Microsoft learned how to turn a natural disaster into a PR disaster in one deft lesson this week after promising to donate a dollar for every re-tweet they got it received up to the staggering amount of $100,000 dollars. That’s less than ten dollars per head for those who are missing. Considering the company is worth $215,860,000,000 globally, and a large part of both their consumers and manufacturers are based in Japan then the paltry percentage seems less than generous, particularly since it was up to Twitter users to re-tweet the message in some colossally ill judged attempt to make Microsoft look good.
Google released a people finder to help locate lost loved ones who may not be able to get in contact with the outside world while iTunes produced a feature which made it possible to make donations to the relief fund. Nobody, except Microsoft, tried to use the disaster to earn PR points and none of them crashed out so badly.
Twitter users who saw the message were shocked at how shallow the corporation had become, offering a miniscule amount to ease what is plain to see is going to be a multi billion dollar international search, rescue and reconstruction effort. Perhaps an app wouldn’t even cost $100,000 but it’s a practical solution that’s desperately needed right now.
What has happened is that Microsoft has galvanised a public relations problem which has been going on since Bill Gates first started buying and selling software. When Sir Tim Berners-Lee developed HTML which allowed computers to communicate with one another he gave the code away for free meaning that everyone who bought a computer for perpetuity would have internet access. Gates’ model has always been that it is insanity to give anything away for free, even when that was the culture of the internet before its boom in the 1990s. His attitude toward monetizing absolutely everything made him one of the richest people ever to have stalked the Earth and his recent philanthropic activities have mitigated his public profile but not by that much. It’s been two and a half years since Gates left Microsoft yet he is still synonymous and the core value that everything has a price, it would appear, persists.
So, Microsoft, people have the attitude that you’re the kind of company who’d never do anything for free (even when almost all of your competitors do) is galvanised when you try to score points and make those lucky enough not to have been affected immediately by the ‘quake promote have to retweet/promote you in order to induce you to make a derisory contribution to help your consumers, business partners and retailers, if you chose to look at it that way.
Giving money to help in a humanitarian disaster shouldn’t depend on how popular you can make your corporation and your new internet explorer. Some people are asking just how deeply this PR foul up could affect Microsoft in the future. They have since decided to just give the money rather than make it dependent on re-tweets but the damage that came about from them exposing their attitude to a human tragedy has been done.
What will Japan think of Silicone Valley once the living are re-homed and the dead laid to rest?
Google will be the company who made it possible to reconnect with loved ones, iTunes made it possible for anyone to donate as much as they could afford to the relief effort and Microsoft? They gave a few thousand dollars on condition their products were promoted.