MY SIDE: I've never been homeless. And the outreach I have participated in revolves around my church and food services provided on Sunday mornings to the homeless corners here in Austin. (My favorite role is pouring coffee for the men and women and chatting with any of the talky folks. We all love our coffee, and it does feel good to be able to provide something to make their day/morning better.) It's a bit (but a tiny bit) of contribution and understanding to the homeless plight in this oh-so modern and tech-savvy city. I am slightly scared of some of the homeless folks that approach and angrily demand money. But for the most part I feel empathy for the corner walkers and I occasionally give them sack lunches and water bottles and spare change, and I know I am not really making a difference.
In Austin, last week a company called BBH had a marketing plan, that has upset a bunch of people and resulted in a lot of ink slinging from the media. I want to hear what the homeless folks thinks, but that's a bit further down the page and the process.
So here's the idea. Give WiFi transmitters to 13 homeless citizens in Austin, pay them a daily rate, and allow them to sell their human wifi services for money. "Better than panhandeling, right?" At least, I guess that's what the marketing folks behind this idea where thinking. Me, not so much an empowering moment as an exploiting moment. But again, that's just me. And I'm an over-educated middle-aged (yuk) white guy who suffers other things besides homelessness. What the heck do I know? Let's hear some other voices.
Continuing Thoughts 3-16-12: It was a PR disaster. However… As they say, any PR is good PR. The controversy has certainly inflamed the coverage. And for me, the real question was, why "the homeless." If it was just a sales gimmick then any ODD symbol would've worked. If it was indeed to support the homeless, or build awareness, then what are the lasting results of such support?
Is there any plan for these "workers" after SXSW? My guess is no, it was only a temp gig and the "support" was entirely the money that these guys made. In that case it was only a cost savings issue, and perhaps the homeless were being exploited as *very* low cost labor. Even college kids would've wanted more than $20 a day to run around in monkey suits, or speedos. So what does $20 bucks a day, work out to, say for a 10-hour day? Anyone else gonna work for $2 an hour? Sure it's money. Sure it's not panhandling. But it's also not a fair wage. Did HHB leave the other $4 – $6 per hour behind in charitable donations?
For me, the "awareness of the homeless problem" is not enough. We know there is a homeless problem in America. Even in progressive and liberal Austin we pass laws to keep them from sleeping on park benches. Why? Because we don't want to see them, it reminds us how broken the system is, and we don't want to be reminded of that, from the comfort of our air-conditioned car.
And if HHB is intending to provide some support beyond this "experiement" as they called it, I would like to know what that is? HHB? Any comment?
THE MEDIA'S SIDE:
The Homeless Hotspot Campaign Nightmare at #SXSW (BuzzFeed)
BBH, the advertising agency whose "Homeless Hotspots" experiment became the unlikely star of SXSW, is in full damage-control mode. Critics call the program, in which homeless Austinites carry 4G hotspots and exchange bandwidth for donations, everything from "horrifying," "scary" to "dehumanizing." (OPINION: Yes, giving a homeless person a job is one thing, making them into a walking billboard for a technology they cannot afford, is SICK.)
More : Organizers Defend “Homeless Hotspots” at SXSW (BuzzFeed)
The talk of Austin is a jarring campaign in which homeless people actually become Wi-Fi hotspots.“The worry is that these people are suddenly just hardware,” admits its organizer.
BBH’s Side of the Story on Homeless Hotspots (Digiday)
For protagonists, the initiative by agency BBH is clever marketing and packs a powerful social message. Critics sees yet another crass, tone-deaf marketing effort that’s more about the marketer than the message.
A Homeless Man Speaks Out: Homeless Hotspots The 4g Human Routers! And The true reason For successful Marketing! (Twitter @Joseph2dogs)
Everyone soon forgot the marketing firm that claimed they were doing a great thing for Homeless people. and here they are again using Homeless people to further their cause.
The HomelessHotspots.org Official Page
As digital media proliferates, these newspapers face increased pressure. Our hope is to create a modern version of this successful model, offering homeless individuals an opportunity to sell a digital service instead of a material commodity. SxSW Interactive attendees can pay what they like to access 4G networks carried by our homeless collaborators.
HOMELESS ADVOCATES SIDE:
On the Humanity of Homeless HotSpots (Mobile Loaves and Fishes / mlf.org)
1: I agree with the critics who say that turning people into objects is demeaning. Perhaps the marketing firm could have executed the campaign with a little more sensitivity. Certainly, at Mobile Loaves & Fishes we spend a huge amount of time trying to raise awareness about the humans behind the label of “homelessness.” These are not “vagrants”, “bums”, “tramps” or “addicts” – they are people who, like the rest of us, possess infinite potential.
2: But on the other hand, society has a really bad habit of wanting to put the homeless in a corner, throw some money at a shelter and pretend that they are actually helping these people. The same people who are complaining about objectifying the homeless have probably never sat down and had a cup of coffee with one of them either.
Mark Horvath Interviews a Homeless Hotspot Vendor at SXSW and talks to the Agency dude who came up with the idea.
From the CEO: Outraged in Baltimore? (Health Care for the Homeless)
The unspoken assumptions are 1. that we’ve been following the Austin, Texas “Homeless Hotspots” controversy (it’s been hard to avoid) and 2. that we find the enlistment of persons experiencing homelessness in a project to sell Wi-Fi access to participants attending a technology conference somehow morally reprehensible (um, not so fast).
NCH Members Respond to “Homeless Hotspots” (National Coalition for the Homeless)
“Homeless Hotspots” – is this marketing campaign a friend or foe to un-housed folks? NCH has been getting a lot of requests-for-comment. As a membership organization that advocates with (not for) homeless individuals, we depend, rely and are primarily informed by the opinions of people who are homeless. So, we asked our members for their feedback and this is what we heard.
More from Mark Horvath: Panhandling or Hotspot Vendor: Which is better?
When I first heard about the “Homeless Hotspots” I freaked out in the good way. I think the idea is brilliant, and it’s a new idea in a nonprofit sector that is void of any new ideas, especially in tech. I am a realist so I immediately thought of a few flaws like how could this be scaled, and that people won’t stand around on a sidewalk to get WiFi. But what really got me excited is WHAT ELSE COULD WE DO?
THE HOMELESS SIDE:
From the ground's eye view: Life As a Homeless Hotspot Melvin's Story (Buzzfeed)
Melvin's been serving up Wi-Fi as a “Homeless Hotspot” at SXSW in Austin. “It's been pretty much straight up,” he says.
Clarence of Homeless Hotspot
And a positive spin on the HH story: SXSW Homeless Hotspot a Brilliant Idea (Becky Blanton)
The haters and the people who think they have a right to tell other people (the homeless) what is or is not good for them turned out to complain. And whine. And take the silver spoons out of their mouths just long enough to talk about how BBH was “exploiting the homeless.” Seriously? Exploiting the homeless?
The Wrap Up: The challenge of Hovarth and company is "think of something better." And I heartily agree. We, the tech-enabled, must do more to help. HHB's heart was in the right place. And just because I disagree with the "marketing" idea, doesn't mean I disagree with the cause. My hope is that the Homeless Hotspot can actually become a Homeless Flashpoint for Discussion and Development.
Indeed, I am tech-enabled, and I know how to use social media for outreach. And I am asking the question, "HOW CAN WE DO BETTER BY OUR HOMELESS? Indeed this is a national issue, and one that will need solutions at all levels of government, and compassion at all levels of the community. It's easier not to acknowledge the homeless, to ban them from sleeping in public, and to ignore the overwhelming economic pressure that is pressing down on a good portion of the population. The homeless man, woman, or child has even more complications in life. The stories of bootstrapped recovery are always inspiring and amazing. And often the former homeless become homeless advocates hoping to influence the system and have a positive impact on the plight of their fellow humans in this frequently dehumanized system.
For me, strapping wifi devices around homeless men and setting them off to tap dance in the name of commerce is a bad idea that started with good intentions. But at least there was an IDEA. And at least the Homeless Hotspots got us talking about that homeless man on the corner we mostly try hard to ignore. It may not provide solutions to the homeless women and children who have exhausted their "services" options. But HHB is in the business of selling technology services. AND they did try to do SOMETHING. My hat is off to them. Let's talk about next year and what we could do in a sustainable way.
How can technology and social media help? I'd love to hear your thoughts on the Homeless Hotspots Idea and how we can use technology and marketing to do better by our brothers and sisters in distress.
As always, the comments are open.
Frame of reference: Makers, Takers and $2-a-dayers (Commondreams.org)
The right pushes a delusional narrative of country divided between 'makers and takers'—the productive go-getters versus the welfare-hungry sloths. But when you crunch the numbers, it becomes all too clear who the real takers are: the ones who make it harder for everyone else to make a living.
Other posts about kicking ass in social media:
- Twitter Jail: What is it? What are the rules? How do I break out?
- Let's Talk About Your Evil Plan(tm) – Yeah, But What Else Are You Doing?
- The Quick Course in Online Marketing: Big Picture (Social Media, Search Engine Marketing, eMail Marketing, Content Marketing)
- New Web Design Standards: Flexible-Width and non-IE Browsers Abound
- 8 Steps Getting Social Media To 5 Goals & 2 Wins the [INFOGRAPHIC]
- ROI ROI ROI and Social Media; We Need to Have This Discussion Again
- Facebook Privacy: the Myth, the Changes, the Confusing Privacy Settings
- Damn, We Should Do An Infographic on That; Charts Trying to Be More and Do More?
- Pinterest and the Power of Social Bookmarking: Tag Yourself (Web Design is Dead)
- Social Media MBA – The Reading List
See all of the Social Media Marketing Videos on the Social U. page.