14 December 2012, 09:57

Social media, charities and the digital divide

Social media, charities and the digital divide
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Oh hey, more news about Twitter. If you run your own business or just work for the marketing or public relations department of a company – company of any size, really, of course you know that it’s important to cultivate a good social media presence.

Oh hey, more news about Twitter. If you run your own business or just work for the marketing or public relations department of a company – company of any size, really, of course you know that it’s important to cultivate a good social media presence. Facebook, Twitter, sometimes even Pinterest and Instagram accounts are a staple of a modern client-friendly business. Well, here’s a warning to not overly rely on this new medium as a reliable method of generating revenue: it may help you retain existing customer, but finding new ones may not be as efficient. Or perhaps it may be too efficient for your good. Oh wait, what does that mean? Well, here’s a little story about a German supermarket chain called Lidl. Christmas is upon us – and that means it’s time for shopping, time for giving and time for capitalizing on these trends. The Belgian branch of the supermarket chain has launched a charitable campaign through Twitter. The company promised to give out five Christmas dinners for the poor for each Twitter user who tweeted the hashtag [#luxevooriedereen] which I won’t pronounce in fears of butchering the Dutch language. It means “luxury for everyone” and the retail cost of the dinners is 20 Euro – 4 Euro each. Lidl initially expected to send out 1000 of these dinners to food banks. Well, their little publicity campaign went better than expected – sort of. Their charitable initiative has been quickly picked up by local newspapers and the hashtag started spreading like wildfire. In the first day of this truly viral campaign 1500 tweets with this hashtag were fired off. By the end of day two the number of Christmas dinners to be sent out by the supermarket chain reached 7500. The management saw this turning really bad and issued a statement, saying they would be willing to part with as many as 10,000 Christmas dinners – that’s 200,000 Euro, by the way. Oh, yeah, representatives of the company also stated that they haven’t decided if they would launch similar promos in the future and that they’ve learned a lot in the first 48 hours of this charitable campaign. Yeah, that’s putting it lightly. Here’s an idea: set the limit for free giveaways before you start giving things away! On the bright side, they’ve fed 10,000 people for five nights, and I think that’s worth more than 200,000 Euro for an internatial supermarket chain. Besides, they’ve proven the power of social media once again – this time, its power to do good.

A similar social media charitable event is spearheaded by British retailer Marks & Spencer. They’ve recently had their one millionth Facebook fan click the “Like” button. They’ve decided to celebrate it with a “Thanks a Million” campaign. Quote “Back in 1884, M&S started out as a Penny Bazaar. So to celebrate one million of you joining us on Facebook, we've created a huge thank you from a million pennies - one for each of you. […]Help us put all the pennies to good use by choosing the charity you'd like yours to go to.” That’s right, if you don’t follow M&S on Facebook, you can do so now and do some good with your obligatory penny. For the next few weeks, a special Facebook app will allow users to choose one of the following donations to receive the penny: Royal British Legion, MacMillan Cancer Care, Shelter and the Newlife Foundation. If you’re interested in the world of social media marketing and whether it’s all it’s hyped to be, here’s a quote from Lou Jones, Marks & Spencer's head of online and digital marketing: "Our page has helped us evolve our marketing from merely broadcasting to customers to a two-way dialogue with them. It helps us create conversations, learn from our shoppers, listen to frustrations, share in their joy and also have a little fun. Facebook helps us interact with customers on a more personal, light-hearted level." And, well, they’re giving out pennies, to 20 Euros – that’s probably more efficient from a purely fiscal standpoint.

As long as we’re talking about charity and well, the general spirit of giving, I would to mention this

website I’ve recently stumbled upon – starikam.ru. This website is called “Starost v Radost” or “Joyful old age” and it aims to provide just that – joy to Russian seniors. I have to say right now, the institute of nursing homes is quite underdeveloped in Russia; coupled with small pensions, seniors who don’t have children or, even worse, have “forgetful” children, don’t really have a lot going for them. Quote “’Jouyful Old Age is a charity foundation helping the disabled and seniors living in nursing homes. Our goal is to make [these people] feel that they’re not alone, not forgotten, that someone needs them”. Unquote. Apart from traditional financial assistance, this foundation offers something different – communication. After all, what good is life if there is no one you can share it with? That’s why the foundation’s volunteers offered anyone willing to become “pen grandkids” – kind of like pen pals – to “grandpas” and “grandmas”, as the volunteers call them.


Here’s what one needs to do in order to participate: log in to the website – starikam.ru; open the gallery section, entitled “no writes them yet”; find a photo of a senior citizen with no comments and leave their own comment, expressing willingness to write letters; wait for an email with contact info of the chosen “grandma” or “grandpa”. Pretty simple – the only requirement is to keep the promise and write letters – real life, snail mail letters that is – at least once a month. The first campaign included 60 grandmas and grandpas, each with a photo and a short bio – volunteers “adopted” them in less than half a day. This was a few years ago, actually, and to this day this sort of an “adopt a grandparent” program is quite popular. By the way, I just checked the gallery and could not find a “grandpa” or “grandma” who wasn’t already “adopted” by someone. I think it’s great, on one hand – they’re not lonely – on the other hand, it shows that volunteer administrators have not updated their database for a while and who knows how many lonely seniors are still out there? And here’s where it gets interesting. Turns out that more often than not it’s the volunteers who are really lonely – due to the hectic modern life, there’s little time left for socialization. Besides, you don’t generally just write letters these days – it’s all about emails and instant messages. This archaic form of communication can feel like a breath of fresh air – or maybe not – like breathing in the smell of an old tome – book lovers will know what I mean. So far the website has helped over 3000 “grandpas” and “grandmas” find “pen grandchildren” – if you want to try it out, check out starikam.ru

The digital divide is a real thing and mostly it goes across generational lines – at least in Russia. The “digital generation” writing traditional paper-and-ink letters to those who’re not very tech-savvy is one way to build communicational bridges. But this still leaves the computer-illiterate out of the loop. Well, actually there are a few programs regarding that. One of them I’ve already mentioned – it was launched by Google about a week ago along with an amusing viral ad "How would the world look if our grandmas and granddads used Internet every day?" The purpose of the clip is show how awesome Russia would be if senior citizens would be active internet users – hence the project "Understandable Unternet", aimed at helping “grandmas” and “grandpas” overcome the digital divide. Since December 4th the video has been seen by over 110,000 Russians – I hope that at least some of those who’ve seen it visited the website zaprosto-internet.ru and read the guide on making grandparents – or just generally non tech-savvy-people – fully functional members of the digital society. I have to tell you – this is pretty length guide – 116 slides in total, but it really is worth it if you want to teach someone internet-literacy but don’t know where to start. But still, this relies on someone taking their own time to teach their “grandmas” and “grandpas”. One of the Big Three Russian cellphone service providers went a step further and launched internet-literacy courses for seniors in Moscow. It’s a joint campaign – NGOs such as “Nation’s Health League” and “Generational Connection” all took part in this educational project called “The net is open for all ages”. The free course is open for everyone and is spread over six classes.

Participants will be able to learn the basics: how to operate a computer, obviously, and, more importantly, how to replace it for menial tasks: paying remotely for communicational services, housing and utilities; shopping online for such goods as groceries and pharmaceuticals; using state services web portal; talking with close ones through email, chats and messaging services and other forms of interaction with the computer that kids these days just take for granted. These program has just been launched and hopefully it will pave the way to similar initiative, opening the cyberspace to more Russians, streamlining their daily routines and providing more options for communication.

As I’ve said, unlike the guide created and publicized by Google, this is a real-life class and people have to sign up for it and then physically go to a classroom – not sure if this is the way to go, given the immense distances of the Moscow city. But then again, if this takes off, maybe municipal councils will want to jump in on the bandwagon and provide similar services city-wide and someday, nation-wide.

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