Tuesday, June 23, 2009

The RIAA: Where Profits Outweigh Domestic Violence

Chris Brown and the RIAA (Recording Industry Association of America) have two things in common - they are two of the most recognized and influential “brands” in the lives of Gen Y. More importantly, their brands are intrinsically intertwined. Brown, at the age of 16, became the first male artist to have his debut single top the Billboard Hot 100. At the same time, millions of Gen Yers flocked to their favorite torrent sites to download his work (yet he still managed to sell over 2 million copies of his debut album). Then the RIAA slapped many of those same Millennials with lawsuits (the RIAA has allegedly settled with 30,000 people that they’ve sued over illegal downloading).

What I find sad, is that these “brands” are both setting horrible examples for malleable, young minds.

Chris Brown just pleaded guilty to beating up his girlfriend Rihanna, and was only given 180 days of community labor and 5 years of probation. Oh, and he can’t go near Rihanna for 5 years. No jail time. No huge fine, just community service.

Then there’s the RIAA. They have shown Gen Y the ways of a successful business plan. The RIAA has gotten so huge, that their sue-and-scare tactics have netted them $100M in settlement money! This week, a federal jury found a 32-year-old Minnesota woman guilty of illegally downloading music and fined her $80,000 each - awarding the RIAA a total of $1.9 million for 24 songs.

What have they taught Gen Y?

Illegally downloading 24 songs is worse than domestic violence.

I am sorry, but this is absurd. The RIAA is a business that represents the record labels that employ the recording artists. Instead of spending time and money to publicize the very real issue of domestic violence in an effort to condemn Chris Brown’s actions, they took the people that downloaded his music to court and profited from it. Unforgivable.

In my business law class, my prof pounded two things into my head: a business has fiduciary and ethical duties. Businesses have a duty to accurately report their finances and to conduct their business in an ethical manner. I’m sorry, but there is nothing ethical about the way the RIAA is conducting their business, especially since they are an industry leader (they represent 85% of all distributors and labels in the US).

If we Millennials are going to be the leaders of tomorrow, then how about setting a good example for us on how to run a business? Huh RIAA, is that too much to ask? If the very artists that you represent are speaking out against your disdainful sue-and-scare profiteering (Radiohead, Moby, etc.), isn’t it time for a change?

--Now Let Me Clear My Throat--
Josh Groth

Thursday, June 11, 2009

The Tipping Point for Charitable Giving and Social Media

In my prior post, I addressed the issue of involvement (or lack-there-of) in charitable or philanthropic events by Facebook users. Of the 25M Facebook users that have installed the Causes app, less than 1% have ever actually contributed money to a cause through the program.

My friend Jessica Lomelin brought up an interesting comment: “I think many people like the idea of being philanthropic and self-less, but only do it until it affects their day-to-day and time.” Amen.

This got me to thinking of Causes in terms of a social epidemic, as Malcolm Gladwell would call it in his crazy good book The Tipping Point (I hear it did decently well...). Causes sure seems to fit the bill as a social epidemic with 25M users, but how come so few actually utilize the app for charitable giving?

According to Gladwell, a social epidemic has 3 key players:

Connectors: These are the people that seem to know everyone despite what circles they run in and seem to “link up the world.”

Mavens: These are the people that we rely upon to get us new information - aka the kingpins of word-of-mouth marketing

Salesmen: The persuaders. They’re charismatic and have powerful negotiation skills.

It appears that Causes has utilized both Connectors and Mavens. The people that seem to know everyone and the people that we rely on for new information and trends got the word out. They told their friends, who told their friends, and everyone signed up because of it.

What Causes is missing, is the Salesman. There is nobody out there persuading us to give our money to worthy causes. And the subtle Facebook messages that remind us to donate don’t count. We all know that it’s a good thing to do, but there is nobody busting our balls about it that gets us to empty to empty our pockets for AIDS research or starving children in Africa.

So far, I honestly think that comedian Dane Cook has the best answer to this. In one of his standup routines, he talks about how the soft sell tactic is ineffective. That the guy that comes onto the screen to tell us to give 15 cents to help a kid in Africa “Is too nice. He’s too sweet. And we’re Americans, and we need our f***** asses kicked once in a while. If you’re too nice and too sweet, that’s not gonna work. They need to have a f****** dude in a leather jacket, few days of growth, just step in the frame...” and in fewer words, tell us off and put us in our place.

Do yourself a favor and watch the clip, you’ll laugh because you know it’s true.

Dane Cook: Uncensored - 15 Cents
Dane Cook Kool Aid VideoMore Dane Cook VideosJoke of the Day

So how does social media leverage this tactic if the soft sell doesn’t work? I honestly don’t know. Maybe Causes installs a widget on your computer that sporadically yells at you and tells you to think of others. Or maybe Mint.com emails you your monthly expenses and in big bold red font displays what you spent on clothes and booze as compared to what you donated to charity. Maybe if you sign up for Causes, it charges your credit card 25 cents (or something seemingly negligible - that you agree to of course) every month, but when multiplied by 25M users, is $6.25M every month.

I don’t know what the solution is, but I feel like there’s a simple answer out there - a way that social media can be leveraged to kick our asses and persuade us to give money to others.

What are your thoughts on how social media can be leveraged to help change this problem?

-- Now Let Me Clear My Throat --
Josh Groth

Monday, June 8, 2009

Do we Need to Start a Facebook Cause for Facebook Causes?

(Picture Courtesy of FB Causes)

First off, I want to apologize for not posting in the past two weeks. Evidently typing is difficult to do when your middle finger has been crushed by a huge dumbbell. Who knew?

Now onto the good stuff - Facebook Causes is a total waste (might as well come out swinging). Ok, more accurately, those that sign up and support Facebook Causes are a complete waste - or pretty close to it. Full disclosure, I lump myself into this "complete waste" category, so don't think I'm calling just calling you out.

According to the WSJ, “Only a tiny fraction of the 179,000 non-profits that have turned to Causes as an inexpensive and green way to seek donations have brought in even $1,000.”

While one might argue that Causes at least brings free publicity to the non-profit, the goal of publicity is to drive donations. If the free publicity isn’t equating to donations, then is it really helping?

Free publicity aside, what is truly shocking is that “More than 25 million of Facebook's 200 million worldwide members have signed on as supporters of at least one cause, making it the third-most popular of the more than 52,000 applications on the site. But just 185,000 members have ever contributed through the site. The majority of Causes' participants have received no donations through the site.”

Looking at the numbers, less than 1% of us are truly cause-conscious, and the other 99% of us are just really, really good at signing up for things (again, I'm lumped into that jaw-dropping stat).

This is reminiscent of the 2007 Project Red campaign to raise money for AIDS research. With Bono as the spokesman, and consumer product manufacturers Apple, Gap, and Motorola (along with many others), the cause was hugely publicized, and simultaneously, a hugely publicized failure. In fact, the companies that were taking part in the Project Red campaign spent $100M dollars marketing their involvement, making sure everyone knew that they cared about AIDS research and were associated with the cause, while the cause only raised $18M. That's right, the campaign would have been 5x more successful if the companies involved simply donated the money they spent on marketing their involvement with Project Red rather than spending it on marketing.

It seems that whether its huge corporations like Apple or Motorola, or the lowly Facebook user, we’re all statistically more concerned with other people knowing that we give a damn about a cause than actually doing anything about it.

So what are your ideas about how to make Facebook Causes more effective? How do we get even 1% of Facebook Causes users to actually donate to the cause of their choice? It's not like there's something wrong with the application, just those of us that use it. Do we need to start a Facebook Cause for Facebook Causes?

-- Now Let Me Clear My Throat --
Josh Groth