Shrewd social commerce partnerships can do more than increase hits and generate online buzz. They can also employ technology to benefit worthy causes, as evidenced by a new initiative launched by Hearst Digital Media and mulu, an online social network platform that enables users to share product recommendations and designate a portion of the purchase proceeds to a chosen charity or nonprofit group.
Mulu created the "muluBox," a special gadget that made its debut recently on Hearst's Seventeen.com site and which allows visitors to make content-relevant purchases; approximately 5 to 15% of the resulting revenue then goes to aid STOMP Out Bullying, a national anti-bullying organization.
The muluBox, which is peppered across Seventeen.com's content, includes links to mentioned and associated products. The user is told that buying the item can help make a difference for the STOMP Out Bullying beneficiary. Readers and bloggers can also share any muluBox on their own page or blog to create a rippling network of support for the nonprofit.
Mike Grandinetti, professor of entrepreneurship, innovation, and management at Hult International Business School in San Francisco, said there's a lot to admire about this content partnership, particularly the fact that deployment of the muluBox in suitable articles is the sole responsibility of the Seventeen.com editorial staff.
"What I like about these choices is that they're not being driven by an outside media agency," says Grandinetti. "They're actually being driven by the editors and writers themselves-people who understand the target audience and who can make their own informed decisions about where it's appropriate and not appropriate to place these links. This is the first example of its kind that I've seen. What mulu has done is create a turnkey cause-oriented platform that makes it a lot easier than having to subscribe to and manage a whole range of independent affiliate marketing programs."
While it's too premature to gauge the numbers since Seventeen.com's muluBox was introduced in late August, "the click-through rate has been extraordinary," says Amaryllis Fox, founder and CEO of Los Angeles-headquartered mulu Inc, which launched last March. "Both Hearst and mulu are really energized by the response we're seeing so far, which is well beyond either party's expectations."
Fox says muluBox's ability to make content shoppable on the spot in support of a positive cause truly resonates with Seventeen.com's readership. "Bullying is an important issue facing adolescents in the U.S. today," she says. "Hearst felt as though offering their readership the ability to contribute to that cause while also doing something fun and social online was especially empowering for (the teenage female) demographic."
Grandinetti adds that, with the incredible challenges digital publications face, it's important to remain relevant and create a social community built around worthy causes that its audience can identify with.
"I'm seeing a healthy idealism among the current generation of teenagers and young adults who want to be citizen activists and make a difference," says Grandinetti. "Being able to empower teenage girls to vote with their pocketbooks is an extraordinarily positive reflection of where we are in society today."
Sally Falkow, CEO of Meritus Media, a Pasadena, Calif.-based digital PR strategy firm, says consumers "want to see more companies doing social good. One way you can earn their trust and build your reputation is if you're helping social causes."
Falkow believes that forging content partnerships is crucial for brands today due to the increasing diversification of media, which makes it harder to get the attention of consumers.
"You need new ways to get your content out there. Using recommendations and peer influences, as Seventeen.com is doing, is smart. This is a model that other digital publishers can follow," says Falkow.
Hearst Digital Media, which is also promoting the STOMP Out Bullying program via Twitter, Facebook, and Pinterest, plans to implement a muluBox on other Hearst sites in future months. Mulu, meanwhile, which has also partnered with charities such as Livestrong, Rock the Vote, the ASPCA, and amFAR, is gearing up for other digital publishing partnerships it will announce this fall.