
Problem: All companies have potential problems (safety, health, etc) that could be caused by its product. A good example of mitigating for these are responsible drinking CSR programs funded by an alcohol brand. in our research, we will take a much closer look at the one about Molson Beer that Shel Isreal first outlined in his book, Twitterville as well as a few others.
Lethal Generosity Requires a Community
Of course the success of this kind of play requires the cooperation and collaboration of an engaged community. It is not a pure cause marketing play that has as its singular goal to sell product through cause wrapping, or wrapping a cause around the same core marketing strategy.
It takes a dialog with the community to make it work, and a commitment on the part of a company to make real social change. The non-profit community calls this the Theory of Change and it requires an expected outcome and a roadmap to get to that social change outcome.
Leveraging Your Corporate Superpower
We also believe that in addition to a social change outcome, an organization should also have a business outcome in mind as well. And part of finding an approach that is most effective requires a company to leverage its resources to focus on social issues that most align with its core mission.
In other words, companies have a core competency, which I like to call the Corporate SuperPower. I got this concept from Rosabeth Moss Kanter’s excellent book SuperCorp, This SuperPower would be used for the good to advice a change agenda on a topic close of the heart of the organization.
The SuperPower is the heart and soul of the approach.
Lethal Generosity from the Inside
The next step of our research is identifying social media programs and campaigns that meet these criteria and studying their efforts in detail, including interviewing them to find commonalities that spur success.
We will then publish our findings in the SNCR Journal of New Communications Research, which will inform the survey research to determine if CSR programs delivered through online media do indeed provide better results.
If you have a case study that you think embodies the research we are undertaking, please let us know. We have a short list already, but your thoughts on this are important to both Beth and I as we design the survey.
- Corporate Social Responsibility Can Drive Fundamental Business Results, Tekrati
- What Is Lethal Generosity, Beth Kanter
- OK, It’s Lethal Generosity, Shel Israel
- 4 Examples of Corporate Social Responsibility Done Right, JD Lasica
- Lethal Generosity: CSR Context is Important, Beth Kanter