What the Heck Do They Mean by “Social Good”?

Recently I was speaking to a friend of mine who was very put out by the use of the term “social good” to define all manner of behaviour. In particular, he was annoyed that many organizations and charities continually ask for donations under the guise of a socially good mandate.

Asking for something and claiming that it will contribute to the good of society is akin to guilting someone into cleaning out the gutters; sure it’s better for the house but what’s in it for them? (Though I will allow that there are some people who derive great satisfaction from home-maintenance I think they are in the minority.)

The “what’s in it for me” philosophy runs deep in our society. So deep, in fact, that I find it one of the biggest challenges to explaining what I do for my clients. Some people have a lot of trouble understanding that the notion of looking out for #1 is no longer a sound business practice.

Take a company like Toms Shoes for example. Owner Blake Mycoskie didn’t start a shoe company to make money. He was traveling in Argentina and met a bunch of kids who couldn’t afford shoes. His motivation for Toms Shoes was to shod these kids by creating a product and business philosophy that could empower people to contribute to the greater, social good. His solution was to sell Toms Shoes in the Western world for a fairly high price ($60/pair) but to donate 1 pair of shoes to kids who need them for every pair sold. Creative and profitable!

“What’s in it for me” didn’t enter into the equation because Blake understood what motivates us. A sense of purpose. Stores can’t keep Toms in stock because everyone wants a pair. It makes them feel good about themselves to help others and the Toms product is trendy, cool, comfortable and pretty dang swanky. In fact, in a business where knockoffs are the norm, Toms enjoys an enormous market share. People don’t want the fakes because the fakes don’t give them that sense of purpose.

Toms isn’t the only company that have figured out that providing people with a sense of purpose can have a profound effect on the bottom line. Companies like Patagonia and Whole Foods have long put forth the philosophy of “what can I do to make your life better?” rather than “what’s in it for me?”

When I go in to speak with a new client I ask them what they hope to gain from their social media strategy. The most common answers include, more brand awareness, more customers, more sales, etc. I allow them to voice their expectations and to suss out just how much they know about the social science behind motivation and online marketing before I hit them with my #1 rule for success online.

Here it is…are you ready? This is pretty big, pretty revolutionary (unless your Toms 😉

Rather than asking the question “what can social media do for my company?” organizations, (corporations, charities, etc) need to ask “what can we do to help others find purpose in the decisions they make?” and “how can we build long-lasting, trusting relationships with our clients/customers?”

There will always be those organizations that can’t get their head around a new business model that requires corporate social responsibility as a core philosophy and to them I say, be careful. Why would someone deal with your company if working with another makes them feel they are contributing to the betterment of their society?

So, to recap for my friend; “social good” is figuring out what you can do to help others and build strong, trusting, long-lasting relationships. It is not using guilt to goad others into supporting your cause, company or product even if it may contribute to the greater good. (oh, and it isn’t giving lip-service to corporate social responsibility. Especially in this day and age where the internet will rat you out faster than a Kardashian runs toward a TV camera.)

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Tell us what do you think.

  1. Jason Bax says: January 24, 2012

    Great article…thanks for clarifying the “good” vs guilt aspect.

    Lovin’ the Toms case study too…brilliant.

  2. Stuart Hyderman says: January 24, 2012

    Stu Hyderman
    Very good article! well-written and thought-provoking Jacquie. Your philosophy in business parallels mine, that’s really amazing (to use a well worn out expression) but it is..kinda cool actually… Everybody who enters into business has the good intention of being successful of course. But we do live in a self-centred world sometimes and my firm opinion is that to succeed in business a strong desire to render a better service to those who honour me by asking for my help. I have to put the reward for doing so, out of mind until the appropriate time and place.
    I’ll tell you a story. Lady orders orthotics through me ($400 pr) She leaves a 50 deposit. When they arrived, she didn’t answer our calls or respond to our messages..After couple of months of periodically trying to contact her, her phone number went out of service and I just wrote it off as a bad account…
    A year later, her husband came into the clinic and I asked him where she was, hoping to contact her. He told me that they were separated and gave me her number..Long story short, she was financially very strapped she said and was too embarrassed to respond to our messages..
    What I did was just tell her to come in and pick them up..They weren’t any good to anybody but her in any case, and not to worry about the fees..She was very happy about that.. If I recall, she brought some baking in for the staff..
    She also happened to be very involved in her Church..
    Within the next several weeks I had a HUGE run on patients from her Church!
    The moral of this comment could come straight from your mom’s mouth; “if you treat people the way you’d like to be treated, it will come back to you in droves.”

    • jax says: January 24, 2012

      Thanks Stu! Great story!!


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