Social Good, Social Bad...

It's been a great year for social good campaigns, from the creativity shown by the benefactors to the effects they have on their beneficiaries. But just recently, we've seen a worthy but sad use of social media. Currently running is Avon and Somerset Police's Facebook campaign to find the killer of 25 year old Jo Yeates, featuring an advert that will allow people to contact the incident room via the social networking site rather than calling in. DCI Jones says police have successfully used Facebook in a number of high-profile cases because information can be shared more widely than by poster. Scott Fulton, head of e-services at the force says: "On this inquiry alone we have had shares of the story from the forces Facebook page of 24,220".

Another unfortunate but necessarry use of social media is the activity among high-profile actors and celebrities on Twitter to boost the search for a missing 14-year girl from London. Stephen Fry and former Prime Minister Gordon Brown's wife Sarah were among those who have publicised the campaign for information about Serena Beakhurst. They posted links to appeals to trace the teenager who was last seen leaving her home in Tulse Hill, south London.

For me this shows how deeply social media runs through every walk of society today - from business to charity to law to politics and beyond. We've seen Presidential campaigns won and the enforced silence of Dictatorships broken.

So here, courtesy of Mashable are 5 of last year's most inspiring social good campaigns...

1. DonorsChoose Crate & Barrel Gift Certificates

Crate & Barrel spends part of its advertising budget to send DonorsChoose gift certificates to its customers, allowing them to determine which education initiatives they want to invest in online. DonorsChoose features projects posted by teachers across America, and potential donors can browse the projects and post reviews.

Since the effort started five years ago, 347,000 students have been impacted by more than 14,500 projects, resulting in 434,000+ hours of classroom instruction. In one benchmark study, 11% of the certificates were redeemed on the DonorsChoose site, and 82% of customers who redeemed the certificates were very likely to consider Crate & Barrel for their next home furnishings or accessories purchase compared to 76% of a control group of customers that didn't get certificates, The Wall Street Journal reported.

Cause and Effect Blogger Leyla Farah wrote, In this case study, the two groups of consumers experienced exactly the same store and products and sales associates, but those who were given the option to take a philanthropic action after leaving the store, perceived their experience very differently.

2. Target Gives the Check to Facebook

In one of the first major crowdsourced do-good contests in social media, Target's Bullseye Gives program had a $3million purse that was voted on over a two-week period. Target let its Facebook community (now numbering more than 900,000 people) decide amongst 10 non-profits.

"Target's "Bullseye Gives" was the first CSR effort that visibly combined CSR with social media in the form of a contest, and we've seen many follow - Chase Bank and Pepsi amongst them - almost to the point of contest fatigue", said Changeblogger Alexandra Bornkessel. It was an innovative approach that got many involved, and got people talking. A lesson learned was that while it was a win for Target, it left non-profits wanting more challenging us all to do better.

3. Ford Helps Invisible People Across America

So many of these campaigns feature large purses, but what really matters is visibility and impact. That's why Ford's sponsorship of Mark Horvath's drive across America was a game changer. The company simply provided a Ford Flex and a company-promoted social site to Horvath's little-known "Invisible People" campaign. The end result? Ford made homelessness a primary issue on the nostalgic American road.

Further, the 11,263 mile effort legitimised Horvath's "Invisible People" campaign online. Since last summer, he has become a national leader in the battle against homelessness.

"Let's be real here, homelessness is not a sexy cause," said Horvath. "Plus, at the time I was unemployed, without any income and I just lost my house to foreclosure. Ford took a huge risk on me and it paid off for both of us. Besides several TV packages, many newspaper and blog mentions, I believe Scott Monty and Ford's biggest return on their investment was helping hurting people."

"Ford's support of the Invisible People project was never one of lead generation; it was mainly because we believed in Mark's mission and because it aligned with our own strategic initiatives," said Scott Monty, Ford's social media lead. "Since the very earliest days of the company, we've always believed in giving back to the communities in which we do business - it's just in our corporate DNA. "We felt that Mark's project was a way to extend that and to give some additional exposure to some of our strong products."

4. Stonyfield Farms Says "Have A Cow"

The Stonyfield Have-A-Cow program educates interested parties about life on organic farms and its impact on the planet's health. The CSR effort ties back beautifully into the company's organic differentiator. And overall, Stonyfield gives away 10% of its profits ($10 million to date) to support the environment and organic programs.

"They've leveraged what is both part of their story and their social responsibility card into an engaging, educational and successful social media arsenal: Farm cam video diaries; blog with a farmer; Twitter account (with the standard customer service and promotions); online community and more," said Changeblogger Amy Sample Ward. "Anecdotally, I've even found Stonyfield Farm's content engaging enough that as a vegan I've still participated in the "have a cow" program."

5. The Pepsi Refresh Project

Pepsi Refresh is still in the works: Awards have yet to be granted and community impact has yet to be determined. But there's no question that Pepsi trumped this year's Super Bowl ad hoopla with its audacious $20 million budget reallocation to the crowdsourced community giving program. A weak year in Super Bowl ads helped make Pepsi's decision look even smarter, giving the company a ton of publicity.

The contest of all contests has garnered significant support online, too. "There are a lot of reasons why Pepsi Refresh works, but two stand out in my mind," said Jason Falls, author of the Social Media Explorer blog.  "First, it's not just writing one cheque to a good cause to show you're giving back, it's a program that can make hundreds of little impacts over time, any of which may snowball into larger impacts."

"The second reason it's so powerful for Pepsi is that the decision of who gets the money is at least partially (and it seems more than just a small part) in the hands of us, the voters," continued Falls. "We can help decide how Pepsi invests in our communities, our environment, our health and so on. It's not just about supporting good causes, it's about letting your customers help decide which ones are worth supporting."

Honorable Mention: Tyson Delivers Hunger Relief

We've seen great bursts of tweets and blog posts supporting their social media comment contests, but Tyson's chicken-giving efforts are more than a gimmick. The company has evolved its hunger relief effort over the past decade to its current social media savvy, geoweb-enabled presence. As part of its efforts it sponsors hunger-specific charities like Share Our Strength. During that time it has donated more than 41 million pounds of meat to foodbanks across the country.

"What sets them apart in my mind is that Tyson sincerely puts the cause first," said Changeblogger John Haydon. Billy Shore, founder of Share Our Strength, and other leaders recognize this long standing commitment from Tyson. Standing side-by-side with a common mission creates unity between these two organisations - and this can't be overlooked.

Paul Shepherd

I've worked in digital communications for around 15 years, and specialised in social media for the past three. Passionate about new technologies, media, and the impact it has on businesses bottom line, I try to bring that passion to every campaign for every brand we work with.