If a company is not entirely transparent in it’s charitable dealings, it could cost it’s reputation, especially when inaccurate rumors start to spread.
If you want to see a Twitter mob in its larval stage, just do a search on Zynga or Farmville and Haiti and you will see one emerging over a report that the social-gaming company kept 50 percent of the money that it raised in donations for the country in the wake of a devastating earthquake. The report originally appeared in a Brazilian magazine called Superinteressante, which did a feature on Zynga and Farmville and mentioned in the piece that it had only given 50 percent of what it raised to Haiti. That was in turn picked up by a leading Brazilian newspaper called Folha de Sao Paulo , which said that Zynga had admitted to only sending 50 percent of the money it raised for Haiti to that country.
That story got written about in several places around the Web, including at Social Media Today (in a post that has since been removed and replaced with a different one featuring an altered headline) as well as at the opinion site True/Slant, where Marcelo Ballve — a former Associated Press reporter in Brazil — summarized the Falho story about how Zynga had misled Farmville players into thinking 100 percent of their donations would be going to Haiti for earthquake relief (he has since posted an update). The story was also written up at Gawker, which also repeated the allegations.
The Folha story, however, blurs together two Farmville campaigns to raise money for Haiti: One was set up before the earthquake, and specifically said that only 50 percent of the money raised would be sent to Haiti (a screenshot is embedded below). The second, which involved the purchase within the game of special “white corn” for a user’s farm, said that 100 percent of the proceeds would be sent to earthquake relief. According to an emailed statement from a Zynga spokesperson that I’ve embedded below, this is exactly what happened (a similar statement has been posted at the bottom of both the True/Slant post and the Folha story, and referred to by Gawker, but not by Social Media Today, although the latter has since posted an update and apology). The initial campaign for Haiti raised $1.2-million for the country, and the subsequent “white corn” campaign raised an additional $1.5-million.
Meanwhile, dozens of Twitter messages are still being posted every minute (based on a recent survey of the social network) saying that Zynga “admits to keeping half the money it raised for Haiti,” despite the repeated efforts by Zynga CEO Mark Pincus to rebut such claims through his own Twitter account. The eagerness with which people seem to believe such claims could have something to do with the language barrier between the initial reports and those who have repeated them — but it could also be a result of some negative press that Zynga has received in the past, alleging “scammy” behavior related to lead-generation offers within its games.
Is this backlash deserved or exaggerated?
Personally I was turned off by Zynga’s Haiti campaign before I finished reading the first paragraph of the Press Release that hit the wires 48 hours after the January 12th earthquake:
Starting tonight, Zynga (www.zynga.com) will run a special relief campaign in three of its top games that reach over 40 million users daily.
It seemed to me that this blatantly took advantage of PR Newswire and others’ waiving of distribution fees for Haiti earthquake-related news.
I was speculating but I’ve always been skeptical of such campaigns by hard-to-trust startups. I was impressed by Zynga’s earlier partnership with the World food Programme over the holidays but hadn’t seen any mention of its results.
You can’t be too transparent when acting in the wake of any disaster. While Zynga made no mistake in clearly mentioning it’s user base (both daily and monthly) the press release — especially if it was distributed gratis — should have elaborated on Zynga’s existing relationship with WFP to avoid any fingerpointing / confusion.