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Lessons of Sleep-out vs #PovertyPorn

Not all charitable events are met with positivity and the recent CEOSleepout has been an example of this – even though it raised over R31 million. Social media sites were buzzing with many saying it was done in bad taste, writes ANDRE STEENEKAMP, CEO of 25AM.

Social media buzz about #CEOSleepout2016—which sees South African CEOS sleep outside in the winter cold to raise funds for charity and create awareness about homelessness—shows that the road to brand reputation hell is often paved with good intentions.

Data extracted from the Salesforce Marketing Cloud Social Studio by online media agency, 25AM, shows that the event attracted twice as many negative social mentions as positive ones, as social media users criticised the CEOs and organisers for being insensitive, publicity-seeking and out-of-touch. The criticism has overshadowed the R31 million the CEOs have raised for charity through the event.

The event generated more than 22,000 mentions on Twitter on the day it was held (28 July 2016), most of them associated with the official hashtag, #CEOSleepout2016. This marks a significant increase over the 4,200 or so conversations about the inaugural CEOSleepout in 2015, when negative comments were heavily outweighed by positive commentary.

Other trending hashtags for the Sleepout included #CEOSleepout, #4leaders4change, and #sympathysleepout. Users critical of the event posted using hashtags such as #sleepforland and #povertyporn. Negative keywords associated with the event on Twitter included “offensive”, “crude”, and “cruel”. Much of the positive commentary came from brands and organisers involved in the event.

Negative mentions started to spike at around 18h00 when protesting students and Economic Freedom Front (EFF) members took their protest about education costs to Nelson Mandela Bridge, where the CEOs were sleeping. This is testimony to the social media savvy of both South African students and the EFF—who have perhaps mastered social media in a way that few brands have.

“Many people suspect that corporate social investment has more to do with seeking publicity than it does with doing good, and they are using social media to make this opinion known,” says Steenekamp. “Brands need to show a great deal of sensitivity in how they handle publicity and messaging for their charitable giving if they want to resonate with people. No brand likes to the subject of social media controversy, but there is a wonderful opportunity to analyse and learn from the conversation.”

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