Social Status For Social Good

Status is a powerful motivator in social systems. People go crazy over their follower counts on Twitter, or number of friends or business contacts in Facebook and LinkedIn. So it makes sense that social status can be leveraged for social good.

Yesterday I logged into my Tumblr dashboard and saw this set of posts from my friends Jason and Dave, and my colleague Andrew.

Tumblr dashboard

You'll note that Dave and Andrew's avatars have a ribbon on them. I thought "well how the hell do I get one of those?"

And then I noticed at the top of my dashboard, the Tumblr logo had one of the ribbons next to it.

Tumblr logo

So I clicked on the ribbon and it took me to where I was presented with this choice of charities to support.

Support haiti

I chose Doctors Without Borders because my daughter Emily is a big fan of their work and gave a donation.

After I did that my avatar got a ribbon on it as you can see in the image above. 

I don't know how many Tumblr users got ribbons yesterday but it could be a lot. Tumblr has millions of users. Even if only 5 or 10% of them did what I did yesterday, that could be hundreds of thousands of donations. Maybe Tumblr will post about this at some point. I'd certainly be interested to know how well this works.

In a post on the Zynga blog yesterday, Zynga announced that their users have already raised $1.2mm for Haiti though the Sweet Seeds offer in Farmville. And now Zynga is going to step it up:

Zynga will run a special relief campaign in three of its top games that reach over 40 million users daily. Users can purchase limited edition social goods in FarmVilleMafia Wars and Zynga Poker, and 100 percent of the proceeds will go towards supporting emergency aid in Haiti. 

Social services like Zynga and Tumblr reach millions of people every day. And they have powerful status driven systems that can drive users to do good things. That's a big deal when something awful like the earthquake in Haiti happens.

Disclosure: Tumblr and Zynga are both Union Square Ventures portfolio companies.

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#VC & Technology#Web/Tech

Comments (Archived):

  1. im2b_dl

    Fred maybe you can find out. When Twitter announced geo location a couple months ago ..the first thing I did was email Bijan and tell him how great I thought that was going to be for tragic events. I used the example of the Ice Storms in the Northeast and how the electric and oil fire etc. etc could geo locate either by citizen or by recovery/emergency personnel tweeting geo located status markers..and centralize a map of what needed to be taken care of. So neighbors and citizens can join in..and not just a central team has access that has to be relayed. Bijan of course (as he is the person he is) thought that being the first thing that someone thought of with the system made him feel good about the new tool. Is someone making sure that the the recovery initiatives in Haiti are aware of the use of this tool? This would be a game changer to have the ability to place 140 character geo tags of status on one central mapping location.I love that everyone is donating …I hope they are stepping in and teaching how game changing these, literally ” just introduced” technologies work for changing the game in recovery after a tragedy. As someone who has lived through a few of em.

    1. theslingster

      I think , sir, you are the one best suited to being that “someone making sure…”good luck!

  2. Nick Oliva

    One unusual “social” aspect has to do with peer pressure and the conspicuous nature of ribbons on your pic, or press releases if you’re famous. When someone in my network posts an update giving credit to Pitt and Jolie or Tiger for a big donation, a number of comments are negative. There’s a backlash when the charitable giving is rewarded with press… like you’re not supposed to mention it? I haven’t seen the same thing with ribbons… just interested in how people interpret it.Personally, when someone posts a Facebook status that says, “I’m supporting X… 93% of people won’t update their status to this, will you?”, I’m extremely tempted to defriend them! I don’t want people using their Facebook statuses to solicit me! Even as I appreciate Facebook or anyone else making it easy for me to make charitable contributions.

  3. andyswan

    Status-driven systems that can drive users to do good things can also drive them to do bad things (see religion, gangs, politics).The “system” is only valuable to those who agree with its objectives (which in this specific case may approach 99.9%).In the end, the individual donor is the only one worthy of praise or condemnation for the decisions and actions he takes.

    1. Druce

      ‘society’ is a status driven system.purely economic motives only exist if you’re poor. (ie at the bottom of the Maslow hierarchy –…now you may consider an individual society good or bad depending on whether you agree with its values.however if you deprived a human of the tools used to create societies: language, rituals, institutions, that would probably be a bad, if you make tools that allow creation of social institutions that give human lives meaning… in that sense it’s a good thing.even when they can also be used to further values you disagree with.I guess penicillin can be a neutral or bad thing if you drown a humanitarian in it, or cure a murderous dictator. Nevertheless I’m not sure one would say inventing penicillin is a value-free activity.

      1. andyswan

        Who said anything about a purely economic motive? Of course there is no economic motive to sending money to Haiti.For most people, there is no “status” motive either. That’s my point. Good (and bad) decisions and deeds are ultimately the responsibility of the individual.

        1. Druce

          I’m possibly more cynical than you.Motive can be maximizing personal (economic) utility or maximizing group (social) utility, ie ‘good’ behavior puts the values of the group ahead of your own personal benefit.Since human societies have things like values and norms, and status for adhering to them, in that sense it’s always either about economic utility (money) or social utility (status).The motives all get inextricably intermingled, and when you give, you may not be doing it strictly for social status. Humans are hardwired to do stuff in groups, notions of ethics and fairness are instinctive, and people internalize the values of their society to the point that the personal utility of giving and volunteering outweighs the cost.

    2. theslingster

      There is a very thin line between the Wisdom of the Crowd, and the Insanity of the Mob!

  4. Keenan

    The apparent giving via social media and I assume traditional mediums by people in the U.S. has been fantastic.I am currently working a post that highlights the size of the giving of US citizens during times of crisis in comparison to other countries. (if anyone knows how I can get these figures, comparing US citizen giving compared to citizens of other countries, I’d appreciate it)I am sensing we out give most, if not all other countries. (I’m talking grassroots donations by everyday people, not Federally funded money).Americans have such a negative brand around the world, yet we are some of the, if not THE most charitable and giving people in the world. We are quick to want to help others.I love seeing the response of Americans when crisis hits. It makes my proud to see how empathetic and supportive we are.

    1. andyswan

      Keenan you’re hitting the nail on the head here. America is about the pursuit of self-interest, NOT greed!I’m so proud to live in a country that is creating so much wealth and is so instinctively ready to give it when needed.Please update us when you have posted.

      1. Keenan

        It is posted my friend. The results were a bit surprising. We aren’t as giving as we’d like to think. Yet at the same time, we are very giving. It’s a bit of a contradiction.America’s Giving Contradiction:

        1. andyswan

          I see no contradiction there. We give to charity the most no matter how you slice the pie: % of GDP or total dollars (which is what REALLY matters to the needy).A huge benefit of creating wealth is the ability to help others. America proves this time and time again.The 2nd chart doesn’t bother me at all, because it measures something stupid (government “giving”) without measuring something real…and that’s our military aid to disaster areas….which is more critical than anyone realizes until they get there and wonder where all that money/food ended up.

        2. Mike

          Keenan, don’t know if these numbers help but recently had a great graphic breaking down these numbers by country, party affiliation, gender, etc… sure exactly why you keyed in on those figures for the Tsunami though, as that analysis seems like it could be easily skewed. For example, a large number of dollars in the US are given to churches which then in turn donate to various overseas agencies/missions (not to mention Andy’s comment below).

          1. Keenan

            The private giving number in my post, includes churches and such. I chose the Tsunami as an example of where we give less to others outside the U.S. when compared to GDP and per-capita income.

    2. Aviah Laor

      I don’t want to be a party pooper, but once you sum the charity given please subtract the costs of 25% of the global warming damages

      1. andyswan

        I say if global warming actually ever does happen, we send the bill to the Sun.Although I have yet to figure out why people prefer advancing glaciers to receding ones.In any event, I hope that whoever is driving that marxist trojan horse will tell us precisely what temperature they want to set the Earth’s thermostat. We need to know when we’re achieving our objectives….would hate to overshoot to the cool side and not know to crank the SUVs back up.

        1. Aviah Laor

          LOL !!

        2. Aviah Laor

          i thought you would say to add the costs of WWII and the Marshall plan.

          1. andyswan

            Ya but interest to the French for their help in Revolutionary war would be a bitch. LOLMaybe let’s just all call it even and do the best we can? 🙂

          2. Aviah Laor

            Agreed. But have to remember that global warming caused “here” brings enormous damage “there”. It’s the classic free rider case, where somebody else pays: in Africa, it means less water, more desert, years without rain and food. Doing the best should include a long term commitment to pay more for less pollution creating products. Not just after crisis.BTW Andy, you have to take into account that lost tea shipment as well 😀

        3. Dave Pinsen

          Swan FTW. This is the pithiest and most devastating take down of anthropogenic global warming alarmism I’ve read in a while. Fred mentions ribbons on avatars — for a comment like this one, Andy deserves a halo of flames around his avatar instead. Just like in the old NBA Showtime video game, when you were “on fire” (three scores in a row, with two stops in between), your basketball would be enveloped in flames and leave a flaming contrail whenever you took a shot.

          1. fredwilson

            that is something the disqus guys have in mind. it will happen. maybe notandy in flames, but something along these lines

          2. Dave Pinsen

            Looking forward to seeing what they come up with.

          3. Mike

            I think you’re referring to the genius of “NBA Jam”.

          4. Dave Pinsen

            Nope, NBA Showtime. In the late ’90s, I worked next door to a billiards place that had an NBA Showtime machine; we’d play almost every day at lunch. “NBA Jam” was a predecessor, apparently.

          5. Mike

            My apologies. I guess I’m still an old school SEGA Genesis guy at heart.

        4. kidmercury

          it’s not global warming andy, that’s so yesterday. climate change is the term of choice for the propagandists. that way they can scare us into taxation whether it gets hotter or colder.

          1. andyswan

            And here I am stuck with a closet full of acid-rain umbrellas

          2. Aviah Laor

            so it’s just a conspiracy? A century of industrialization does not have any climate/environment effect?

          3. kidmercury

            the primary cause of climate change is changes in the solar system, which is why ALL planets in the solar system are experiencing climate change — i.e. the ice caps on mars are melting too. lots of evidence to support this notion.

      2. Keenan

        I don’t think the people of Haiti or Thailand, (Tsunami), or any other victims of tragedy would be OK with a 25% decrease in their aid to offset global warming damages.Let’s not minimize positive impact to strife of others because of other less beneficial actions. They aren’t mutually inclusive. Let’s celebrate what we do well and also look to improve what we don’t.

        1. Aviah Laor

          25% increase.I agree, to a degree. As long as the small good deeds do not mask the rest. Western world easily throws billions on the wrong issues. Here is another one: agriculture subsidies, billions and billions (cynics would say that better to put $$ on a western cow than on a 3rd world country guns, but that the cynics). Overall, the donations to Haiti are right and good.

    3. JLM

      Not only does the US taxpayer provide the largest share of all international relief efforts through its own government’s largesse, they also provide the lion’s share of UN funding which ultimately is converted to international relief.In addition, they provide the largest font of private funds donated to charities of all kinds worldwide.In their spare time, the US taxpayer safeguards the world with American blood and treasure and underwrites world peace and conducts a global war on terrorists who threaten all countries.Not bad for less than 5% of the world’s people.You go, American taxpayers!

      1. Keenan

        Yet we pay less taxes than most of the developed counties.

        1. JLM

          Showing that perhaps prosperity and charity are the logical outgrowth of capitalism?Capitalism has provided us with the highest standard of living in the world and has allowed the American taxpayer to fund the greastest record of charitable giving and peace ever conceived.Ahhh, I love the smell of capitalism in the morning!

          1. Keenan

            JLM, I posted about this today. Results were surprising. We aren’t as giving as we like to think, yet are very giving.America’s Giving Contradiction:

      2. Aviah Laor

        Capitalism is great, but the theory didn’t take the environment into account. Adam Smith could not envision it. The idea that everybody should do the best he can for himself and only than society as whole will prosper is true, until you reach the environment. Current capitalism does not provide any incentive to care for environment, especially when the damage is done far far away. BTW,incurring the environmental costs on imported Chinese goods (especially transportation) will increase US local manufacturing which is not a bad idea. Same system, just charge the customer for the environmental costs. The market will do the rest.

        1. thslingster

          Adam Smith would have been well aware of what you describe. Today, its called tragety of the Commons; But it has been well know and written about since Aristotle wrote about it. Its one of the reasons we have gorvernment -to step in when the good of the individual is not in alignment with the good of the public.

  5. David Noël

    This is exactly the reason why I’d recommend Tumblr over anything else. They were so quick with pushing this out and the fact that this spread all over Tumblr is due to everyone at Tumblr being so involved in the community. Peer pressure for the greater good, enabled by technology & community. I always preferred the social in social media.I love Tumblr and I love the people behind it.

  6. Jeff Hilimire

    This is a fantastic way to leverage the social web for cause awareness. More and more as people and their networks become the new “media”, it will be their passions that come through and influence their social sphere.My question for you is, does it have to be an extreme event to garner traction, or does it have to be an on-again, off-again awareness.? For instance, if your avatar always has the same cause attached to it, will I eventually become blind to it? If everyone is putting causes on their avatars, will it all become watered down?

  7. Doug Covey

    I find it interesting what a ribbon or yellow bracelet on an avatar can do to intrigue and engage participation. To think what Jerry Lewis and Ed McMahon could have done via the social network to crush muscular dystrophy or how many decades earlier Rotary could have conquered polio.Tip of the hat to you Fred, I was curious about your ribbon via Tumblr and followed your same thought process to donate to Haiti.

  8. Jason L. Baptiste

    Check out what has done with donating your status on twitter: believe the code is open source too.

  9. Aviah Laor

    This is amazing. But it’s the first step. The true power of social web will come when the silent majority will aggregate forces and really influence the political and gov agenda, the way until now only small dedicated organization did. I had the idea of a “global Fogbugz” that will allow people to share and delegate tasks without boundaries towards a common more long-term goal. In this regard, contributing time is more valuable than money.

  10. Harvest Creative

    This brings to mind a conversation I had about a month ago with one of our larger clients. We were discussing social media and potential strategies for an organization of their size. Nothing is more powerful than a charitable affiliation and a built in network of people. The campaign spreads quickly if you give the organization’s employees and customers/fans the power to drive who will be supported. The result is a warm and fuzzy for the company (and hopefully a bucket load of new contacts) and a campaign that moves the needle for charities.

  11. Christian Brucculeri

    Fred,Your donation inspired me to do the same. Thanks.I’d be interested to see some quantitative data on how much was driven to the Haiti disaster and which platforms were the top performers. From a business perspective, I think it’s highly relevant to analyze which platform is best for spreading social good- this is another metric where the rubber meets the road.

  12. Siminoff

    When I saw the disaster first happen I had “meant” to make a donation, but then got distracted on some other things… It was the Tumblr dashboard that gave me the extra “push” to give and I did. You should feel great that two of your investments are doing so much to help people.

  13. ShanaC

    Ok I’m interested in one factor of this post that hasn’t been brought up:Does seeing the Icon on lots of friends tumblr icon-pictures versus advertising that you can donate through tumblr make you more or less likely to donate?We know that seeing a list of what is popular makes someone more likely to buy what is on that list on the web. (that’s been well studied)But this is not a list, this is a floating format, and it’s an icon that could mean a bunch of things (well it’s a ribbon, so that’s at least a clue in).Compared to the Sweet Seeds program -what makes someone likely to buy the icon on tumblr versus fake sweet potatos for charity through Zynga?passing thought.

  14. Ivan Kirigin

    I like the idea of getting people to give a bit of money to a good cause easily.But you know what I think is even more important? Using the tools themselves to change the world.It’s just silly to me to see something like a blog post about begging for money for education in a 3rd world country, when the publishing medium is actually a big part of the answer to solve the root causes of the problems in those countries. In Haiti, immediate relief is needed. But I hope people think about why such extremely relief is needed and how they can help Haiti turn into a functional state.I really love the work of charity: water across the world, and I’ve made tools that helped that raise money and awareness. But I hope people ask why those countries can’t build their own water infrastructure, and how we might solve such societal and institutional problems. Maybe there is a lesson from cell networks. Cellphone networks grow in poor countries eliminating the need for landlines. They skip a generation. What about the eventual goals of democracy 2.0 and the social web? Is there a way to use these tools to yield a more coherant and connected society in places that can leapfrog what we consider a powerful central government in a solid nation state?

    1. fredwilson

      it’s a great pointthe $1.2mm that the sweet seeds program on farmville raised for Haiti wasprior to the earthquake and went to schools and they are turning it up to fund relief but i hope that they can turn backto the fundamentals soon enough

    2. kidmercury

      yes, the real ability of the web to revolutionize governance is through virtual currencies, which will revolutionize monetary policy and effectively subvert nation-states and economic regions like the eurozone. i think it is quite possible we will see this change occur first in poorer countries, and i think we may even see microlending projects like be a place where virtual currencies can emerge and revolutionize governance in impoverished communities/nations.

      1. theslingster

        What is your definition of virtual curencies? For twenty years , hasn’t most large currency transactions been conducted in bits and bytes, rather than paper or gold?

        1. kidmercury

          good point. i basically mean competing currencies, however that may manifest. as this is a technology/internet crowd with conversations that often touch upon game play and online communities, i use the term virtual currencies to refer to currencies created by social networks, social games, etc. i probably should stick to the term competing currencies though, as that illustrates the point — which is that IMHO the fundamental problem is that the market for monetary policy is not competitive enough, which results in larger global economic problems.

          1. theslingster

            They’re all around us. As far as I can figure, company gift cards are private currencies, as are product coupons, food stamps, lottery tickets, departmetn store credit cards; and of course many towns in the us have their own currencies- these town currencies are only valid within the town lines, and are meant to keep money circulating within town businesses, etc

          2. kidmercury

            yup, now we just need to start using them….basically stop using US dollars and start using local currencies, IMHO that’s how to win the real war against the financial oligarchs and fix the global economy.

    3. theslingster

      Yeah, there is a difference between how humans respond to natural disasters such as earth quakes, vs. human disasters such as warfare, cultural intolerance, police states, totalitarian governments, government corruption,, genocide, poverty, etc. A successful response in natural disasters can be measured in money; A successful response in human disasters is often measured in blood.Our start up, (stealth), attempts to use capitalism to address cultural intolerance.

  15. Dave Pinsen

    I am curious where all of this money will go. It seems like absolutely enormous amounts of money are being raised for Haiti right now (Whole Foods has its cashiers soliciting donations, for example).Ideally, Doctors without Borders and other respected charities will get to keep some of these donations for future disasters. There is, in a sense, an inefficient market for charity, and organizations ought to be able to keep some of the surge money they raise for future contingencies (and be honest about that). I remember the controversy after 9/11 when the Red Cross planned to use some of the huge amount of money it raised to build blood banks (if memory serves), but public outcry forced them to spend it all on 9/11, even though government aid was already flooding in. I remember hearing about the challenges the Red Cross had in trying to donate all that money.Haiti, as a perennial failed state, presents challenges of its own. Once the survivors have been pulled from the rubble, treated and fed; once the dead have been buried — then what?

    1. Aviah Laor

      0.001% of what went to Wall Street will do. This is the real inefficient market for charity.

      1. Dave Pinsen

        Edit that into something more coherent and I’ll be happy to respond in greater detail, but suffice it to say for now that I am not thrilled about the way some large Wall Street firms have managed to socialize their costs while privatizing their profits. I suppose government money was necessary to avoid a systemic collapse, but cost of that aid should have been far steeper than it was. Not sure what this has to do with my comment about the inefficient market for private charitable donations though.

        1. Aviah Laor

          Inefficiency in the big picture of resource allocation. and yes, non-profits suffer since people like to donate to specific program, event or buildings.

    2. kidmercury

      haiti will continue to be poor until there is a massive overhaul in global monetary policy and US foreign policy. one of the reasons why i personally am not donating to haiti, obviously it is a great tragedy but the world is filled with great tragedies and this doesn’t rank high enough for me in terms of giving aid — i need to see a shot at real sustained improvement before giving away my fraudulent federal reserve notes. though the community members of my site are all into it so my business will be contributing.

      1. Dave Pinsen

        Neither U.S. foreign policy nor global monetary policy are the cause of Haitian poverty.

        1. kidmercury

          those who cannot accept simple truths like how money is created or that 9/11 is an inside job cannot understand the causes of poverty, because failure to accept those truths is a barrier to understanding real economics and real psychology of key market participants.

          1. Dave Pinsen

            Kid,We could switch to using gold-pressed latinum tomorrow as a means of exchange and Haiti would still be a fourth-world hellhole. I know you love your two hammers of 9/11 conspiracies and gold buggery but that doesn’t make Haiti a nail.

          2. kidmercury

            if you don’t understand how money is created, you can’t understand how it flows in the big picture (and why none of it flows to haiti). it’s like how if someone thinks 2 + 2 = 5, they’ll never be able to understand any math.

  16. Richard Jordan

    Yeah, this is brilliant. So long as they time-limit the ribbons I could see this sort of thing being a very powerful social signal across various social networks encouraging participation in good causes through the use of simple peer pressure, without hectoring.

  17. pawjones

    I think the ribbon is a brilliant idea and that the concept could be applied to so many social causes aside from just Haiti. I compare it to the Lance Armstrong Bracelet that so many millions of people wore for a period of time. Many people bought the bracelet because they thought it was a great cause to support but also because their friends and even celebrities were part of the movement. Even if the motive is not always on point, the fact that getting to wear a popular bracelet motivated people to donate to an important cause is still a great thing.I wish there was a marketplace or some tool that could allow either a user or company to seamlessly purchase an icon or ribbon that supports their cause and easily integrate it with either their personal avatar, facebook page, or company logo. I am thinking of something that could be done within a few clicks, but also be an active link that others could click on to donate to the cause and get their own ribbon/icon. Wish someone would build this. I would absolutely support it and get involved with it in any way I could.Paul

  18. Ana Milicevic

    I like the idea of en expiry period for the Ribbons that Richard proposes but wonder whether that would speed up our saturation – as people highlight more and more causes, it could fast become a staple of one’s avatar and hence quickly ignored (like the little FB connect icon). As one of the people who worked on UNICEF’s response to the ’04 Tsunami it’s wonderful to see how technology has made donating (donating by SMS for example) and spreading of information on where/how to help (mainly via social networks) much, much easier than it was 5 years ago. Unfortunately, it doesn’t seem to have done much to improve the management, prompt distribution, and possible investment of the funds gathered.

  19. Medisoft

    People love achievement status’s, just ask Xbox!

  20. Druce

    (deleted to move it to the right place in the thread)