UniversalGiving’s™ interview with Charyit!

By Jeremy Kenton, Marilyn Lin, and Ranjani Shanker

Recently, Ranjani Shanker of UniversalGiving™ was privileged to interview co-founders of Charyit, Jeremy Kenton and Marilyn Lin. Charyit is an early-stage, pre-seed company with the intention of allowing consumers to interact with corporations through recent content aggregated from media sites across the web.

Q: Story of Charyit – How and who made it happen?

LIN:  The idea started when corporations began to focus on corporate social responsibility (CSR) and place more emphasis on the importance of social media to their brands.  We asked ourselves, “How likely are we to support a company’s brand in the future based on their recent actions?”  And, “If a large population of consumers are also aware of these actions, would the masses be able to influence the plans of or affect a corporation’s “triple bottom line” (people, planet and profit)?”

KENTON: We recognized the significant momentum building around CSR, with companies and consumers using social media to discuss their initiatives. People within our networks post articles about how companies are interacting with society, both positively and negatively. Because posting an article on Facebook lacks permanence, we created Charyit to change that.

LIN:  We want to provide a linkage between the public’s comments on corporate actions back to those corporations.  Charyit aggregates stories on the economic, environmental and social fronts.  Leveraging social media and crowd-sourcing, we offer the public the ability to interact with the news content and influence a company’s future actions.

Q: Charyit’s goal – What does Charyit offer to corporations, non-profits and the community at large?

LIN: Each company listed on our website has a profile page to share information about their CSR activity.  By sharing info about their social, environmental and economic initiatives, they will have access to consumer reaction and feedback. They are also held accountable and responsible for their actions reported in the media, but through Charyit have the opportunity to interact with and respond to the user community.

We partner with non-profits that share our vision. We provide exposure to how corporations either support or undermine important causes. A good example is Green Peace’s documentation of the destruction of rainforests, caused by a palm oil provider in Indonesia that Nestlé partners with to produce their Kit-Kat product that threatened the orangutan population.  This story is a great opportunity to rally around or against Nestlé, with Charyit serving as the forum.

KENTON: To the public, we offer a platform to collaborate on current issues that affect our planet, our economy, and society. Consumers crave a means to interact with brands they care about. If a company is doing good, such as Salesforce.com, matching gifts to aid the Japan tsunami relief, consumers can make an impact on that company with their positive feedback.  This is where Charyit steps in and allows users to get involved and affect global change at the corporate level.

Q: Tell us more about the Charyit.com score – how do consumers get involved?

LIN: Our tagline clearly spells it out:  Because Actions Speak Louder Than Ads.  We empower consumers with the ability to express their opinion about a company’s actions by voting on news stories posted on Charyit.  As more votes are cast, the public’s perception of a company’s actions is formed.

Companies are assigned Charyit Scores for each category:  Social, Environmental & Economic.  The scores represent consumers’ sentiments based on how they voted on news stories in each category shared on our site about that company.  Each Yay, Meh & Boo vote (positive, neutral & negative sentiments) on a news story will then influence a company’s Charyit Score.  The Score is measured on a +100 to -100 scale.  A score above 0 means our users perceive the related brand as positive overall in that category, with a higher number representing a stronger positive perception. A score below zero means the opposite.  A score at zero is essentially neutral, meaning the overall perception is neither negative nor positive.

Q: Define an ideal user on Charyit – for the benefit of the community to understand their role while getting involved.

KENTON: Charyit is for anyone and everyone.  We welcome all users; more interactions equates to impactful results. We want to empower the public!

I think that the typical user of Charyit is someone that obviously cares about what companies are doing on a social, environmental, and economic level. As most of the news stories out there related to those topics are on online news sites, our users need to be passionate enough to take the extra step to post and vote on Charyit. The more users like that who join Charyit, the better the overall experience becomes for the entire Charyit community.

Q: How does Charyit plan to change the CSR landscape today?

KENTON: Right now I see a lot of CSR communication being a one-way street. Companies promote their CSR efforts and either the message gets lost in all the noise or the consumer doesn’t have a voice or the appropriate forum to respond. The traditional response has been with their purchasing power; using their wallet to support brands they view favorably and shunning brands they view negatively. Sometimes a corporate action resonates enough with somebody that they tell their friends, or in the case of online, share it on Facebook or write a comment on a CNN story. Unfortunately, in most cases, by the next day that action is forgotten, replaced by the next day’s news, and the perception of that company based on whatever that action was, good or bad, is lost.

LIN: With Charyit, we want to remedy this. We empower the consumer to take a news story, or information from a company’s website and post it on Charyit and vote on that content. That vote becomes part of the overall score of that company, and therefore lends a voice to the consumer and creates some permanence to the company’s own CSR message.

Q: What challenges are stakeholders in CSR facing?

KENTON: For companies engaging in CSR, a major problem is that most of the time it costs more to be ethical than not. I’d like to see consumers reward ethical companies more to encourage others to join in better business practices. Closing the gap between doing good and supporting the company’s primary business goals is a major challenge. However, there are many benefits for doing so, such as improved employee morale and positive consumer perception among other things.

LIN: We believe that informed consumers are better consumers.  The challenge faced by corporations is the appearance of being genuine with their actions. Consumers will reward more ethical companies who spend more on improving their CSR.

Q: What are your goals for 2011 and the years to come?

KENTON: We launched our site in late 2010 with core functionalities. We want to connect with those who engage with online news and are looking to take it one step further.

LIN: Charyit goes beyond simply discussing a company’s CSR initiatives and effectively shaping reputations. We are providing consumers with several ways to engage with the community.  For example, participating in charitable events sponsored by corporations supporting your favorite non-profit. Also, there is a new generation of people entering into the workforce who find the reputation of companies and their CSR initiatives as important decision factors while seeking employment.  Charyit can provide visibility into these types of information and data points to allow consumers and jobseekers make informed decisions.    In the long-term, we want to become a household name.

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