London/Hamburg: The Facebook game StreetRivals and the new iPhone application iHobo are causing controversial discussions all over Europe. The debate circles around the use of social media to combine profitable business strategies with a socially responsible outcome. With homelessness as a theme, both companies are getting heavily attacked by homeless organisations and even politicians. What critics fail to acknowledge is the honest and ongoing social engagement behind the games, helping to improve the lives of people living on the street.
The company behind StreetRivals – Farbflut Entertainment – is a market leader for online games and has over 4 million users across Europe. Marius Follert, co-founder of Farbflut explains: ‘In order to make a positive impact, we reach out to the young generations through popular and interactive mediums.’ Realising the enormous potential available through social networking sites such as Facebook, the entrepreneurs created a fun and interactive game which at the same time makes players more conscious and socially aware about the issue of homelessness. Donating to charities was also part of the business model from the start. In 2009 Farbflut donated a 5 figure sum to homeless charities mostly financed by online donations from their players.
In the case of iHobo, it was advertising giants Publicis London who created the iPhone app to increase awareness of youth homelessness. In cooperation with a homeless organisation, Publicis also aims to influence a young and hard to reach demographic into giving donations through this new channel. By creating a unique showcase of the use for this new media, Publicis not only received wide press coverage but also positioned itself as an industry pioneer in developing corporate social responsibility.
With the dawn of a new age where social media such as Facebook is a powerful tool, companies have been influenced into targeting these mediums to deliver a socially responsible message and influence a positive change. StreetRivals and iHobo are two outstanding examples of this and have caused more public interest and awareness around homelessness than most government policies.